Come Monday, a lot is going to change

So, it has finally happened. I had some phone screens for a new job, followed by interviews, and I got — and accepted — the offer!

Holy smokes, it’s actually happening… After years of fits and starts, fumbled attempts, and being pushed aside, I finally found a company that is looking for what I’m offering — and who can offer me what I’m looking for.

They contacted me after finding me on LinkedIn, and we’ve been trading phone calls and emails for about a week, now. I had a couple of phone screens with two different hiring managers… we decided together that one of the positions was better suited for me than the other… and I had live meetings with a number of folks I’ll be working with in the future.

We all really liked each other, and there was a mutual respect and professionalism that has been sorely lacking in my current situation. I’m not sure why the people I’ve been working with think it’s okay to behave the way they have been, but everybody’s different, I suppose.

At least now I’m going to be working with folks who have a more similar outlook to my own.

Pretty amazing. My head is spinning. Still.

I’ve been very on-the-down-low about this, because I didn’t want to jynx it, get cocky, make any assumptions, or otherwise let my guard down. This is important to me — so very important — and the company is GOOD. They’re well-known, and they have a department that matches what I’m looking for much, much more closely than anything I’ve been able to find in years.

The best thing is, they’re really excited about me starting, too. We really hit it off, on all counts, and everyone has been really enthusiastic about me joining their team.

I am so profoundly grateful for this. And I know that the work I have been doing with the dual n-back training and the juggling has actually helped me.

Just the boos from watching myself learn and grow over the past week, has been a huge help. Realizing that I actually CAN learn to juggle… seeing proof that I can remember things and improve my dual n-back testing response times… it’s been great. Just great. And I wish I could pass this amazing feeling on to everyone who struggles with these kinds of issues. Because there are things we can do to help our brains work better.

And that includes rest.

I am exhausted. It has been a wild ride, this past week, and it’s going to get even wilder for the next two weeks.

Off to bed I go.

Left hand focus and training

Keep it going – it gets better!

So, I took a day off juggling, just to let my body and brain rest. I got pretty sore in my shoulders and legs, from the new motions, and I needed to let everything sink in.

I was a little concerned that I might forget the motions – since the brain changes that are seen after 7 days of juggling disappear, after the juggling stops. But as it turns out, taking a day off had no negative impact on my coordination, my speed, or my proprioception (my sense of where my body is in relation to other objects).

In fact, if anything, they all improved. My movements are much more fluid than they were just a few days ago, and I feel much more relaxed. Three days ago, it was a real challenge to keep three balls in the air for more than five or six tosses. Today, I got to 10 – and beyond – a number of times.

Also, my one-handed juggling — where I toss two balls up in the air and keep them aloft — has improved dramatically. Two nights ago, I was really struggling to keep them aloft, but this morning, I was able to do so with much more fluidity and control.

My left hand needs help, however. I have issues with reaction time, fluidity, and also accuracy with my left hand. It tends to toss the juggling balls off to the right very quickly, so I can’t catch them with my right hand.

I use koosh balls because they have good weight and they are also easy to handle and they do not bounce and roll away from me. I learned my lesson last weekend, chasing bouncing and rolling balls all over the room, and crawling around on the floor getting them out from under furniture (and discovering godzilla-size dusty bunnies in the process).

Man, was I sore by Monday!

Anyway, the koosh balls are working much better, and I’m making great progress.

I do special drills to work on my accuracy — holding my arms close to my sides when I toss the balls up and down… juggling with only one hand… tossing balls back and forth just beyond my peripheral vision… and also tossing them over my shoulder and trying to catch them behind my back.

My left hand just needs some help with accuracy and speed.

So, I am training it especially.

I’ll work my left hand/arm for a while, then I’ll switch over to my right for a few repetitions. Taking a break helps my left catch up, too. I can see progress in just a few minutes break. I was working on my one-handed juggling and really struggling with with my left hand. I was only able to keep the balls up for 3-4 tosses. Then I took a break and practiced with my right hand, and when I went back to the left, I was able to keep the balls up for more than 10 tosses!

Fantastic!

Granted, I have a long way to go, before I’ll be able to juggle for more than a minute at a time, but I’m making progress in leaps and bounds, compared to where I was last week this time.

This is an enormous confidence-booster. Even if I never become an expert juggler, the fact that I can learn this — and how fast I am learning, too — is a 180-degree turn from where I used to think I was. I was literally convinced that I would never, ever learn to juggle. I just didn’t think I could do it.

And now I’m doing it. And that’s huge.

It translates into other areas of my life, as well. It encourages me to take on more challenges at work, to step outside my comfort zone — one step at a time — and to expand my idea of what I can accomplish, and when.

Doing the n-back training is helping me, too — I’m going to work on my response time, especially, because that’s an area that I’ve struggled with, and it causes a whole lot of other issues and insecurities in my life. I’m tired of those issues and insecurities. Frankly, they’re boring. And they make me feel boring, too.

So, I’m going to do something about it. Especially by training my left hand — which I never thought would be very coordinated. Turns out, I’m wrong. Turns out, I’m better than that.

Much.

Onward.

A different kind of juggling

So, I’ve really been enjoying juggling – it’s really a fun thing for me, and it’s an opportunity for constant improvement, which I really like.

After getting really excited about it yesterday, I did some research online and I found a number of tutorials and clubs that teach you different moves.

I’ve been trying to juggle three balls, but it hasn’t been going that great. I think it’s too early for me, actually. I’ve been working on my technique, and I realize that I have a lot of coordination issues — especially with my left hand.

Even more than I originally thought.

So, I am backing off and taking it a little easier. And I’m back to juggling two balls for as long as I can keep them in the air.

That is actually the challenge I’m trying to solve, more than getting three balls going at the same time – it’s just keeping my attention focused on the balls in the air, however many there are.

I am working with coordinating my movements, so that my left and right sides are more independent from each other. And I’m working on keeping going. So far, I can go for about a minute or so, before I lose focus. I’m working on that.

Looking at all the juggling tutorials and videos online, the real focus seems to be on mastering complicated movements and patterns with more and more balls, clubs, knives, or other objects. But for some of us, the biggest challenge is just keeping two balls in the air at the same time for an extended period of time.

Let alone all the fancy schmancy moves.

And I remember again why I took up this kind of juggling — not to join the circus, not to do anything particularly elaborate… but rather to work on my focus, my emotional restraint, and my ability to pick myself up when I drop the ball and keep going, regardless. It gives me something to do that occupies my attention, improves my coordination, and has plenty of opportunity for improvement over time.

Those are the things that my particular “juggling for dummies” brings to me. And frankly, I’m a lot more interested in those, than performing tricks and amazing an audience. For me, the real benefits lie in not having to perform any tricks to get by in my life, and  amazing myself (and those who know me and what I’m up against) with how much better I can cope, compared with how things used to be.

If everything progresses as it has been, my next trick will be no trick at all.

Help where we can find it

You just have to keep looking till you find what will help

I’ve always been a very independent person. I think I’ve had to become this way, because I had so little help when I was younger. I had a lot of problems, when I was a kid, and everybody around me thought that I was either fine (and faking it), or I was just being lazy.

That’s a hell of a thing to put on a kid, but it happens.

It happens all the time.

And it happened to me.

Not to cry over spilt milk, I have been literally forced to become independent from a very early age, which I believe has also primed me for an excellent TBI recovery. Getting a mild traumatic brain injury was no fun, back in 2004, and all the concussions / TBIs I had earlier in my life certainly did not help.

So, I’ve gotten in the habit of just making do. I’ve been fortunate to find a neuropsych I can work with, who has helped me a lot. I’m not sure what would have become of me over the past years, if I had not found them. Maybe I would have figured things out for myself. I know I was in the process of figuring a lot of things out, when I first met them, and I have been the “driver” behind most of my initiatives in getting my life together — most of the time, our sessions consist of me just talking about what I’ve done with my life, lately, and what steps I’ve taken to remedy issues I have.

The thing that’s helped me tremendously, is having someone who is NOT mentally ill, being a sounding board for me. I have spent an awful long time — most of my life — around mentally ill people and folks who are pretty determined to prove that there is something wrong with them, they’re deficient, they are damaged, etc., etc.  So, I have not actually had a lot of really positive role models, as a kid or as an adult. Especially when it comes to TBI.

First, there is so much denial about what TBI really involves, the degree to which it affects your judgment and thinking abilities, and how pervasive it is.

Second, everybody’s TBI is different, and one person’s extreme challenges may be no big deal for someone else — who has another set of challenges, entirely.

Third, a lot more people are walking around suffering from TBI after-effects, than most of us know, so the thinking is generally clouded, out in the world.

Fourth, even the people who can help us, often can’t — because we don’t have access to them, we don’t know who or where they are, and insurance won’t cover us.

So, it’s really up to us to sort things out and figure out what to do and where to go. It’s unfortunate that we have to go it alone… but that’s where support forums like the Psychcentral TBI/Concussion forum (click here to visit) come in handy.

I have to make my own progress, which I am doing. I’ve been working on my juggling, which is going well. It is helping me learn to focus more and not get distracted, and also keep my concentration in the absolute present. I started with one ball, which I tossed back and forth from one hand to the other. Then I added a second ball, which I have been tossing in different ways. The important thing is not how many balls I am juggling – it is how long I can focus, and how well I can recover, when I drop one of the balls — or both. I’m learning to juggle, not for the sake of juggling, but for what it teaches me.

It’s helping me with my coordination, my attention, and my emotional responses. I’ll write more later about this, because it is seriously good therapy for TBI, and I think everyone should do it. There’s no reason not to.

I’ve also been doing some Dual N-Back practice. The site I found yesterday with the Silverlight plugin doesn’t work for me anymore. For some reason, the plugin has permanently crashed, and it won’t work for me. So, I downloaded an app that I installed on my laptop – http://brainworkshop.sourceforge.net/ – and that is working for me much better. It keeps track of my scores, which are sort of crappy — I’m in the 36.5% range. I’ve gone as high as 57% and as low as 25%, but I’m in the lower range more often.

It’s something to work towards. I’m just starting it, after all, and these things take time.

Again, it’s something to keep me engaged and learning… Something to repair the issues of my past.

That’s so important to me. Because I feel like I have a ton of lost time to make up, and there is so much I want to do in my life, still. Like so many TBI survivors, I have a sense of many “holes” in my life – gaps in my memory, gaps in my personality, gaps in my social life… gaps everywhere. And I need to fill those gaps with something positive and constructive… and rebuild a life that meets my own specifications, not everyone else’s — or the specifications of people who tell me I need to settle for less.

I’m not doing that “settling thing”.

No how. No way.

Onward