I just talked to a friend of mine who is totally stoked about some self-improvement work they’re going to be doing in about a month or so. They are so excited, it’s wild to see — this is someone who has seemed to me to be almost clinically depressed. They just can’t seem to get their act together, and they always have an excuse for why things didn’t work out for them. Their energy tends to be low, unless there are lots of people around to lift their spirits.
Then, they come across this intensive workshop that’s being held for several days in a row, a couple of states away… it’s expensive, and the don’t really have the money… but they’ve heard incredible things about it from friends who once did it, and they’re doing what they can to get the money together and go.
They’re going. They’re just going. They’re not sure how — they need to get plane tickets and find transportation to the venue from the airport… they have mobility issues, so it’s not easy for them to hoof it around… and they’re starting to have second thoughts and pretty intense dreams… but they’re going.
They’ve committed. They’re going to make it happen. No matter what.
And the change in them is pretty amazing. Because this person who tends to be a bit like Eyore in Winnie the Pooh, is all of a sudden full of life and hope. They can see the light ahead, and for the first time in a long time, they can imagine a future where they don’t have to be held back by their demons, their ghosts, and the fears that constantly dog them.
And it’s a great way to close out the week. Because just hearing how happy and how determined — and how realistic — they are, really lifts my own spirits.
Hard stuff, too. I’m sure they’re going to go through some stuff between now and then… but they’re committed. They’re locked on. And they’re going to fulfill a dream – to take this workshop and see it through.
It really is exciting when I come across people who are totally about making themselves and their lives and the lives of others better.
I’ve been having some interesting times, lately – and not in the sense of the Chinese curse about “living in interesting times”. I seem to have turned a corner of sorts, seemingly out of the blue… it’s like things have just focused for me and centered, and even though I don’t know the specifics of what I’m going to be doing about specific things, I have this certainty that things are going to roll out the way they should, and I will find a way to roll with them.
The vacation I took had a lot to do with it, as did the insane 3-4 weeks leading up to it. For about a month, I was all-out, just flat-out working-working-working, without distraction, without confusion. That focus came from a sort of iffy place — basically, I knew I was screwed. That much was plain. The work that I’d been doing for the past year came under a huge amount of scrutiny at work, and people decided it wasn’t what they wanted — even though they didn’t bother asking me about the specifics, they loaded me up with a ton of other work, and they just sort of shoved it all off on me like it was a pain and a hindrance. For two years, they don’t pay any attention to me, don’t listen when I give them updates, and they just dismiss this part of the equation… until suddenly it matters.
And it’s not what they wanted.
And they end up looking bad.
And it’s all my fault.
Hm. Okay, then, time to move. Time to groove. Time to hustle… right on out of there.
And I realize now that a big part of my stress has been the dynamics at work, where the boss is weak, the boss’es boss is weak, the uber-boss is a disorganized, impulsive, attention-deficient bully who’s also a bit psycho — and aggressive to boot… and all the while, the people who are running the show are actually thousands of miles away in a different time zone and a different world entirely. If sh*t rolls downhill, I ended up rolling around in it like a stressed-out pig. And everything I did to try to turn things around with my direct line of command just didn’t work out. On top of it, the people my boss reports to don’t really like me very much. They wouldn’t. They’re most comfortable with 20-somethings who don’t know enough to call them on their games. And that’s just not me.
So, while I was working my ass off before vacation, shoving everything off my plate except for those three massive projects that just had to get done, I had plenty of time to shake it off and just focus on the work at hand. I had plenty of time to get used to the idea that no matter what I did, no matter how hard I worked, no matter how much effort I put into my job, the fact that people above me don’t like me and aren’t comfortable around me is a bit of a gating factor — so long as I let it be, that is.
And it occurred to me that part of what was making me nuts and cutting into my happiness with my work and my focus and my energy levels, was my mindset that I was ever going to be able to get those folks to like me, to be able to sit comfortably in a room with me and have a conversation with me, to see the value and the reasons behind what I do… that they were ever going to appreciate and see eye-to-eye with me. It just wasn’t going to happen. And I was wasting a whole lot of time chasing something that was never going to be attainable… like I was crawling across the desert towards an “oasis” that turned out to be a mirage.
“Screw it,” I decided. I realized that I lost all respect for the people I report to, a long time ago. Nice people, but weak… poseurs. And pandering. And a little bit dangerous that way. They’ll say what ever they need to say to get along with their higher-ups and damn the truth of the matter. These kinds of people not only make life hard for their co-workers, but also for their bosses by not telling them the whole truth and actually fixing sh*t instead of covering it up and putting lipstick on the pig. All I wanted to do was get the job done and get it done right. I wasn’t bending over backwards to make anybody happy, I wasn’t going out of my way to soften things and paint them in the right shades of mauve. Screw it. I was just going to get the job done, and never mind what everybody had to say about it.
That freed up a lot of energy, actually. And I felt a whole lot better when I just let that sh*t go.
Then I went on vacation. I didn’t check my email, I didn’t pay any attention to work, I didn’t do squat that had anything to do with the workplace. I took time to myself. And I let it go. I just f*cking let it go. All that drama would be there when I got back. What was the point in getting all worked up over everything? No point at all, especially considering that I wasn’t going to “win” with these losers, anyway. So, I had a vacation. For the first time in years. And I came back feeling human and ready to rumble again — on my terms.
And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing — rumbling on my terms. And it’s been great. Seriously. My performance has been great. I have gotten so much done, and I’ve turned so much around in the space of a couple of weeks, my head’s spinning. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, but I’m doing it. One step at a time. One day at a time. One task at a time. I am getting into a great routine, a great roll — exercising again, but in a smart way… taking time away from my desk to decompress and then come back in to the thick of things… making up for lost time… and getting sharper all the time.
How could I not? I’m moving. I’m taking time out to think and to get square away. I’m living. And living to the best of my ability has turned out to be incredibly positive, incredibly helpful, incredibly healing on a number of different levels. I can definitely tell that my thought processes are not as fluid as they were before my last TBI, but by God, I’ve got something else in place that is working – and it’s working better every day that I practice it.
See, that’s the thing – the practice. It . is . so . important. Hands down, it is the one thing that has turned my life around — practice, practice, and more practice. Getting a goal in mind, blocking everything else out, going after that goal over-and-over-and-over-again, till I have reached it. Not giving up. Not quitting. Not accepting temporary setbacks as a sign of true failure. So long as I just keep at it, there can be no failure. Because I’m not done yet. There’s a line from the trailer of the movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” where someone says “Everything will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, it’s not the end.”
That’s pretty much where I am, these days. Keeping on keeping on, till I get where I’m going.
And that’s a relatively new thing for me. One of the things that this TBI business has taught me, is how to stick with something, even when I appear to fail along the way. When I was a kid growing up, people gave up on me all the time. If I didn’t perform up to their standards or expectations right out of the gate, that was it. I was done. I was fortunate to have some native intelligence that let me quickly figure some things out — and also mimic others who were doing what they were doing — so I could at least pass some of their tests. But when it came to temporary setbacks, people would get very frustrated with me and wouldn’t work with me to figure things out. They just gave up on me because my performance was so erratic (and they thought it was because I wasn’t trying hard enough), and I never had anyone really talk things through with me and work it through.
Throughout my life, I’ve had a lot of experiences where I’ve been able to figure some things out pretty quickly and also mimic the performance of others who had things “down”, and get by pretty well in most things. I reached a certain level of proficiency, and things were looking pretty damn’ good. I had stock options in a very big corporation where I worked, and I was about 18 months away from being able to cash out, pay off my house, get out of debt, and really free myself up in general.
Then I fell and smashed my head on some stairs, and everything got scrambled. All of a sudden, things stopped making sense to me. And over the next six months, they just fell apart. Just . fell . apart.
And it seemed like it was going to be that way forever. The confidence about skills that I was so comfortable with before… gone. Not comfortable anymore. The skills were still there, but the confidence was gone. The abilities I had to self-regulate and keep a lid on things when times got tight… gone. It was like someone took a deck of cards and flipped them all into the air, and then I was expected to compete in a poker tournament in Vegas. Not happening.
To say that this has been difficult would be an understatement. TBI… concussion… brain injury… whatever you want to call it, it’s a bitch. A stark raving slovering bitch.
But you know what? All those cards — even though they were scattered all over the place — they could be picked up again, and I could get back a whole lot of what I’d lost. It has been a long and torturous road, and this Thanksgiving it will be 8 years since that fall. I have either lost or almost lost so f*cking much that mattered to me in the past, and I’ve had to work my ass off to get back to a level that’s not even close to where I was before. But with time, I am all but positive that I am going to get back not only to that former level, but also take it up a notch. Because now I know what it’s like to lose so much. Now I know what it’s like to get knocked down so hard, and have to work my way back.
And most importantly of all, I am learning how to hang in there and keep fighting, even when things are so hard against me – like this job situation, the political dramas, the tension and hostile dynamics at work, and the nagging doubts and lack of self-confidence that just eats away at me, if I let it.
Sometimes the only way we can learn how to fly, is if we get the legs knocked out from under us. Imagine what would happen to the ostriches, if they couldn’t use their legs to escape predators… a lot of them would die, sure, but others would probably learn how to fly, and a whole new species would emerge.
I guess that’s what I’m doing with my life — creating a whole new species, a whole new way of living and operating. It’s not perfect, but the way I was before wasn’t perfect, either. When I get honest about that — really honest — I know that there were a lot of things that needed improvement before, but because they seemed to be working fairly well (I had money in the bank and a job and a home) I had no incentive to change them.
Only when I got injured.. and then things got so bad and the pain got so unbearable… did I take a wholesale look at my life and find the things that hadn’t actually been working for a long time, but I could let slide because I was functioning acceptably overall.
To say that my life has changed, would be an understatement. It has totally changed into something else, something I never would have expected myself to be living — more settled, more deliberate, more focused, and more social than ever, ever, ever in my life. Amazing. But that didn’t start to change until things broke down so badly that I had no choice but to change.
That’s how it usually goes with us human beings, is it not? So long as we can “get by” we figure we’re doing pretty well. We like to take it easy. We like to not push so hard. We like to chill. We don’t like to take huge risks, unless it’s exciting for us and we’re into that sort of thing. On the whole, we’re creatures of leisure, and we like it like that.
Unless something comes along and kicks us in the ass so hard, it pushes us off the tracks we were stuck in. Something pretty significant needs to blow us out of the rut we groove for ourselves in our lives. And sometimes we don’t survive the explosion. But sometimes we do. In fact, I think we’re a lot more resilient than we give ourselves credit for. When we can get past the initial anxiety and worry and intimidation… things change.
But speaking of change, I’ve got to get on with my day. I’ve got a lot to do, and I’ve got my schedule cleared to do it. I was up early, so I hope to take a nap later, to keep myself going. If I work this right, I’ll be totally wiped out by 2 p.m., when I’ll lie down for a 30-minute nap… then get up and go at it again.
Practice, practice, practice. Build some more habits. Deepen the grooves. Get those neurons firing — so frequently in the same way that they cannot help but create new patterns, new abilities, new ways of living and being and seeing and understanding.
It’s a whole new day, and another chance to strengthen the new.
Something pretty important has become increasingly apparent to me, in the past week or so – namely, that I can choose my own experience in life. No matter what is happening, I can choose to think and feel any way that I want to think and feel about just about anything.
I don’t have to fixate on one side of things, and I don’t need to get stuck in only one outlook.
Everything has more than one side to it. Everything. From the most terrible events to the most fortunate experiences, if you look hard enough, you can find whatever you need there, to feel however you want about it.
Life is literally like a cut stone – it has many different facets that catch the light in different ways, and depending on which side you look at, it can be awful or it can be wonderful… or any combination in between. Usually it’s that.
The challenge is to not get caught up in what’s obvious on the surface — that something is GOOD or BAD, but just that something… IS. The other challenge is to not completely disregard the different qualities of a certain experience, because you’re invested in feeling a certain way about them.
Things like injury and hurt and harm aren’t the kinds of things you’d want to feel great about. That’s kind of like encouraging them and making them okay, which they’re not.
On the other hand, there can be good that comes out of those things, and if we overlook the learning that comes from them and dismiss the good things that came in their aftermath, then we lose out on half our lives — if not more.
That’s the stuff I’ve been wrangling with, this week. Coming back from my vacation and going back into the fray has been extremely difficult, and I’ve had some meltdowns along the way. It hasn’t been pretty, and I’ve been working my ass off, trying to catch up. I’ve been pretty down on myself, realizing that I still have a ways to go, before I can say for certain what I want to do for my next job, but I just have to keep moving, keep going, keep proceeding. And I can’t just run away from what’s in front of me, because it’s valuable experience that can help me. I still want to leave my employer — but the work I do? Maybe I don’t need to ditch that, as well.
When it all boils down, basically I’m realizing that whatever situation comes up in my life is an opportunity for me to learn and grow and get my act together. And that’s the truth. I’ve been having some tough times at home, behaviorally speaking. And at work I’ve been really on the hot seat. But these are chances for me to (re)learn how to handle myself under intense pressure, because this is certainly not the last time I’m ever going to be under this kind of pressure. Compare to what’s to come, it’s probably child’s play.
I believe it’s the Navy SEALs who say, “The only easy day is yesterday.” Googling it, I see that a lot of people say it, but it’s the unofficial motto of the SEALs. Hm. Those folks again… Is there a theme here?
It’s possible. Looking around at my world, I seem to be surrounded by folks who don’t have principles, who don’t live by any kind of a code, who are just drifting and following whatever moves them. They don’t seem to have any higher purpose than to follow what comes to mind. And suggesting that they find a higher purpose is usually met with resistance – some of it violent.
Don’t get me wrong – my relationship with the Almighty and the morals and ethics of my youth has really been tested over the years. And I can’t say I’m a perfect adherent to what I should or should not do in the eyes of others. But at some point, I have to choose where I’m going and understand why I’m going in that direction. And that often means putting aside my own selfish wishes and just getting on with what needs to be done — AND not paying any attention to others when they aren’t on the same wavelength as I.
How they choose to live their lives is their own business. It’s no concern of mine.
And that being said, as I’m taking responsibility for my actions, I also need to take responsibility for my experience. I am the only person who can hold me down and make me feel badly. Nobody else can do that to me, unless I don’t take responsibility for my own emotions and thoughts. These aren’t just things that show up out of the blue. These are things I can direct and choose to disregard or pay attention to.
And the kinds of thoughts and emotions I choose to pay attention to are going to shape my experience. So in making conscious choices, I create my own experience. I create the world I live in.
Two people can be living under identical conditions — one is in heaven, the other is in hell.
So, life is going to be life. And very often the hardest things are the most rewarding. And very often I lose sight of that and start feeling sorry for myself that “everyone else” gets to just move at their own pace and do what they want to do, while I have to work overtime just to do the basics.
No, it’s not fair that I fell back in 2004 and it rearranged my life.
No, it’s not fair that other people get to just “get” things without having to push themselves like crazy.
No, it’s not fair that I have trouble sleeping, and even when I can sleep, I can never get enough of it, because life is calling me out to get on with it.
Not fair at all.
But “fairness” has nothing to do with it. We humans seem to have this odd sense of entitlement, like we deserve to take it easy, like it’s something we’ve “earned”. We treat ease like a prize we get for just being on the planet and living our lives. And if we’ve been through some difficult times, then, well, we really “deserve a break”. Personally, I think this is an invention of Madison Avenue in the 1950’s, when WWII vets and their families were really struggling with the emotional aftermath of the war, and convenience and comfort and junk food were presented as rewards at the end of a tough day — just something to keep us going. Then McDonalds came up with the 1970s jingle “You deserve a break today… so get up and get away… to McDonalds” (anybody else remember that little ditty? I can’t get it out of my head now – sorry)
It was really drummed into us – and I think maybe it predates WWII and goes back to the Great Depression, when nobody had anything, and times were so tough, and any little thing was a luxury. Or maybe it’s just part of human nature. But in today’s American society, it is so very prevalent that it’s almost second nature.
Hard work is bad (you should “work smart, not hard” – because apparently if you’re working hard, you’re an idiot). Labor is beneath us. Getting the job done is something you do through other people, not through yourself.
Might be a class thing, too — managerial class being “better” than working class, yada-yada-yada. What-ever.
Anyway, enough about everyone else. The issue with me is that I get tired, and when I get tired I get foggy and dull. Not thinking well. That’s got to change. I’ve got to learn to think/act clearly when all is going crazy around me — which it usually is. Just find that clear space in my head, heart & gut, and have that be the thing that defines me, not the craziness around me. I’ve got to learn how to do that in the moment, not wait for some down-time of meditation or quiet breathing so I have “enough time” to do it. There is never enough time. I make sure of that by having so many things I love to do, and always wanting to do them.
I’ve got to get my act together and just take care of business. And that’s what I’m doing. I’ve quit feeling sorry for myself and I realized yesterday that this is what’s going on with me — I’m just being badly behaved and I’m chock-full of self-pity. I also realize that the Big Job Change I had been wanting to make isn’t really practical. I’m trying to find the kind of work that I was doing over 2 years ago, and in this industry, those things change almost overnight. I am NOT current with my skills, and I’ve realized that I cannot and will not be spending every spare minute coming up to speed with those skills. It sounded so good at the time, when I was dreaming about just escaping where I’m at — but when I think about going back to typing all day, with my hands and wrists under all that stress… you know what? No thanks. I’ve had my vacation, I’ve rested up, and as a result, I’m getting much more realistic about my current situation.
Now, to keep myself from being down on myself for “screwing up” and trying to find work with recruiters that didn’t really suit me.
Just move on. Just get a move on. Keep going. Keep making progress.
I’ve had a couple of really long days — 14 hours of really hard work on Wednesday and 12+ hours yesterday. On the one hand, part of me feels like (and people are saying to me) that that’s wrong, it’s too much, it’s too demanding on me. But in actual fact, it feels good to be able to just knock things out, take care of what needs to be taken care of, and just get on with my life. Just get it all done. What others say, what others think, what others expect of me… that’s fine. Whatever. I’ve got my own mission, I’ve got my own agenda, and I need to stay steady with it.
I can’t run a head trip on myself about being “impaired” by too little sleep. So long as I just keep going, so long as I keep moving forward, even the little missteps along the way can be adjusted for. I’m in the process of adjusting for a ton of missteps over the past year, when I basically slacked off and coddled myself because life was hard and confusing and — frankly I was a spoiled brat. Enough of that. Enough of the self-pity, the whining, the pissing and moaning. Just get on with it, already. Just move along. Keep steady, keep true to my vision and my own nature, and move forward. Sometimes back, sure, but ever onward.
I’ve got less than 8 weeks, before I kick off my active job search. Actually, I’m going to start sending out my updated resume in the middle of September, so it’s more like five weeks… even so, it’s not a lot of time, and I have a ton of stuff to do to wrap up the things I need to wrap up before moving on.
That’s the one thing that keeps me going through all of this. My boss has been leaning on me more and more, as well as their boss. They’ve been grilling me a bit over my “non-compliance” with what they want me to do, which is actually very different from what their boss want’s us all to do. Basically, the folks in the middle have their own agenda to follow, which has not been helped by the folks at the top being duplicitous bullies.
But that’s enough of that. I’ll be out of there, soon enough. The main thing is to keep calm and just keep going. I can’t let them get in my head (which is pretty difficult to do, at times), and I can’t let them distract me from what I need to do — hone my skills, figure out how to better describe what I do in my resume so that I can connect with the kinds of jobs I want to connect with. I’m doing double-duty, these days, both keeping the shop running at work and developing my job search. It keeps me busy, that’s for sure.
It also tires me out. No matter how excited I am about my prospects, I still get tired, and then my mood starts to fade. When that happens, I need to find some other source of energy to keep me going. Mental and physical fatigue are a problem. But emotional/spiritual fatigue are even worse.
So, I’ve been looking for ways to keep my spirits up. And I’ve been finding them. I’ve been finding books that interest me. And I’ve also found some music that I really enjoy. As it turns out, I have not been doing myself any favors, over the past couple of years, by listening to high energy tunes and alternative/hard rock. Although they really get me pumped up, in the end, they sap my energy… like a massive sugar rush that spikes me, and then causes me to crash. I’ve been listening to chillout/lounge music for the past week or so, and I am noticing a definite difference in my mood and energy level. I’m not nearly as pumped as I’m used to being. But I’ve got a lot more endurance. And while I’m fatigued, I’m not nearly as exhausted as I’ve been in the past. Plus, I have found a lot of my old interests coming back to me — like travel and places I once lived. I’ve been cruising around Google maps and images, looking at places I used to live, and it’s giving me a little spark to remember how things were before.
In some cases, I get a spark because things aren’t at all like they were before. Not everything in my past is something I care to remember and dwell on.
Funny, how things work out… In the end, I really believe that any important undertaking requires a great amount of effort and prolonged attention, and to keep going, you need to do things that feed you and your dreams and ambitions. Motivation is like any muscle – use it or lose it. And you need to have a steady source of energy and inspiration to keep going. Because the going gets hard and the going gets tough, and you need to be able to hang in there, when things get boring and depressing and defeating… as they often do.
So, I’ve found a spark with this new music I’m listening to. And I’ve found a spark with my plans for the future. I’ve found a spark, too, with helping others to do things that I know how to do really well. I helped a friend update their resume last night, and by the end of the evening, their perception of their abilities and their experience and their prospects had really changed. I just showed them a few things and rewrote the way they described themself, and they ended up a very different person on paper than they had been before. They were actually more true to who they were and what they’d done. It’s exciting, when that happens — and seeing people get their own renewed spark from the experience.
So, yeah, life can be a real slog sometimes. Doing the work that needs to be done to achieve real greatness, requires strength and endurance, as well as a high tolerance for boredom and frustration. We have to find ways to keep going. We have to find ways to feed our spirits. The good news is, those things are out there, always ready and waiting for us to get clued into them.
It just remains for us to look above our immediate struggles, to see what else is out there.
I’ve been reading The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin, and (no surprises) I’ve been learning a lot. Waitzkin was a top-ranked chess player as a kid and young adult (he was the subject of the movie “Searching for Bobby Fischer”), then he moved on to the Tai Chi Chuan Push Hands martial art and became a national champion in that arena.
His revelation about his amazing success has been this — it’s not that he has innate talent either as a chess player or as a Tai Chi fighter, rather that he is exceptionally good at learning. And his approach to learning has enabled him to master not one but two highly demanding and competitive arenas. He’s even beaten Tai Chi opponents 50 pounds heavier than him — with his right hand broken.
Reading his book and learning about his approach – start slowly, master good form, then practice, practice, practice and use your losses as lessons – I can see a lot of similarities between his mastery of chess and Tai Chi and my own recovery from multiple TBIs. While in some areas (being able to put things together and come up with creative solutions) I have tested above average, on the whole I’d have to say I’m a regular person with more than my fair share of limitations. And defeats. And disappointments.
The thing is — and I’m realizing this now — all those limitations have been opportunities to learn and grow, and even if they don’t go away (I’ve had recurring headaches like I used to, for the past couple of weeks, some of them sickening and seriously numbing), the other areas I develop to compensate actually serve to put me out in front of where I might be, if everything were going well for me 100% of the time.
See, here’s the thing – we all have our “uneven” attributes. We don’t all come into this world with all our faculties 100% intact and 100% engaged. Life takes a lot of out of us, and we develop patterns and approaches that specialize in us developing certain aspects of ourselves and ignoring others, sometimes to the detriment of our overall happiness and ability to function and enjoy life. In many ways, a lot of us actually cripple ourselves in some ways, in the interest of strengthening ourselves in others. We use one side of our bodies predominantly, and the other side becomes weaker. We focus on work, to the detriment of our families. Or we focus on enjoying our lives to the detriment of our work. Workaholic or ski bum… rightie or leftie… and we end up with these uneven, asymmetrical lives that have considerable rewards on one hand, but on the other are dessicated and hollow.
And sometimes the only thing that snaps us out of that one-sided focus is when our dominant or masterful side is injured or damaged.
Then we are presented with several choices:
We can bemoan our fate and struggle and fight to keep things exactly as they were, by doing things exactly as we always have done… and possibly end up defeated and depleted and depressed.
We can “accept our limitations” and get used to having less of a life than we’d hoped for.
We can accept that life has thrown us a curve, and that things have turned out different… we’ve turned out different… and then we can set about finding the new ways and new strengths we can develop in order to get where we’re going.
We can hire someone to do everything for us.
We can pretend everything is fine, fudge our way through life, and battle the demons of “impostor syndrome” and a constant fear of being found out, while seeking out more and more ways to present the person we want to look like, while launching offensives against anyone who might expose us.
We can give up completely on the hope that things might ever get better and careen through life as “adventure seekers” without a care or consideration for anything of substance, while secretly believing a daredevil life is the best we can ever hope for.
We can tell ourselves that we’re so damaged that the best we can hope for is mediocrity. And that’s that.
Choices, choices. I’m sure there are more, but right now let’s work with the above collection.
I think personally I’ve progressed from 1 to 2 to 3 — and 3 is where I am now and it’s where I intend to stay. The way I got to 3, is by going from being an entity learner to an incremental learner. And entity learner is someone who gets things quickly, who masters certain tasks and concepts quickly, without much effort, while struggling with other things. They’re the kind of person who needs to “get it” all at once, not one step at a time. And if they have to work at it, piece by piece, they feel stupid and slow and don’t stick it out.
It’s all or nothing with an entity learner.
An incremental learner, on the other hand, takes things one step at a time. They start slow and then as they master one element after another, they grow and build mastery. They don’t see a challenge as a thing to overcome in one fell swoop, rather as an opportunity to learn. And they never stop learning.
I think of the difference between entity learners and incremental learners like the difference between people who “learn computers” and people who learn to type. People who “learn computers” are often easily intimidated when things don’t turn out right. They click a button, and something different happens than they expected. They click a link, and the web page does something they didn’t anticipate. They can get intimidated and give up easily. I have lots of friends who do this — they seem to have this idea in their minds that computers should “just work” and when they don’t “cooperate” they throw up their hands and dismiss the whole experience as defeating.
On the other hand, learning to type is an exercise in dull repetition of proper form. I learned to type in high school back in the dark ages, when we still had electric typewriters (remember the old IBM Selectrics with the type ball?) and it was probably the most boring-ass class I’d ever had. The most fun I had in it was sitting behind a guy who I partied with, who had about 1,000 well-thought-out reasons why Jimmy Paige was the best guitarist of all time. I heard about 578 of those reasons in that class, when I wasn’t hammering out a-s-d-fa-s-d-fa-s-d-fa-s-d-fa-s-d-fa-s-d-fa-s-d-fhour after ever-loving hour. But you know what? That dull repetition paid off, and when it came time to learn to use computers and code and what-not, the speed and technique with which I’d learned to type made all the difference in my basic ability to function. And that’s translated to steady work over the years.
Clearly, that incremental learning has paid off big-time.
Those same lessons of incremental learning now apply to my TBI recovery. When your brain is injured, you literally need to become an incremental learner all over again. You can’t get stuck in the old beliefs about being able to do a lot of the things you used to do, easily, simply, without effort. TBI recovery is very much an incremental learning process, with each person needing to attend to different aspects of their own functionality to:
Identify issues and weaknesses in everyday things that don’t work anymore
Identify better/different ways of approaching those everyday things
Find the “movements” or approaches that work (in slow motion)
Practice those movements to train the brain and the body to perform these new movements with increasing ability
Continuously reflect and examine the way things are going, to make corrections and fine new ways, if the ones you’re working with aren’t very productive
I truly believe that not being able to switch modes to incremental learner is what trips up so many TBI survivors. After all, there are many things we don’t even realize are messed up. So having decent feedback helps. It’s critical, in fact. I was fortunate enough to have checked my bank statements (for their own sort of feedback) at a time when my cognitive/behavioral issues (e.g., impulsiveness and cluelessness) were causing me to hemorrhage money. Those bank statements were clear feedback that something was amiss — Where’s all my money?
Likewise, working with my NP has been a regular source of feedback. My spouse has unfortunately not been very helpful, because they have set expectations of me (once high, now low) and when I do something unexpected, their feedback tends to be “entity-based” — either I nailed it, or I’m a loser. They have their own issues, and I can see that entity learner approach really holding them back in so many ways. But if someone isn’t 100% convinced that they have a right to 100% excellence, it’s tough to have constructive conversations about growth with them.
Well, never mind that. The point I’m trying to make is that when you’re an adult and you’ve got the hang of living life a certain way, then TBI comes along and mucks it all up, it can be easy to fall into entity learner paralysis. That’s what happened with me, and I also developed a healthy dose of learned helplessness. Because apparently I couldn’t do anything right, anymore.
But if you approach things as an incremental learner, which I have been working at, thanks to my NP and Give Back and all the TBI and human performance bloggers I follow, it totally turns things around, and rather than slips being catastrophes, they become lessons… investments in the future, provided I take the time to learn about them.
I’m still working on being open to those lessons. I’m still working on not getting too rigid with my expectations and outcomes. It’s a process which is not made easier by TBI or fatigue or any of the other sensory issues I encounter on a daily basis. But with incremental learning, that’s perfectly fine. Because with difficulty comes growth, and with practice comes mastery of one kind or another.
The main thing is to keep going, keep learning, and use each and every situation as fuel for the fire that burns with you and keeps you moving forward… backwards… side to side… and then forward again.
Gotta love WordPress. Gotta love the blogosphere. Gotta love the Web. Here I’ve been loping along all morning — got some necessary chores done this morning and met up with some friends around noon, then came back kind of tuckered out. I’ve been kind of blah for the past several weeks — I’ve been getting some exercise, but I haven’t been feeling as rejuvenated as I’d like. Lots of tired, a little bit of rejuvenated. Rest and recovery is important.
So, anyway, today I’ve been more focused on chores and work than working out. I’m feeling down because I’ve been gaining weight and can’t seem to get it off. I’m feeling down because I’m planning on leaving my job in a few months, and the excitement is a bit of a roller-coaster that wears me out. And I’m feeling down… well, because I just don’t have that mental spark I’d like to have.
I sat down at my computer intending to write up a blog post about something relating to my life, but I couldn’t find any thoughts that grabbed me. So, I went over to the WordPress area on the “brain injury” tag, and I came across this video and blog post:
Right on. It got my adrenaline pumping and got me thinking, and now I’ve put on my workout gear and am going to head out for some exercise. This is important. This is good. And it will get me out of my head and get me prepped for the nap I need to take in another hour or so.
You know I love all my readers, but this afternoon I’ve got to get away from the computer, and just move. This afternoon is for me. So, I’ll talk to you later – and while you’re at it, I recommend you get up from in front of your computer or i-whatever and get moving, too.
It’s good for what ails you, including self-absorbed self-pity and other forms of general lumpishness.
I have to admit, writing about the traumatic / PTSD aspects of TBI has got me a little bummed out. Additionally, thinking about CTE and the NFL players’ suit(s) against the NFL, and pondering the shortened anticipated lifespan of TBI survivors, hasn’t helped my mood at all.
No surprises there.
I did happen upon something interesting today, however — and it both appears to confirm what I have suspected, as well as adds a little more information to my “store”. It also lit a fire under me with regards to my exercise routine.
Okay, now that I’ve got your attention 😉 what does it mean? Basically, autophagy is the process by which cells digest parts of themselves by breaking down the bits they don’t need or are trying to get rid of, and using them as “food” for other processes. A good example of autophagy is dieting — where your body consumes the fat in some places to fuel its activities. It sounds a bit strange and creepy at first look, but when you think about it, it makes perfect sense — if there’s energy or some other ingredient that’s taking up space in a cell, and it can be used for other purposes, such as energy, then it only makes sense for the cell to break it down and use it up for something else. Our cells do this all the time – and in the case of trying to lose weight, that’s exactly what we want them to do.
Since this breaking-down function is available in cells that want to get rid of extra “baggage” — and tau, the protein which is linked to CTE and other dementia-like brain degeneration like Alzheimers is definitely extra baggage that isn’t doing anyone any good, then wouldn’t it make sense for this breaking down process to be useful when it comes to clearing out tau from brain cells? Apparently, yes. Here’s the summary from the article I found (bold emphasis is mine):
The accumulation of insoluble proteins is a pathological hallmark of several neurodegenerative disorders. Tauopathies are caused by the dysfunction and aggregation of tau protein and an impairment of cellular protein degradation pathways may contribute to their pathogenesis. Thus, a deficiency in autophagy can cause neurodegeneration, while activation of autophagy is protective against some proteinopathies. Little is known about the role of autophagy in animal models of human tauopathy. In the present report, we assessed the effects of autophagy stimulation by trehalose in a transgenic mouse model of tauopathy, the human mutant P301S tau mouse, using biochemical and immunohistochemical analyses. Neuronal survival was evaluated by stereology. Autophagy was activated in the brain, where the number of neurons containing tau inclusions was significantly reduced, as was the amount of insoluble tau protein. This reduction in tau aggregates was associated with improved neuronal survival in the cerebral cortex and the brainstem. We also observed a decrease of p62 protein, suggesting that it may contribute to the removal of tau inclusions. Trehalose failed to activate autophagy in the spinal cord, where it had no impact on the level of sarkosyl-insoluble tau. Accordingly, trehalose had no effect on the motor impairment of human mutant P301S tau transgenic mice. Our findings provide direct evidence in favour of the degradation of tau aggregates by autophagy. Activation of autophagy may be worth investigating in the context of therapies for human tauopathies.
So, yeah – you’ve got extra proteins gunking up your brain cells after a traumatic brain injury/concussion, and that extra protein isn’t doing anyone any good. Wouldn’t it make sense to use the cells’ own activity of breaking down portions of themselves and flushing them out, to help clear out the tau?
In the study, they used trehalose to stimulate the process in mice, which may or may not be all that useful for my purposes. Trehalose is used in processing a lot of foods, and it’s not uncommon. I’m not sure how therapeutic it would be for me to consume mass quantities of “confectionery, bread, vegetables side dishes, animal-derived deli foods, pouch-packed foods, frozen foods, and beverages, as well as foods for lunches, eating out, or prepared at home,” especially if my body has its own natural processes to move things along. What natural processes, you ask? Exercise.Acute exercise. Researchers have found that acute exercise stimulates autophagy in the skeletons and muscles of mice, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to deduce that it can have the same effects on cells of the brain.
Why not? Okay, I’m probably being markedly unscientific here by drawing conclusions from reading a few articles (scholarly as they may be), but let’s use common sense for a moment. The human body is constantly renewing itself — every 7 years, we get a new body, because the cells have all renewed themselves. If acute exercise is worked into the routine on a regular basis, then wouldn’t it make sense that the autophagy induced by exercise would help the body rebuild itself with new materials, and with less tau?
As a TBI survivor who has a nagging concern about tau-induced dementia later in life, this gives me hope. And while “hope is not a strategy” and my scientific method leaves a lot to be desired, nonetheless, it does help me get past the pernicious, creeping depression that sets in sometimes when I get tired and start to think, “After all those TBIs, what’s the use?”
So, I’m throwing myself a bone, here, and I’m gnawing on it with all my might. I have known for several years, now, that exercise makes me feel and think better when I do it first thing in the morning. And I’ve known for decades that a good hard workout makes me feel like a new person. Researchers seem to be confirming scientifically what I have experienced, and they’re explaining it in ways that make sense to me and my systems-oriented conceptual brain (all the biochemical-speak notwithstanding).
So rather than getting hung up on the idea that I’ve gotten clunked in the head too many times, and that’s that, I’m going to amp up my exercise and really push myself to do more with it. It’s the acute stuff that apparently helps the most, so I need to do more of that. Not to the point of injuring myself, but definitely more than the easy-peasy warmups I’ve fallen into doing over the past six months or so.
Screw despair. I’m going outside to get some serious exercise.
Here’s a good story from it — “A life wasted”. It’s about what can happen when you make certain choices in life.
And it gets me thinking about the choices we all make in the course of each day. The long weekend is ahead of us, here in the States, and that means I have time to rest and catch up with myself after what has been a pretty grueling week.
It’s Friday, and it feels like “fried”-Day. That came to me this morning at 5 a.m. when I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep. I got up and sat and breathed for a little bit, but my head was just going and going, so I had to just get up and get on with it. I was a little tweaked that I had tried to get to bed at a decent hour, but hadn’t actually gone to sleep till around 11:30. And then I wake up at 5:00 and can’t get back to sleep. What a pain. I considered skipping my morning exercise routine, because I felt tired and out of sorts. I even considered skipping my formal “sit” where I breathe and balance out my fight-flight inclinations. But then I got downstairs and checked my notes and realized I hadn’t really done anything substantial, exercise-wise for the past two days, and I was due.
I decided it wouldn’t hurt to do a little bit of exercise. And it wouldn’t hurt to just sit and breathe. So, I sat for a bit and got myself into a frame of mind (and body) that was a whole lot more relaxed than it had been 30 minutes before. And I got on the bike and rode. Then I did my leg lifts… and picked up my weights again.
And lo and behold, by the time I was into my second set of easy reps, I felt like doing more. So, I focused on a handful of key exercises and pushed myself more than I have in some time. Not with heavier weights, just with more reps. And by the time I was done, I felt pretty good. Better than I have in some time, after lifting, in fact. It didn’t take much — just a little more effort and focus. But the payoff was substantially more than what I actually put into it.
Then again, I don’t want to sell myself short. I could have just taken it easy, done the bare minimum, and skated through. The office is closing early, so I could put in a bare-minimum performance today and not be noticeably different from others around me.
But that’s not my goal in life, actually. To be “not noticeably different” has never been my main aspiration. There are plenty of people whose main ambition seems to be to turn themselves into a cookie-cutter cliche, with the “right” clothes and car and house and activities and number of kids playing the “right” sports, but I’m not one of those people. I never have been. And folks whose main ambition is to be liked by others and to fit in, make me a little nervous, to be honest. They can be very nice people and enjoyable to be around, but I never quite feel like I “synch” with them.
Then again, my reluctance to not engage fully with people who need to be liked, is probably closer akin to my reluctance to exercise in the morning and do my breathing when I need to. I actually do believe that the vast majority of people do have some spark in them that really makes them stand out — and it’s our job to find that spark in people and fan that flame, so they can live up to their full potential. This isn’t just something that I think only motivational speakers and inspirational writers should do – it’s something I think we allshould do. Because you can’t have constant access to self-improvement gurus, 24-7, and you can’t always be sure that those gurus are even going to have precisely the answers you need at any given time.
We need to be our own self-improvement gurus/coaches/motivational speakers — and we need to do that for others. Not because others are pitiful and pathetic and would slack off if we didn’t keep on them, but because life is hard, and it takes it out of you, and everyone who knows that should also know that we all get beaten down and depleted, so we need others to help lift us up. It’s not charity, it’s basic neuroscience. It’s not pity or coddling. It’s self-preservation for all of us. Because when others around us are dragging, that means that our “team” isn’t operating at full capacity. When the others we depend on are struggling and having a tough time, what’s the likelihood of them being able to be really responsible in their actions and choices, and live up to their promise — which ultimately helps us?
Now, I’m not talking about doing the handouts thing. I’m not talking about making excuses for people and cutting them a break when they’re milking it. But there are ways that we can step up and lend a helping hand with just a kind word of encouragement that help others pick themselves up and get their asses in gear. In some cases, tough love is the way to go — I had a very heated discussion with someone the other day who was totally slacking and being a little bit dense about a sticky work situation. I didn’t sugar-coat what I was saying, but I didn’t attack them either. I just called it like I saw it — they were being irresponsible and their actions were having a bad effect on their co-workers. After they hemmed and hawed and groused about it a bit, they saw that it was true, and they took steps with their co-workers to get their act back together, which was really gratifying to see. I didn’t do it for them. I didn’t make excuses for them. I didn’t pretend it didn’t matter, so they wouldn’t feel badly about themselves. I was just honest — and also generous with my belief in them that they could figure it out.
And they did.
See, this is what I’m talking about — I know that the economy is tough, the job market is awful, people have money problems left and right. And everyone seems to be on edge (the 2012 end-of-the-world hype isn’t helping, imho). There’s only so much you can do for people — especially people who don’t seem to be willing to help themselves. But you/we can extend a kind word and tell the truth. And we can communicate clearly to others “Yes, you can do this – I believe in you, and I am sure you can accomplish what you set out to do.” Which is probably the biggest and most important gift you can give to anyone.
And it costs nothing — other than the effort of getting out of your head and forgetting about your own problems for a few minutes, and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. But sometimes that’s the ultimate price that people just won’t pay.
Anyway, I’ve got to get on with my day. I woke up this morning “too early” then I got my act together. I’ve been thinking a lot about all the opportunities life puts in our way, along with the crap that I (and everyone) must deal with along the way. I’ve been reading various blogs that have proven pretty inspirational – and have given me a much-needed kick in the a** with their honesty and clarity and refusal to compromise. Checking in with them, however briefly, is the kind of boost I need on “Fried”-Day. Not a handout, but a reminder of how much is possible, with the right attitude and a willingness to work.
The short version of this video has been making the rounds on Facebook, and I thought I’d post the extended version here. Pretty amazing what you can do when someone believes in you, offers you the tools you need to progress, and you are willing to work for what you want. Watch and enjoy.