Tired, but doing well

Like the sea and the tides… ebb and flow

Man, am I tired. I’ve said it before, but today I’m shaky and sick to my stomach. I didn’t get enough sleep last night, because I got all riled over my boss rattling my cage. I should know better than to check my email at 11:30 at night, but I did. And the resulting rage really threw me into a mind-bender that kept me up probably till about 12:30 or so – maybe later. I think I got about 5 hours of sleep, which is not helping.

Of course, not all the reasons for my lack of sleep were bad. The good stuff kept me up, too. I was going to take a long nap yesterday, but I was so jazzed about things that I could only sleep for half an hour. Oh, well. I’ll try again tonight. I don’t have any meetings or commitments or phone calls, so I can just chill with my spouse and then get to bed at a decent hour.

This weekend was very exciting for me. Especially yesterday, when I spent a whole lot of time working on my technical skills. I studied and experimented and worked at things. And I actually got a lot done. I didn’t exercise much — sat for nearly the whole day, and paid for it later, when I was not only in pain but also couldn’t sleep because I was physically out of balance — but mentally I felt great. The fantastic thing is, I’m back doing what I started out doing, nearly 20 years ago, and it feels amazing. Just to be able to sit down at a computer and code, rather than trying to get things done through a bunch of other people.

As much as people who want me to succeed would love to see me leading a team or doing some sort of consultative work, there’s nothing — absolutely nothing — like being able to sit down and hammer out some great web pages with some amazing functionality. Too cool. And I realize how much I’ve missed it. So very, very much.

Why did I get away from it? Well, because things were moving that way, about 10 years ago. All the work like what I do was going offshore to people who didn’t know how to do it in the first place, and the rates were dropping like rocks. I couldn’t make a living. It just wasn’t happening. Now, though, it’s coming around. I had a feeling that would happen in the space of 10 years, and sure enough – I was right.

Now the rates are going up, and the work is a whole lot more interesting than it was a decade ago. Now we can actually do things we always wanted to do — and the technology is mature enough that you can learn something and expect to be able to use it.

I’ve noticed something else that’s different now, from how it was about five years ago. Once upon a time, whenever I came across something that didn’t make any sense to me, I would “pop the hood” and take it apart and figure out how it worked. After I fell in 2004, I stopped being able to do that — I couldn’t figure out how to get the proverbial hood unlatched to begin with, and then I couldn’t figure out how to break things down and master them. Everything looked like a jumbled mess, and I couldn’t even begin to decipher it. That was when I learned the helplessness thing — and, from my workaday world to taking care of my house to keeping relationships going, I just couldn’t figure out HOW — and I slipped down into a pit of learned helplessness.

That agitation really messed with my attention and distractability, and I could not figure out how to even approach new challenges that weren’t immediately apparent to me. If I could do something right from the get-go, I was fine with it. But things I had to figure out, step by step? That was a no-go.

This has changed. It has changed dramatically. I noticed this yesterday, when I was looking at a piece of code that made no sense to me at all. I tried fiddling with it a little bit, but it wasn’t working. Then I tried something else. It still wasn’t working. In the past, I would have just bagged it and told myself it was too hard for me to handle. But it’s still in my mind, and I’m determined to figure it out. Surely, there must be a way. People who are a lot dumber than I am are able to figure this stuff out. It’s just a matter of technique. And persistence.

I still don’t understand how that thing works. But I am going to find out. There’s a lot of stuff to this piece of code that stumped me terribly before, and that stuff is exactly what I need to learn to handle. I can feel it – comprehension is so close. I’m so close to understanding it. There’s a fundamental concept that I’m missing, that once I have that in place, it’s going to springboard me forward, and then there’s no stopping me.

The only thing that can really stop me, is me. In the past, I have looked at these puzzles and chafed and gotten freaked out, and then just ran away to do something else. Something easier. Something that was less of a challenge. Something I had done before. Something I already knew how to do. And while it did comfort me to be back in a zone I recognized, and it took off the edge of the anxiety and agitation, it’s not where I need to be for the long term… especially if I’m going to earn a decent living.Especially if I want to be happy in my work.

What I’m doing now is just not fitting me well. I am able to do it, and I’m able to do it reasonably well. But it’s not where I am most comfortable. The place where I am most comfortable was taken from me, in 2004-2005. I thought it was gone for good. But it turns out, it’s not. I just had to relearn how to get back there… and trust that I’ll be able to rebuild the abilities that used to come so easily and fluidly to me.

I am a firm believer that if you truly love something, and if you are intently determined, and you don’t let the nay-sayers of the world stop you (including the one in your head), you can often find ways to restore the things you’ve “lost” to TBI. I know the brain changes, and there are sometimes fundamental differences that keep you from actually replicating the exact kinds of synaptic connections that once made your life so smooth and functional. At the same time, the brain is a pretty big place, and as long as we keep pushing, keep working, keep practicing, and keep resting and reviewing our progress, it is possible to build back functionality — sometimes in whole new ways that augment areas that needed augmenting to begin with.

This is not to say that everyone can magically {poof!} return to their formerly glorious state. Some can and some just can’t. And like a piece of metal that gets bent, no matter how you hammer and bend and coax it, you’ll never ever get it back to its original shape. You can get pretty damned close, but the change is made. There’s no going back 100%.  At the same time, the brain is built to rewire itself, and as such, there’s no reason on earth why new functionality cannot be discovered and explored and developed. There’s no reason at all. We have millions upon millions of synaptic connections, and a practically infinite number of different possible reconfigurations for those connections. If we get stuck trying to make ourselves into exactly what we were before, we lose the chance to make more of ourselves — and find out what else is possible.

So, that being said, I’m going to take another little crack at that puzzle. I find that if I spend maybe 15 minutes on it, then I step away and do something else, it’s easier for me, than if I muddle over it for hours on end. It’s easier on my brain, and it keeps me from getting discouraged.  And that’s important. Discouragement… that’s no good.

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