Learning to do it anyway

Sometimes it feels like the weight of the world…

Woke up this morning feeling sick – headache, sick on my stomach, foggy… Going back to work tomorrow probably isn’t helping any, but life goes on. There it is.

I’m pretty much in the Emotions/Moods “section” of those 84 ways TBI can make your life really interesting

Emotions/Moods

8. Agitated, can’t settle down – I’m all wound up and can’t seem to get myself to chill to get to bed at a decent hour each night. I’m way agitated, and fidgety and am having trouble focusing in to get shit done.
9. Angerrrrrr!!! – I’m pissed off. At work. At my spouse. At myself. I’m just angry. It’s driving me — it’s driving me crazy.
10. Anxiety – Feeling vague fear, worry, anticipation of doom – Yeah, when I go back to work tomorrow, I have the feeling that I’m going to be so totally screwed by my workload and the “lost week+” that I’ve had away. Not that it’s any different than it’s been for the past year or so, but now the sense of doom is really coming in.
11. Depression, feeling down – My mood has actually been pretty good… but I have to really fight back the depression. It sets in quickly if I don’t stay on it.
12. Excitability! – I get all worked up over stuff, then I come back to it later and I can’t see what all the excitement was about. The worst thing about the excitability is that it distracts me and takes me off-course, so it takes me longer to get where I’m going.
13. Everything feels like an effort – Yeah, pretty much. It feels like everything is a massive effort, and I can’t figure out where to start.
14. Feeling unsure of yourself – Yeah, pretty much all the time, these days. I know better (rationally) and I fight it back, but that feeling is always there… like I never know what’s going to come out of my mouth or what I’m going to do next. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I don’t, but I’m never 100% sure what’s going to happen.
15. Feelings of dread – Yeah, that. Dread and anxiety. Like I just can’t deal with sh*t.
16. Feeling like you’re observing yourself from afar – This is a weird one, because it’s really like that. It’s like I’m standing at a distance and watching myself do and say things that don’t make any sense to me.
17. Feelings of well-being – On and off. It’s not all bad, all the time. Sometimes I have these sudden rushes of feeling really good, really solid, really sound. It’s a nice break.
18. Feeling guilty – Guilty over what I’ve done and what I haven’t done… what I should have done, what I forgot to do.
19. Feeling hostile towards others – Yeah, this is a tough one. I’m not feeling that great today, and we have a friend staying over, and I have to watch myself to not come across as hostile and aggressive, because they’re pretty sensitive and have a hard time making and keeping friends, as it is. My hostility has nothing to do with them, but they could easily become a target, if I don’t manage this.
20. Impatience – Yeah – what’s taking everything so long?
21. Irritability – Like the hostility, I’ve gotta keep a handle on this. Others shouldn’t have to pay for my issues. It has nothing to do with them.
22. No desire to talk or  move – This one set in when I woke up, and it’s still there. The antidote? Get the hell up and do something. Anything. Just move, goddammit.
23. Feeling lonely – Yeah. That. The consolation I get is that I’m not alone in feeling lonely. Plenty of people do. I also need to focus on the fact of what I’ve got in common with others, and that helps.
24. Nervousness – Nervous about work, nervous about money, nervous about life. Nervous.
25. Feelings of panic – On and off. This is much less extreme than it was several years ago. I’ve learned how to relax. I’ve learned how to recognize the signs that I’m just panicking, and it has nothing to do with actual reality. Breathing helps.
26. Rapid mood swings – Yeah, gotta watch that. I’m sick and tired today, so I know I’m more susceptible.
27. Restlessness – I want to run, I want to walk, I want to jump in the car and drive away. I want to go out and pick a fight. Not my best ideas… and I know it’s just the fatigue, the fogginess, the feeling of being “off” that’s doing this. Adrenaline and novelty blocks out all the distracting what-not-ness that’s swirling in my head. Surely, doing something extreme will take my mind off it. Well, sure – but at what cost?
28. Tearfulness, crying spells – Not so far, which is good. A few days ago, when I was feeling really sick, I had this. Thankfully it passed. Of all the TBI issues that come up, the tearfulness is the worst for me.
29. Feeling tense – Yeah. That. Like I’m wound so tight, I’m either going to snap, or I’m going to shoot straight to the moon. Tense. Really Tense. Black Flag Tense.
30. Feeling vague longing/yearning – Absolutely – for something I want and need, but can’t quite put my finger on. I used to have an antidote for this: daily meditation and breathing. Then I got sick of it and stopped doing it, because I just wanted to get on with my days with out having a lot of ritual and sh*t to do, first thing in the morning.

And as a result of these things, I’m also grappling with the follwing:

Day-to-Day Activities
31. Being overly busy (more than usual) – I’ve got all this stuff I want to do, and it’s piling up. I’m making myself crazy with it.
32. Feeling like you can’t get moving, you’re stuck – And under this pile of stuff, there I am, pinned down and feeling like I can’t move.
33. Feeling like you can’t get anything done – It’s just a feeling, I know, but that’s how I feel right now — nothing is moving, I can’t get anything accomplished.

Geeze. Enough of this. Yeah, things aren’t great right now, but once I get moving, I’m sure they’ll loosen up. That’s the thing that I’ve had to learn, over and over again. I can’t start from where I want to be (feeling great and having a lot of stuff done). I need to start from where I am — even if it’s sick and tired and foggy and aggressive and a bit ragged around the edges.

Gotta get out of my head and find something to really focus on. Just gotta. I’ve got to get my mind off this headache, this nausea, this fogginess, and all the above-mentioned crap. I’ve got to just get moving and do what needs to be done today. I do have things I need to take care of, and I just need to do them. I’ve had two days to recover and recoup, and that’s been good. Now I need to kick it again and get a move on. No matter how I feel, just do what needs to be done, and then enjoy having done it.

Yeah, it’s turning out to be a beautiful day, so I can get some work done in the yard and hang out with this friend. I will need to watch myself today, to make sure I’m not all edgy around them, so I don’t chase them off the way I have chased off many other people. I just need to keep cool, keep focused on what needs to get done, and do it.

And then sleep this afternoon. Get some rest. And get ready to go back to everyday normal life. Things will take care of themselves, if I’m just honest with myself and keep an eye on myself. This is not rocket science, it’s just life. Everybody has to contend with this, TBI or no. So deal with it, I shall.

After all, it is a beautiful day.

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Taking better care

Because I want to be here for a long, long time

In the aftermath of my recent dr. appointment, I’ve decided I need to bump up my exercise routine slightly. Start lifting slightly heavier weights. And see how that goes.

Yesterday, I did just that — I put 5 lbs more on my dumbells and had a good workout. At the time, it didn’t feel like was pushing myself all that much, but today I’m stiff and sore, so I know it had an effect.

So, this morning I did an easy workout and focused more on my leg-lifts, which are as much about improving my balance as strengthening my knees. Vertigo has been a big problem for me for the past weeks, and I’m finally getting to a point where I can walk around without feeling like I’m going to throw up. And I did my leg lifts with just a little bit of wobbliness.

There’s progress. It’s also progress that I didn’t push myself too much this morning. In months past, I would have just made myself continue the heavier workout, but this morning I was smart and backed off. I just need some movement, not a big Workout, to get my day going.

Now I’m back to thinking about the last three weeks and how it’s tweaked my TBI issues way more than they’d been tweaked in the past couple of years. Maybe it’s a sign of progress, that I’m able to wade into situations that set me off, and get through to the other side in one relatively intact piece, albeit shaken and sick. Or maybe it’s a sign that I just pushed myself too hard over crap that was someone else’s creation, and that it’s really not worth the pain and suffering.

Maybe it’s both. Could be. I do have to ask if it’s really worth getting into those kinds of situations, but ultimately, there’s a pretty good chance that those kinds of situations won’t be going away entirely, even if I do move on to another job, so being able to handle the hassle is a skill I need to refine. If nothing else, this has been a really good learning experience, and now that I’m on the other side of it and getting more rest, I can take a look at it all from a more sane point of view, and learn from it.

Looking back on all the frantic stuff

Let’s take a look at that checklist again:

Emotions/Moods

[x]  Excitability!check – I’ve been in an uproar for three weeks running, and it’s gotten old. The weird thing about it, is that it feels so justified. I feel like I have every right to be excitable. When I stop to think about it, I realize that it’s TBI talking, not reality, but it doesn’t change the experience itself — that ongoing adrenaline BLAST that just won’t let up. That firecracker response to every unexpected even that came up. Geez, how depressing, really — seeing myself react so stupidly to stresses I used to thrive on. I was on a tear for three weeks running, and I wasn’t proud of it. Once upon a time, I could be thrown into these situations and would come out on the other side stronger and better than before. Not this time. At least, that’s not how it feels to me.

[x]  Everything feels like an effort – check — God, did it ever. I mean everything felt like such a goddamned effort. From extracting information from people to just getting all the tasks squared away and taken care of. What a frickin’ chore it all was. I felt like I was running through quicksand, the entire time. Chasing after the elusive goal, running from the tigers in hot pursuit of my tail. I still do feel that way, to some extent, although the quicksand is more like wet sand now. I’m not drowning in it, but I’m still struggling to make progress. And that feeling that everything is just a trial and a pain in the ass has extended out to all the other projects I have going on. I had hoped that when this situation was through, I could go back to getting things done in good order, but now I feel even less capable than I did before this whole sh*tstorm started.

[x]  Feeling unsure of yourself – check — BIG check on this one. See above. People kept trying to bolster my self-confidence, telling me, “You can do it,” and part of me believed it, but for chrissake, I had really good reason to be unsure of myself, because there were so many pieces in the puzzle, and there were so many things that could have gotten missed, and in fact they did get missed. I mean, really obvious things that were right in front of me, that I was sure I had figured out… they slipped right by me, and I had to scramble at the 11th hour to get them in place. “Why do you question yourself?” they asked me. Duh — that’s why. Personally, I feel that people who aren’t unsure of themselves are often complete idiots, but that’s not in synch with the dominant paradigm, where everyone has to be so self-confident and self-assured all the friggin’ time. Please. Who the hell comes up with these ideas? Positive psychology proponents? Or Wayne Dyer? Tony Robbins? Who? Sometimes I just need a break — and I need people to admit that, every now and then, a healthy dose of self-doubt makes for better decision making and better performance. This aspect of my issues is not all bad, all the time.

[x]  Feelings of dread – check — Yeah, pretty much all the time. Dread about the project, dread about my life, dread about the job, dread about all the other things I wasn’t getting done, dread about my marriage, dread about, well, everything. And dread about what was to come later — that this was just a precursor to more of the same later. It wasn’t until I gave up hoping for the best, that I started to feel better. Just accepting the dread and accepting the sense that this and all the other projects that I’d ever have to do with these people were doomed, somehow made it more tolerable. But what a thing — to find relief only from giving up hope.

[x]  Feeling like you’re observing yourself from afar – check — It was the weirdest thing… that sense that I wasn’t even all there… The feeling that a part of me had stepped away and was watching myself flail through that project… not like some mystical out-of-body experience where you’re floating in space above your body, but like I was sitting in a small, dark, stale-sweat-smelling, trash-littered, popcorn-covered-sticky-floor movie theater in a rundown mall on the outskirts of an old depressed steel town, watching myself hack through the underbrush on the movie screen in front of me. I felt so disconnected from my life, from my mind, from my body, from my whole experience, and it wasn’t even until afterwards, when I could get a little distance, that I realized what a surreal experience it was.

All in all, I have to say that some of the issues above were specific to the project — they got set off in an irrational fashion because of the stress and the pressure. But others were generally applicable to my overall situation. Feeling unsure of myself is, I believe, just a logical result of having been in so many situations where I was SURE (and I mean 100% ironclad, absolutely positively SURE) that I was on -track, only to realize — often at the 11th hour — that I was only 80% on, and the remaining 20% was landing me in hot water.

In fact, if anything, that lack of sureness may have been what saved me, because it kept me from being too cocky, too brazen, too eager to take things for granted. It’s when I get into thinking that I’ve got everything covered (when I don’t) that I get into real trouble.

And if there was one thing that probably got me through, it was that lack of sureness, that constant re-tracing of my steps to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

Now, the thought had occurred to me that I might have been perseverating on certain details — like re-checking the code for the 209 attachments distributed across 56 web pages over and over again. And I did kind of fixate on some of the small details, and that threw me off in my planning and time management. But if I hadn’t revisited those 209 attachments a bunch of times, they would have turned out like crap. They would have broken. And then I would have been totally screwed. So, all things considered, I think I did okay.

And here’s the thing about TBI that really strikes me — some of the issues we have are based in unrealistic thinking, while others are based in actual experience that arises from TBI. The sense of doom that I had, the depression I had, the excitability… that was based in unrealistic thinking that got “stuck” in my mind. But the self-doubt was based in actual experience. And it can be pretty damn’ difficult to tell the difference at times.

It might have been different if my neuropsych had been around to help me think things through, but for this one I was on my own. Who knows how it might have been, had they been around? Maybe they would have made things worse, by trying to talk me out of my self-doubt and trying to get me to be easier on myself. Easier on myself could easily have led to screwing things up. I had to push hard, and it took its toll. And they might have tried to minimize my difficulties, telling me I wasn’t really having all that trouble. They’ve done that a bunch of times, and it really bothers me when they do. As though I’m making all of this up… That’s just even more demoralizing — to have someone gloss over your difficulties as though they don’t matter and you don’t actually have to do anything about them… just tell yourself a different story about your experience.

It might have been helpful to have a sounding board to bounce all this off of… then again, maybe it was best that they were away. I don’t think I could have handled being told that it wasn’t as bad as all that.

Anyway, now the project is over and I am getting my life back. I see my neuropsych on Tuesday, and we’ll see how they respond to my experience. I’m kind of dreading talking to them about it, because they do tend to minimize my experience and tell me that it’s not as awful as I think it is. I appreciate the sentiment, and I’m sure they’re trying to help, but this time I had a terrible, awful time of things, and I need that to at least be acknowledged.

But that’s neither here nor there. It’s off in the future and who knows what will happen?

Anyway, in the spirit of restoring normalcy to my life, it’s time to take out the trash and rake up some of the leftover leaves from last winter.

Onward.

Dealing with it all

The storm is a-brewin'

So, yesterday I pulled out my Big List Of All The Stuff That TBI Can Bring, and I checked off all the issues I’ve had going on with me for the past couple of weeks. And after looking at everything — realistically — and realizing how much I’ve had going on (and after getting some nice comments from a reader) I’ve settled into feeling pretty positive, overall, about getting through this time.

A couple of years back, I would have been completely — and I mean completely — derailed over this extended episode. I had my moments (well, days actually) of really Bad Behavior, but I can’t get fixated on them. They’re just part of everything, and the important part is that I’ve moved through, learned my lessons, and I’m able to communicate to others the conditions that can (and will) cause others considerable suffering, if they repeat this cycle again. And I can tell them why. And I can tell them how to avoid it all.

So surprise, surprise, I’m human after all. But even more than that, I’m able to transcend and transform the whole experience into something that can benefit others at work.

And on top of that, I get a whole new appreciation for how far I have truly come in the past several years. Three years ago, I might have just bolted from the situation — just picked up and left. Or gone ballistic and gotten myself fired. Three years ago, I might have collapsed under the pressure and not recovered. That’s how it was for a few years… drifting from job to job, not really digging in anywhere, and certainly not pushing myself to really perform.

This time is different. And I realize that I’ve developed some pretty effective techniques for handling the truly rough spots that used to derail me. I’ve got to get going to work in a few minutes, but I do want to talk in detail about the ways I’ve managed to handle this ridiculous level of crap.

First, in the Behavioral department, here’s how I handled things:

[x]  Impulsiveness – I realized, a few days into the project that being overly impulsive and jumping from task to task was never going to help me get it all done. I had to build 8 different versions of a somewhat complex website in 8 different languages, and I had to coordinate pulling together all sorts of media, text, and regional resources in an extremely short timeframe. After going at things sort of willy-nilly for a few days, I started to melt down and was having huge problems handling the workload. So, I collected all my information and make up a plan, breaking out the different kinds of tasks that needed to be done, instead of jumping from one thing to the next. I call it “the jumping spider syndrome” where I’m all over the place, hopping from one apparent problem to the next without any rhyme or reason, and like a jumping spider, where I land is never very predictable, and it’s never a given. But when I sat down with my lists of Things That Had To Be Done and I organized them all in my head, things started to sort themselves out. I even spent a whole day (a week ago Saturday) not “doing” anything, but thinking through how I was going to do everything — planning it out, getting clear in my head about what my plan of attack would be. Then on Sunday, I got sick as a dog, and I had more time to think (when I wasn’t asleep or in excruciating pain).

[x]  Aggression (verbal/physical) – Holy smokes, was I on a tear for the first week. I was seriously aggressive over the project. The people who had made the arrangements that put me in that tough spot were gallivanting around, busy being important, and there I was left holding the f*cking bag. Their f*cking bag. I was doing all the work, and they were taking all the credit. Idiots. My aggression was off the charts, in large part because there was so much friggin’ work to do, the project was already 2 months late, I had lost 2 weeks off the end of it, and I was locked on target for getting things done. But perhaps the worst part of it all was that the people who had created the mess suddenly decided they should really help me get things done, and their idea of “helping” me was to encourage me to “take it easy” and “not work too hard”. Had they lost their minds?! What is wrong with people? If this was going to get done in the ridiculously short timeframe that they had locked us all into, I had to work harder, not “take it easy”. Please. So, after having some completely pointless and fruitless conversations with people who were both the cause of the problem and were undermining the solution, I basically blocked myself off from everyone with an attitude that warned everyone I was NOT to be Disturbed until this whole project was done. I told the people whose projects were going to be late that they were going to be late because of this project, and I just got down to work. I focused my aggression on the project at hand, and I basically gave up trying to explain the most basic, fundamental facts of the matter to people who just didn’t get it at all. I didn’t get rid of the aggression. I directed it. I used it. I focused in. And I stayed late into the evenings, getting things done, when all the pains in my ass were out of the office, so I could actually focus, instead of having to stroke their egos and play up to their anxiety. Holy crap… Come to think of it, one of the things that eased the aggression was my deciding that there was actually something wrong with these people and they were handicapped by some invisible challenge that they were blind to. That was my explanation, and I gave up on expecting them to have any sense at all. I decided that their heavy drinking and personal pecadillos had taken too great a toll, and they were simply incapable of behaving like adults. In a strange way, that helped.

[x]  Raging behavior – Again, I was on a tear. I was in a flat-out rage for days on end, and everyone knew not to come near me, not to talk to me, not to interact with me, and if they had anything for me, they should just drop it off at my desk and walk away. All the people who felt guilty were coming around trying to make nice to smooth things over. The only problem is, the only thing that actually smooths things over is people behaving like responsible adults and pulling their weight and using their power wisely… not coming around to make nice and schmooze and pat me on the back and bolster my ego. News flash — that doesn’t work with me. And the more people try to smooth things over, the more suspicious and distrustful of them I become. It’s like someone who beats or cheats on their spouse buying them gifts afterwards. You want to do me a favor? Act like a friggin’ adult and take some responsibility. None of this BS where you prance around, making yourself look fabulous, then think that making others “look fabulous” is going to change a goddamned thing. … Oh, I see the rage is still an issue 😉  Anyway, like with the aggression stuff, I eventually gave up on these people having any sense at all, and I just buckled down and used the rage. It’s so pointless to even discuss this with people who create these scenarios, because they occupy a universe that’s parallel to mine, and parallels by definition never meet. So, there’s no point in trying to explain to people. Just buckle down and do the work. And keep the f*ck away from people till the project is done. Because I’m no friggin’ fun till that’s settled.

Anyway, considering the levels of my indignation and outrage and frustration and just plain pissed-off-ed-ness, I think I’ve done pretty well. I’m not likely to forget this anytime soon. And all the lazy, kiss-ass, brown-nosed people I’ve had to deal with over the past couple of weeks have shown their colors, so now I know what I’m dealing with.

And that’s not all bad.

One thing I noticed — after not taking time to sit and breathe for close to two weeks — is that when I do sit and breathe for 10 minutes in the morning and before I go to sleep, I feel a whole lot better about my life and myself. I know things aren’t perfect, but when I balance out my fight-flight with just 10 minutes of stopping, well, that makes all the difference in the world.

I’ve started doing it again. And it helps.

Now, I’ve got to get to work to put this project to bed. Wish me luck.

Yup, wrong again. And right again.

Feeling like you're out of options?

Okay, so the past couple of weeks have been an exercise in … well, everything. I’ve been working my ass off since March 26, really cooking along at this project, trying to explain to the people around me why I actually need to work at this (hint: it’s not because there’s anything wrong with me — people just have no friggin’ idea what it takes to do this job and get things done) … then I tried to take a day off a week ago Saturday, got sick as a dog the next day… and I’ve been slogging along like a manic drone, just trying to get everything done that needs to get done. And I’ve got another five days to go till the bulk of it is out the door.

Then we have Phase II. Good times.

But in retrospect, I can see how I made this a ton harder for myself than I “needed” to. My first mistake was to underestimate the amount of work. The second was to not lay out all the moving pieces and figure out how they were all going to fit together. I just assumed (BIG mistake, as usual) that things would work when they were put together. But I should know by now that I work with a bunch of folks who love their shortcuts and they love to just get crap done and off their plates, with no view of the future and no consideration for anyone past their own little cubicle-verse. It’s not their fault. They’ve been working for a relatively small company on relatively small projects for the past 10 years. Now they’re being asked to build enterprise-class applications that will be reused over and over and over again in a thousand different ways before all is said and done. They’re not lazy (well, some of them aren’t). They just don’t quite get it. Yet.

It’s not my intention to blame them for the fundamental instability of this whole thing. That’s my bad. Because I know better, and I can work around them when I put my mind to it. I just didn’t do that. And I waited too long to get a jump on things. Because I was too busy being pissed off at the other folks, to actually dig in and make my life easier.

It took me about a week to get my sh*t together — on Sunday/Monday when things started getting really dicey at home, with me being woken up at 3:30 a.m. by someone in an uncontrollable weeping anxiety-induced rage attack who just couldn’t handle having to learn some new things about the new computer I hooked up over the weekend. I mean, just total meltdown — all because things weren’t working the way they wanted them to.

And at 4:00 a.m. as I realized I was NOT going to get the full night’s sleep I really needed to be viable and competent at work in a few hours, it occurred to me that I was probably acting just like this — and I decided to stop.

So, I did. I just buckled down and got down to work. And seriously folks, I have done some super-human work in the past week. Of course, it’s not done yet, and I have a bunch of outlying issues to deal with, thanks to my poor planning and whiny-ass behavior, but I have done a truly stellar job. And I’ve managed to eke more cooperation out of colleagues who are not only down the hall but all over the world, than I realistically expected to get.

It’s all working out.  At a price, sure, but it’s all working out. And these are lessons I’m not likely to forget next time. Or maybe I will.

Looking back on the past couple of weeks, I try to find the ways that I could have made my life easier. And I look for my blind spots. I think back to my list of 84 ways TBI can make your life really interesting, and I think about the things that have contributed to this situation. Viewing the list, it looks like a ton of issues have all come up:

Behavioral
[x]  Impulsiveness – check
[x]  Aggression (verbal/physical) – check (my apologies to my coworkers)
[x]  Raging behavior – check (again, my apologies to my coworkers)

Communication
[x]  Trouble being understood – check
[x]  Trouble understanding – check
[x]  Trouble finding words – check
[x]  Trouble communicating in generalcheck

Emotions/Moods
[x] Agitated, can’t settle down – check
[x]  Angerrrrrr!!! – check
[x]  Anxiety – Feeling vague fear, worry, anticipation of doom – double check
[x]  Depression, feeling down – check
[x]  Excitability! – check
[x]  Everything feels like an effortcheck
[x]  Feeling unsure of yourself – check
[x]  Feelings of dread – check
[x]  Feeling like you’re observing yourself from afar
17. Feelings of well-being
[x]  Feeling guilty – check
[x]  Feeling hostile towards others – check
[x]  Impatience – check
[x]  Irritability – check
[x]  No desire to talk or  move – check
[x]  Feeling lonely – check
[x]  Nervousness – check
[x]  Feelings of panic – check
[x]  Rapid mood swings – double-check
[x]  Restlessness – check
[x]  Tearfulness, crying spells – check
[x]  Feeling tense – check
[x]  Feeling vague longing/yearning – check

Day-to-Day Activities
[x]  Being overly busy (more than usual) – check
[x]  Feeling like you can’t get moving, you’re stuck – check
[x]  Feeling like you can’t get anything done – double check

Mental
34. Altered consciousness
35. Aura or weird reverie, trance
[x]  36. Trouble concentrating – check
[x]  Trouble making decisions easily – check
[x]  Trouble reading – check
[x]  Analytical skills suffer – check
[x]  Trouble telling what’s real or not – check
[x]  Being easily distracted – check
[x]  Being forgetful, can’t remember – check
[x]  Nightmares – check
[x]  Worrisome thoughts – check

Physical – Eating
[x] Food cravings – check
[x] Eating less / more than usual – check
[x]  Heartburn / indigestion / upset stomach – check
48. Losing weight

Physical – Head
[x] Headache(s) – check
[x]  Stabbing pain(s) in your head – check

Physical – Hearing
51. Hearing music others don’t
[x]  Ears ringing (tinnitus) – double check

Physical – Pain
[x]  Backache or back pain – check
[x]  General body aches – check
[x]  Joint pain or stiffness – check
[x]  Neck pain – check
[x]  Touch feels like pain

Physical – Sleep
[x]  Waking up too early – check
[x]  Being fatigued / tired – check
[x]  Difficulty falling asleep – check
[x]  Waking up during the night
62. Sleeping too much

Physical – Vision
[x]  Trouble seeing at night – check
[x]  Being sensitive to light – check
[x]  Double/blurred vision
66. Spots, floaters,  or blind spots

Physical – Sensations
67. Your skin feels like it’s crawling – ironically, not
[x]  Feeling like you’ve gained weight – check
[x]  Sensitivity to cold – check
[x]  Sensitivity to noise, sounds – check
71. Smelling odors / fragrances that others don’t smell

Physical – General
[x]  Feeling dizzy / have vertigo – check
[x]  Your heart races or pounds – check
[x]  Hot flashes or sudden feelings of warmth – check
75. Losing consciousness / fainting
76. Metallic taste in your mouth
[x]  Muscles spasms or twitching – check
78. Muscle weakness
79. Seizures
[x] Nausea – oh yeah – check
[x]  Sexual desire feeling “off” – check
[x]  Skin breaking out / acne – check
[x]  Hands or feet swelling – check
84. Vomiting  – wish I could

So, it’s been an eventful couple of weeks. And times like this I’m not sure if my issues are directly TBI-related or just life in general. Everybody feels this way at times — but all at once? See the image at the top of this post for a 1,000-word replacement description of how it’s felt.

All I can say is, I’ve been in countless situations like this in the years prior to my most recent TBI, and while I didn’t particularly care for the experiences, I never had this level of off-the-rails panic, anxiety, aggression, frustration, etc. And being aware of the fact that I have not been handling this well has not helped me at all. That is what’s been the most dispiriting of all. Just that feeling of not being able to handle sh*t, not being on my game, not being able to handle anything — at the get-go. And really beating myself up over this whole thing. Like it’s an unredeemable mess.

But what I need to remember is that NOTHING is an unredeemable mess. It’s just not. So long as I keep going, so long as I continue to observe and learn and find workarounds — and don’t isolate myself from outside help — and I can manage to accept myself and not get rigidly locked into thinking that I have to be one way and one way only, then I can make room for more in my life — more experience, more wrongness, more rightness — than I would have, if I were completely focused on everything being perfect all the time — OR ELSE.

In the spirit of being truly human, here’s OceanLab with a song that fits my life pretty well this morning. Just beautiful.

So, the thing is, when I look back on my life, the hallmark of my experience has been being wrong — over and over and over again. I have been wrong so many times, I have all but give up on “getting it right the first time” as is so popular and lauded by our dominant paradigm. I mean, countless small details escape me. Or I’m so focused on paying attention to the small details, that the big main ones get lost in the shuffle. And when I try to write things down and keep track of them that way, I rapidly lose my place and everything gets even more jumbled up.

What a mess things can be.

Then again, in the spirit of “failing early, fast and often” as a paradigm for continuous, incremental improvement, I absolutely utterly excel. I don’t know anyone who fails early, fast and often as much as I do. And when I think about it, it seems to me that the ideal of getting it right the first time is pretty unrealistic. You’re going to fail, if you live life right. And you’re going to fail a lot, if you don’t hold back. That’s what I do — I don’t hold back. I dive right in. And I learn as I go. If I don’t, I’m screwed.

Maybe that’s one of the benefits of having had so many concussions/mild TBIs — I’ve acquired the ability to adjust rapidly to being utterly clueless in countless situations. Seriously, friends, when I’m in high-stakes situations, my impulse control generally goes right out the window, and I often end up in the midst of a terrible, terrible mess. The only redemption for me is to dive deeper, drive harder, and hack my way through the weeds, till I come out on the other side. I’m in the underbrush as often as not, and since I usually can’t tell what I don’t know till I get there, I often end up standing at the edge of a proverbial cliff with the local law enforcement at my heels — complete with barking dogs and loaded guns.

Such is my life of adventure.

Good thing they dumped their fuel!

Of course, a lot of this I could avoid, if I could just calm myself down and think things through rationally up front. And I often can do that. But every now and then, I get hit with something like this project that totally blindsides me and throws me off. I get angry. I get aggressive. I get hostile. And I get physically ill. I go into a tailspin, and I have to pull myself out of it quick, before I end up like an F/A-18 fighter jet crashed in a Virginia Beach apartment complex courtyard.

Of course, I’ve got plenty of experience doing this. I’ve messed up more times than I can count — and if my memory were better, I’d have lots of great stories to tell. The problem is, I don’t always remember the things that have happened before — if someone sits with me and talks them through, I can often piece together what once was. But when I’m on my own and there’s no one available to talk to  — and when I don’t take the time to sit myself down and intentionally work my way through the scenario and get my head on properly — things get ugly. I just didn’t do that, this time. I was too busy being pissed off about the timing of this and being upset with my boss and my boss’es boss who signed me up for this jungle march.

I really need to watch more adventure movies. Old movies about WWII. I should also go back to reading military histories like I was before. They really help me.

Yeah — what ever happened to me reading my big book of Samurai legends? I recall that it was helping me immensely before. Did wonders for my attitude and outlook. Gotta dig that book up and start reading it again. Like a Bible of sorts. Yeah, do that, why dontcha.

After I finish the work I’m doing today. No, wait – while I’m finishing the work I’m doing today. The stories are short, so I can read them in the midst of my slog through the jungle — the jungles of this project, and the jungles of my brain.

The thing I have to remember through all of this is that it’s a learning experience. Everything is a learning experience. Without exception. The difference is with me — will I make the effort to learn what I need to learn? Will I have compassion on myself for screwing up and find ways to redeem myself, even after the worst sort of behavior possible? Will I have the wherewithall to adjust and adapt — often in mid-stream — so that I don’t get hung up on rocks like a cruiseliner sailing too close to some Mediterranean island?  What will it be? Will I decide that my brain is too broken to handle anything well, or will I realize that my brain is constantly relearning how to do things — over and over again, sometimes the same lesson repeatedly — just like everyone else who bothers to pay close attention to their life?

What’s it gonna be? Am I gonna settle for being wrong, over and over again? Or will I see this as a chance to figure it out differently and get it right the next time — over and over again?

It’s up to me. I have a choice. So, it’s time to make the better choice of the two. And it’s time to get back to work.

Onward.

Better today… of pain and ptsd

Well, I got to bed by 10:00 last night, and I was able to sleep through till 6:30 or so, which is an improvement over what I’d been able to do over the last weeks.

I’ve been kept up by anxiety over what my neuropsych evaluation is going to reveal — that’s coming up this week — me being terribly afraid that I had given wrong information or I just couldn’t think my way through certain things… I’ve been second-guessing myself for days and days, wondering if I answered as accurately as possible… of if maybe I’m more crazy than head-injured… or that my head injuries have led to some sort of mental illness that’s invisible to me because of my anosognosia… or maybe I’m just on this wild goose-chase that will end up being all for nothing.

I try to be level-headed and logical about this and remind myself that my neurpsych has been doing this for many years, and they have certainly seen worse cases than me. But still, not being able to be a full participant in the process and being a subject of examination and enquiry… well, that makes me uncomfortable, and even if I do trust the doctor. I just don’t know what to expect, and I cannot manage my wild rang of emotions, if I don’t know what I’m managing for.

Fortunately, I do feel better this a.m. — not so much pain, not so much tenderness. I got a bit of a massage yesterday p.m., and it really, really helped. Even if it was painful at times — I don’t care. Short-term pain for long-term benefits. I’ll take the pain in the short-term, if it will help me feel this much better in the a.m.

I still have discomfort when I move – especially in my hips and lower back. And my elbows are still sore. And my thighs are still tender. But I can push up my sleeves, so they’re not chafing my wrists, and my body isn’t screaming so loud I can’t hear myself think.

I tried the Arnica yesterday. i can’t say I noticed an immediate effect, but I’m going to keep trying it — 4 tablets dissolved under my tongue 4 times a day, for a few days. I’m going to take it again after I finish my cup of coffee. (I’ve heard that you have to be careful taking homeopathic remedies when you’re eating or drinking. It’s my understanding that the remedy needs to be the only think you can taste… or I could be wrong.) I’m not off caffeine entirely — that would be too much. But I am cutting back. I only had one cup yesterday, which I think helped me sleep.

This arnica experiment is definitely going to be totally screwed up by my other changes I’m making. In a “real” test, the only thing I would change would be taking the arnica, not getting more sleep or changing my diet or getting more exercise. But dude, I’m in pain, and I need it to stop, so I can get on with my life.

Thinking about the role that pain has played in my life, I think there’s a definite trauma aspect to it. I have friends who specialize in treating trauma, both in medical and psychological environments, and they talk a lot about it. They also love to tell me I’m a “trauma survivor” — having had a whole bunch of accidents that left me progressively more impaired, as the years went on, along with the social, interpersonal, and physical after-effects of my impairments that haven’t helped me get by in the world.

And since I have a history of trauma — physical, as well as psychological — I have to admit I do show signs of PTSD.

Over at Wikipedia — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Posttraumatic_stress_disorder — I found this (note: my comments are in italics):

The diagnostic criteria for PTSD, per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (Text Revision) (DSM-IV-TR), may be summarized as:[1]

A. Exposure to a traumatic event – multiple head injuries over the years, along with other accidents and fights/clashes with people that threatened my safety
B. Persistent reexperience (e.g. flashbacks, nightmares) – I’ve had lots of them over the years… where do I begin?
C. Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma (e.g. inability to talk about things even related to the experience, avoidance of things and discussions that trigger flashbacks and reexperiencing symptoms fear of losing control) – some things I just will not talk about… you can pump me for details till the cows come home, but I’m not talking about certain things that have happened to me, unless I can know that it’s not going to ruin my life, if I do
D. Persistent symptoms of increased arousal (e.g. difficulty falling or staying asleep, anger and hypervigilance) – well, yuh, I’ve had more restless nights and being jolted awake at 3 a.m. with my heart racing and my body soaked in sweat… than I care to think about
E. Duration of symptoms more than 1 month – try months and months… sometimes years later, after the initial event is over
F. Significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (e.g. problems with work and relationships.) – just ask my friends, family, and co-workers… just ask my 17 former employers

Notably, criterion A (the “stressor”) consists of two parts, both of which must apply for a diagnosis of PTSD. The first (A1) requires that “the person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others.” The second (A2) requires that “the person’s response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror.” The DSM-IV-TR criterion differs substantially from the previous DSM-III-R stressor criterion, which specified the traumatic event should be of a type that would cause “significant symptoms of distress in almost anyone,” and that the event was “outside the range of usual human experience.” Since the introduction of DSM-IV, the number of possible PTSD traumas has increased and one study suggests that the increase is around 50%.[48] Various scales exist to measure the severity and frequency of PTSD symptoms.[49][50]

Now, this is all pretty thick stuff for me to get into. Personally, I don’t feel like I can take on much more to process, other than just dealing with my own pain… but I have to say, the pain is worse, when I’m feeling the after-effects of some past trauma. When I’m dealing with people who have really physically hurt me in the past — like adults who used to really knock me around — or I’m interacting with people whom I have hurt in the past because of my bad behavior and poor social integration.

When I think back on being a kid, I remember a lot of pain, both from internal sources and from without. My pain issues date back to fairly early childhood – I was not a very limber kid, and I had a lot of difficulty doing things that other kids could just do, like touching toes and climbing and jumping and doing cartwheels and such. I had a lot of trouble with my balance, and I couldn’t do a somersault until I was about 5 or 6. I can’t remember exactly how old I was, but I do remember the day I did my first “real” somersault — I didn’t fall off to the side, but was actually able to just roll right over and keep my balance. When I tried to stretch and extend, like other kids could, it was very painful for me. But I kept trying, and I just forced myself to stretch and extend… until the pain was too much, and I had to stop… which was usually far short of where I wanted to be.

I wanted so much to participate, to take part, to be a part of what was going on. I hated being on the outside, not able to do what other kids could as easily as they could, so I pushed myself — very hard. There was a lot of pain, but that was just the price I paid for being able to be a part of what was going on.

The other source of pain was from the outside. I was raised by parents who didn’t know how to relate to me. I tended to get over-stressed and over-extended with all the stimuli going on around me (including the pain), and they tended to discipline me. Grab me. Jerk me around. Take hold of my arms and pull me to where I was supposed to be. It was excruciating, and it was shocking. My memories of childhood are full of instances where my mom would grab me out of the blue — I wasn’t following what was going on, and I didn’t understand what she wanted me to do, so she would yell and/or grab me and pull/push me to where I was supposed to be. With my sensitivities, it was like just being pounded out of the blue, time and time again. I could never prepare for it, I could never brace for it. And I didn’t really “get” why it was happening, a lot of the time.

I wasn’t able to explain my “bad” behavior to them, and they didn’t seem much interested in finding out if I was having problems, or if I was just a bad kid who needed discipline. I think, because of their religious orientation and the role that my very religious grandparents had in our lives, they “went with” the religious explanation that I was a “sinner” and that “sin” or the “devil” had taken hold in my life, so I needed to be disciplined to stop my acting out.

So, they did. I got called a lot of names, when I was little, because I couldn’t keep up cognitively or physically — spaz, space cadet, bugger, doofus, spastic… that was my dad. My mom preferred to call me pathetic or disgusting or asinine (asinine was her favorite). I was actually shielded from their wrath a lot, because I didn’t understand till I was 7 or 8 or 9 (?) that they were actually talking to/about me. I thought they were just saying what they were saying into the blue. It didn’t occur to me, till I had been in school for a few years, and other kids were calling me names, that my mom and dad were calling me names, too.

Actually, come to think of it, it didn’t occur to me that my mom was calling me names, till a few years ago. Somehow, being mistreated by my mother is a lot harder to take than being mistreated by my dad.

Even when they showed affection, my family’s hugs and touches were extremely painful. My family — for whatever reason — loves to give big, hard hugs, and it hurts like crazy when they do! I don’t know what it is that makes them think it’s okay to just throw their arms around someone and squeeze so hard… or maybe they can’t really feel it, themselves, so they have to have hard hugs and forceful contact, to even tell someone is there. My grandparents were hard huggers, and my mom was/is, too. She loves to reach out and grab people as a sign of affection, which is a double-whammy — I don’t want to shut her out, but I cannot take the force of her contact. Just over Thanksgiving, she was walking by me, and she reached out and grabbed my arm as a sign of affection. And when I was getting ready to drive home, with the weather being as rainy as it was, she got scared for my safety and she just threw herself at me and hugged me really hard, which really hurt.

I still haven’t figured out how to tell people that when they touch me, sometimes it feels like they’re pounding on me. It’s embarrassing, it’s troubling, and I dread people knowing just how much pain they’ve caused me. Being in pain is bad enough, but then “spreading it around” by telling others about it — and telling them there’s nothing they can really do, but keep their distance — is just awful. I’ve done it before, and it’s awful. Awful to be pushed out to the margins. Awful to be forced to push people away. Awful to have to hold them at arm’s length and never let them close, without pain.

Thinking about growing up in constant pain, raised by people who repeatedly hurt me terribly, is definitely not easy to take. I have to tell myself my parents weren’t fully aware of the effect that their behavior was having on me, and that if they’d known what it was like for me when they grabbed me or hugged me, they would not have done it. I have to tell myself that they had no idea, that they were innocent. Believing that my parents would intentionally harm me, is more than I can process right now.

But it’s probably worsening my pain, to hold back from that belief. Now that I’ve been away from them for a whole day, I’m starting to relax, and I’m starting to be able to adddress my pain. I think when I was in the midst of it all, I was so shut down that even if I’d been in terrible pain — which I may have been — I wasn’t aware of it. I was up in my head. I was too busy talking. I was too busy trying to stay out of arm’s reach of both my parents.

I rarely notice until days after the fact, but when I am in the midst of family at holiday/Thanksgiving time, I hold as still as possible for long periods of time — both as an attempt to not draw attention to myself, and to keep myself from acting out when I get stressed. When I’m stressed, my brain stops working really fluidly, and I end up needing to take more time to explain myself. But when things are all wild and woolly, like at my parents’ place at Thanksgiving, I don’t have the time to fully explain myself, and I end up hurting people’s feelings from a poorly told joke, or an attempt to josh around with others, and then I start flashing back to all the other times I said/did things that people took the wrong way.

Yes, I hold very, very still during the holidays… both for my own protection and that of others.

And it probably doesn’t help my pain — because of my rigidity and my disconnection from my body.

And it doesn’t help my PTSD. Because I go back to that place where I’m on auto-pilot, where I’m just keeping my head down and keeping moving, where I’m just doing what’s in front of me, and not aware of whether or not I’m hungry or tired or anxious or stressed. And when I’m not aware, when I’m just soldiering through (as I do so well!), I tend to push myself even harder — do more stuff, take on more tasks, be more manic, be more forceful, be harder on myself and add more things to my to-do list — and that cuts in on my sleep, it cuts in on my rest, it cuts in on my physical well-being.

And I have pain. Lots of it. Tearing, ripping, screaming, shooting, chafing, burning, crazy-making pain.

So, in a way, the pain is like my barometer for how I’m doing, stress-wise. It tells me if old stuff is coming up that’s making me do things and make choices that aren’t healthy. It tells me if I’m falling back on old patterns, letting my fears and anxieties and old hurts stop me from living my life. It tells me if I’m tired — and it tells me that I’ve let myself get over-fatigued and ill-nourished.

It’s an objective measurement of how I’m doing psychologically and physically. And it gives me a great “excuse” (in my mind, when a simple reason won’t suffice) to step back and cut out all the shit I’ve got on my plate… focus in, take care of basics, talk over my issues with my therapist, and make sure I get plenty of rest. It tells me, loud and clear and in no uncertain terms, that I’m totally f’ed up, and I need to stop doing what I’ve been doing, and just take a break. Take care of myself. Have a long, hot shower. Take care of myself. Now.

Unless I do, I’m going to stay in pain. That’s just the way it is. And it’s my choice.

In a way, pain is my friend — but only because it’s my mortal enemy.