And suddenly, it is fall

Autumn coming... time to bring back the reservoir
Autumn coming… time to bring back the reservoir

I have been so preoccupied this week with the work changes and catching up with old friends whom I haven’t seen in over a year, that I have not directed much energy towards noticing this season.

I’ve been tired — with that kind of cognitive and physical fatigue that is particular to brain injuries. My head has been looking for ways to make sense of it all… past, present, future… and that’s been taking up a lot of my time and attention.

It’s a double-whammy. On the one hand, opportunities like I’ve had in the past weeks are rare — having three days of solitude to clean out my garage and basement… having friends from overseas come to visit… being part of the beginnings of a corporate merger… These are over and above the usual speed bumps and wrinkles that populate my days and weeks. These are different, and they demand a special kind of attention — the sort of attention I actually try to avoid: drama, excitement, speculation, intense work for 12-14 hours straight, without much of a break.

Rapid-floating-in-FinlandBut because of their nature, I have to  just go with it. Get into it. Be a part of it. Allow myself to be swept along in the current – like a proverbial kayaker who gets dumped from their craft in the rapids — as you get washed along in the current, keep your head above water, keep looking forward, and keep your ass up and out of the way of rocks.

The main thing is to keep your head up. Don’t drown. Keep looking forward.

One thing you learn from TBI, is that when it comes to activities, you have to pick and choose. I suppose it’s true of anyone who expends a lot of energy in their activities… or who is very effective in what they do. You mustn’t squander your energy on things that don’t matter. But especially with TBI, you have to be extra careful.There is literally only so much you can do, and if you try to do it all, you end up wiping out your reserve of extra energy — and then you have to spend even more time building back those reserves.

Because lack of energy and fatigue just make everything worse. It siphons off your cognitive abilities, it depletes your stores of happiness and joy, and everything can feel like a slog.

Even the good stuff, the fun stuff, the stuff you know you should be grateful for and happy about.

For me, that’s probably the most depleting thing — knowing that I should be happy about things, knowing I should be pleased and excited and uplifted… but just not having the energy for it. Even energy spent on good things, is energy spent. And building it back is not a simple matter of sleeping in on the weekends. For every two days of extra energy I burn through, it takes two weeks to build it back. And if I don’t have two uninterrupted weeks (like this past month) and exciting things keep happening to me, well, then everything gets that much harder.

In what ways?

  1. distractionI get more distractable. I lose my focus and find it next to impossible to concentrate on the tasks in front of me. I get caught up in all sorts of side activities — which seem so important at the time, but are not actually relevant to what I’m supposed to be working on.
  2. I get more irritable. I can’t deal. I get cranky and snappy like an arthritic terrier. I get anxious and difficult to live with — with others, and with myself.
  3. I get less attentive. My attention gets fuzzy, and I stop noticing details – like the leaves turning outside, or just how beautiful everything has suddenly become. Everything around me seems wrapped in hazy gauze, and my senses are not sharp. My sense are so busy just trying to attend to the basics, that the extra special things in life slip by me very easily.
  4. Joy sorta kinda evaporates from my life. I know (intellectually) that I have a lot to be grateful for, and I know there is so much that I have to be glad about, but I just can’t find the joy. It’s nowhere to be found. And any attempt at reasoning with me to get me to find that joy… well, that just makes me feel stupid and ungrateful. My neuropsych tries to do this all the time, and the net result is that I feel stupid and short-sighted… rather than realizing that I’m simply tired, and letting it go at that.
  5. It gets hard to sleep. The more tired I am, the harder it is to relax and sleep. When I should be getting to bed early, I end up getting on Facebook for 90 minutes — and completely blowing past my normal bedtime. And you guessed right — fatigue becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy where I get more and more tired and wired, as the days wear on. All of the above continue to escalate. It’s awful, and it’s very difficult to stop it.
  6. I end up in a downward spiral. Unless I can get a bunch of good nights of sleep, I’m toast. Things get worse and worse, until I finally just  Give Up. And it turns out, giving up is the best thing for me. Some nights, I go to sleep hoping I never wake up again — I am feeling that depleted and used-up. But the very act of completely abandoning hope actually makes it possible for me to rest. And in the morning, everything looks quite different than the night before. Usually, anyway. Some mornings, I’m still not convinced I want to keep going.

So, fatigue is a thing. It’s a very real thing. And if I don’t stay alert to it, and recognize when it’s getting to me, it can get the better of me, which is never good.

For today, I know I’m tired. I have a full day of things to do, but I can pace myself and take my time… really soak up this fine fall day, and enjoy what I come across, as best I can. Seasons change. It would be a shame to completely miss this one, because I’m distracted.

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Ah HAH! So that’s why I don’t have a lot of joy in my life, these days…

Some days, it feels like this

Lately, I’ve been feeling kind of “blah” — I’m engaged and involved in my life, but I don’t feel like I have a ton of joy in each day. Things feel more like a slog than anything else, even though I logically know that there’s lots for me to be happy about and grateful for.

It’s disorienting… because even though I know that I have many reasons to feel joy, I don’t. And it seems like depression to me, although I know it’s not.  I know what depression feels like — this is something different.

But surprise! Here’s a tasty new piece of info that explains a lot. Here’s the scientific abstract (from a paper I can’t afford to download):

Attentional Modulation of Brain Responses to Primary Appetitive and Aversive Stimuli.

Abstract

Studies of subjective well-being have conventionally relied upon self-report, which directs subjects’ attention to their emotional experiences. This method presumes that attention itself does not influence emotional processes, which could bias sampling. We tested whether attention influences experienced utility (the moment-by-moment experience of pleasure) by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure the activity of brain systems thought to represent hedonic value while manipulating attentional load. Subjects received appetitive or aversive solutions orally while alternatively executing a low or high attentional load task. Brain regions associated with hedonic processing, including the ventral striatum, showed a response to both juice and quinine. This response decreased during the high-load task relative to the low-load task. Thus, attentional allocation may influence experienced utility by modulating (either directly or indirectly) the activity of brain mechanisms thought to represent hedonic value.

What this tells me is that:

  1. When studying how well people feel, scientists have usually just asked the people and taken their word for it.
  2. Scientists have been looking for a more reliable way to measure this (seems wise, as we often don’t know our own minds). They used fMRI.
  3. A group of subjects were given things to drink that tasted good (juice) and bad (quinine), and fMRI imaging showed that their brains registered a reaction to each.
  4. The thing is, when the participants were working on a more mentally demanding task, their brains didn’t register as much reaction as when they were doing something easy. So, their experience was dulled — especially in the part of the brain that experiences pleasure.

And how does this affect me? What does it mean to me?

Well, I’ve been troubled somewhat by not feeling like I’m enjoying my life as much as I could (or should). There has been a lot going on with me, lately, and a lot of it is good. It’s wonderful. I am incredibly fortunate and blessed. However, I don’t really feel like things are going great.

It’s weird. I feel ungrateful and unaccountably “flat” about much of my life. I know that things are going really well for me, and I have so much to be grateful for. And I am grateful. I logically know that I am incredibly fortunate, and I appreciate that.

But I’m just not feeling it.

And it’s throwing me off.

What this research tells me is that it could be because I’m working so hard cognitively. I’m really pushing myself mentally, to pay attention to a lot of things, and it might be keeping me from enjoying the things around that I deserve to enjoy. I’ve really worked hard to get where I am, and I’m in a position to enjoy those experiences. But I don’t have the enjoyment.

Perhaps because my brain is too busy working at tasks to “get” that there’s more to life than work and progress.

I’ll have to think about this. But not too hard. I need to find ways to lighten the load on my brain.

Maybe then, I will find more joy.

Just keep your spirits up

Create something to believe in!

I woke up this morning having the keen sense that over the course of my life, I’ve come through a huge number of obstacles. Emotional swamps, mental jungles, physical minefields, and logistical nightmares.

I’ve been on the wrong side of the law, and I’ve been on the receiving end of foolishness at that hands of those who have been far outside their rights.

I’ve been up, I’ve been down, I’ve traveled my own path, and now I find myself actually doing better for myself… happier, healthier, more content, more optimistic… than most of my peers. I also have a much more engaged and involved relationship with my life and everything in it, than 90% of the people I know.

Despite the pain and suffering — some of which may never actually go away at all — I am here, and I’m in a very good space.

What’s the secret?

Keep your spirits up. Do whatever you need to do, to keep your mind and spirit alive and involved. Keep your body in good condition and don’t abuse it with bad food, drugs, too much drink… too much anything. But most of all, keep your spirits up.

Someone once told me that my journal writing over the years was a “Proustian” waste of time — a lot of navel-gazing that provided no apparent benefit. Likewise, I have launched many, many projects which ultimately came to naught. For years, I felt like I was a failure because I could not “make it happen” for myself, and I struggled constantly with so much. I thought for sure that if I did things the right way, I would eventually be rid of the pain, the suffering, the hardship, the challenges.

And my life would get better.

Now I realize that even though all the pain, suffering, hardships, and challenges are still around, the thing that has really changed is me. I have acquired the skills I need to meet the hardships that come from TBI … and to figure things out as I go. I am still learning — and each day offers me one more way to make right the things that are wrong in my life. I didn’t get here by accident. I got here by keeping my spirits up, by staying interested in life, by always having some activity going on that keeps me intrigued and engaged.

Even if I don’t “make it” with my projects and end up rich and famous, the simple fact of the matter is that it keeps my mind fully occupied, and it keeps me from sitting around feeling sorry for myself. I come up with some crazy concepts, too — many of them far beyond the scope of my actual interests and abilities. But I dream big, and I chase after those dreams as if they truly will come true.

When they don’t… and they often don’t… well, that’s not the point. The point is that I have been engaged on a very high level, and my energy has been good, and it has kept me from being my own worst enemy. Maybe someday some of my grand plans will pan out. But the main thing is the working towards them, and keeping my spirits high in the meantime.

Most of the things I dream of, I don’t tell anyone about, because they’re really just for me, to keep me going — and when others get involved, they tend to dilute the process and hold my mind and heart back.

To each and every one of you reading this right now, I encourage you to pick something big and crazy to dream, and keep that dream alive in your mind. Pick something that would give you so much pride to accomplish, and then secretly set about making that dream come true. Don’t tell anyone else about it — just figure it out for yourself, dream it big in your heart, and let that carry you through your days.

Any kind of recovery — whether it’s TBI or not — requires a huge amount of energy and stamina. I can take a monumental effort each day, just to keep going. So, find something to spark your spirit, then dwell on that, feed on it, let it bring you joy and happiness and encouragement, and stick with it like your life depends on it.

Because maybe it does.

Onward.

Time for something different…

Different worlds in different minds

It’s pretty amazing when I look around me, these days. On one hand, I know people who are intently focused on the terrible things that are happening in the world. On the other hand, I have friends who flatly refuse to engage in any kind of discussion unless it’s positive and uplifting. I know people who are actively protesting against things going on in the world, and I know people who are fighting with all their might to hang onto the way things are and have “always” been.

To look at each of these groups of people, you’d think the world was in a completely different state — that they’re living in a bunch of entirely different and separate planets.

Yet, we’re all here. That’s the one thing they all have in common. Oh, one other thing – they are all pretty much convinced that their way is the ONLY way to look at things.

Personally, I could use a change. These different worlds certainly exist, but they’re not the only worlds that are available to us. And we’re free to shift in and out of our perceptions at will.

We can literally make (and re-make the world in any way we choose).

So, that’s where I’m taking myself today… and tomorrow, too. All this stuff going on at work… what-ever. All the stuff going on in the world… there’s something more to it than meets the eye, and who am I to judge, really. Certainly, I don’t want to stand by while people suffer needlessly, but I also need to be smart about how thin I spread myself, and see where I can make a real difference, and where I’d just be pissing in the wind.

The places where I can make a difference, are in my personal relationships with people, my personal relationships with myself. Doing no intentional harm to others, and being considerate to others, even when they are inconsiderate to me.

Giving people the benefit of the doubt. Approaching people with generosity and compassion, even when they really do seem to be assholes and either not know or give a damn about how they are behaving in the world.

If I stay stuck in my resentments and accusatory nature, if I take up permanent residence surrounded by my criticisms and issues, then whom does that help? My own version of how things are may be very different indeed from the fact of the matter, so it’s best I take my own rantings with a grain of salt. And not get too worked up over them. Tempests in teacups never got anyone anywhere.

Yeah, it’s time for something different. Something better. What can I do today that will get me into a better space and help me live my life, instead of fight it all the way?

Hmmm… let’s see…

Toward rut-less-ness

A new trail...

I need a new gig.

Not a new job. Not a new life. But a new way of structuring my days — that incorporates a whole lot more flexibility into my schedule.

I guess I need a new kind of gig.

I took some time yesterday to step back from everything and really think things through. I worked from home and took a nap in the afternoon. Took my time at things. Didn’t focus so much on the little tasks, but thought about the larger picture… what I’m actually DOING with my life.

It’s not enough, anymore, to just take care of issues and meet requirements. I need something more. I need some meaning behind it all. When I was 25, it was enough to do what other people told me to do, and it was profoundly fulfilling to just do the things that I thought I couldn’t do.

Now, though, things are different – very different indeed. And why I do appreciate the need to deliver on promises and achieve goals, there needs to be something more to it, than just doing as I’m told.

I think a lot of people get to this point when they get to be around my age — mid-40’s — wondering “what’s it all about?” I won’t say it’s a “mid-life crisis”, because it’s not a crisis. It’s more of a check-in along the way. I also won’t say “mid-life” also because I plan to live past 90. I’ve got relatives who are in the 100-year range, and they grew up without a lot of the medical and health resources I have. I believe it’s entirely possible to life well past 90, in my case. So that’s what I’m planning for.

That means I’ve got a ways to go. And I need to pace myself. I need to not drive headlong into the future just for the sake of driving. I need to live my life fully — mindfully. I’ve tried it other ways, and I got hurt a lot, when I did it that way.

I don’t want to get hurt, anymore. It’s time-consuming, soul-consuming, and very, very expensive. Hard to bounce back from. Been there, done that. Still kind of there, in fact. Don’t much care for it.

So, back to this “rut business”. I’ve noticed that I’m getting more and more tired, as time goes on. I’ve changed up my sleep schedule, because I just don’t do well with going to bed early. But I don’t really sleep in, either. I’m getting maybe 6 hours of sleep a night. 7 if I’m lucky. At the start, it wasn’t a big deal, but it’s catching up with me.

I really need to start taking naps around mid-day, and stop pushing myself through. Or at the very least, step away and do progressive relaxation for 15-20 minutes. I feel SO much better, when I am at least slightly rested. I’ve also noticed that being tired takes all the joy out of what I’m doing.

Sure, I may be feeling high and pumped from the extra adrenaline, but it’s taking a toll on both my body and my spirit. I want to enJOY what I’m doing with myself each day. And I can’t do that, when I’m overtired and struggling just to keep awake. When I’m rested, everything just flows… and I don’t need as much structure, as much of a rut, to keep me going. I just keep going, because it feels great, and I’m really into what I’m doing. When I’m rested, when I’m alert, I’m so much better able to participate and contribute. Because I’m all there — and I don’t have to funnel my energy into the most basic activities. Rest takes care of those for me, so I can focus my attention on the higher things. The really, really important things — like what all I’m doing with my life.

And why.

I really do need to be disciplined about this nap business. Really make the effort. Do this nap thing on-purpose, regularly, for six weeks — that’s how long it takes to develop a habit — and see what it gets me. I suspect it’s going to really help. I’ll have to report in regularly about this… now I’m curious.

Well, speaking of discipline, it’s time for me to get ready for work. I’ve had my exercise and my breakfast, and I’ve written a little bit to keep myself on track. Next up — the rest of my day, wherein I work with others towards common goals and greater prosperity for us all.

ONward.