Re-learning how to learn

So, I’m studying up on new technologies, and I’m very excited about my prospects. It’s going differently than it was, 20 years ago, when I first got into this line of work. A lot has changed, since I first learned to code — the technologies, the complexity, the principles, and especially how my brain works.

Things are so much more complicated than they were before.

It’s nuts.

And I have to find new ways of learning, that are very, very different from how they were before.

Once upon a time, I could sit down with a book, read through the principles, and then put them into practice.

Nowadays that just doesn’t work for me anymore. I think it has a lot to do with my memory — I cannot retain things the same way I used to — they just disappear after a relatively short while. Now I need to practice what I read, make a ton of mistakes, practice doing things about five different ways, hunt around for answers online about why things aren’t working, and then try new things out a bunch of times, until it all makes sense to me.

It’s a lot more winding and convoluted, and it takes a lot more work.

But that’s how it has to be.

I’m actually really relieved to have discovered this new necessity. For years, I really struggled with learning new things, because I was going about them the wrong way. I was going about them the old way. Back in the day, I could take things step by step, and go about them in an orderly fashion, with each logical step following the last. Nowadays, it’s a much more roundabout route. I have to not only read, but also do — and do and do — until I get it.

And it takes me a lot longer to get it.

And even when I do get it, I forget it.

And then I have to start all over again.

Looking back at the code I wrote 5 years ago, I am impressed by how much I was doing, and the ideas I had for projects. But I can also see how my brain was definitely limited in its thinking. I didn’t have the range that I have now.Β  I would get fixated on specific topics, specific features of my projects, and I could not think in larger terms with a variety of scenarios. I would find one thing to think about, and I would only think about that – for weeks and months. And I would neglect the other areas — and really limit my overall problem-solving skills.

The other thing that amazes me, is how convoluted my coding was – I mean, I had the basic logic in place, but it was not streamlined like my coding is now. Writing different programs, I had a lot of “fluff” in there that I really didn’t need, but I thought it was all so important.

Now that I’m coding again, I can see how to do things differently — more efficiently. And even if my current projects don’t turn into anything much, it will still pay off in a very big way, just training my brain to handle things differently — be more logical, more efficient, and better at learning.

Another missing piece is found — It’s not that I can’t learn.

It’s that I need to learn in completely different ways. I need to not only read and expect to retain. I need to read and then do and then mess up and fix what I’ve broken, and then start again from scratch.

Until I get it.

Because eventually, I will.

So, onward.

Second chances – found by accident

I have a full day ahead of me. And it’s all good. I have some programming techniques to learn and test out, and I have some documentation to write. I have some busy-work to do for my day job, and I have another set of house chores I need to take care of.

The beauty part is, I can get it all done. I can do the programming for a few hours this morning, while everything is quiet… then I can move on to the chores that need to get done. Then I can have my lunch and a nap, and then move on to the other things for work-work. I’ll get a little bit of exercise, while I’m running my errands, and I’ll get out and about a bit. Heck, I might even be able to catch up with some friends for lunch.

On second thought, I need to not cram too much stuff into my day. I need to keep things simple, because life will become complicated enough on its own. Just because it does.

I feel incredibly hopeful, because I know that I don’t have to run out of steam and drag through the second half of my day like the walking dead. I don’t have to live that way anymore – especially because today is Saturday, and I don’t have to be anywhere, or do anything that I don’t choose to be or do. And tomorrow is Sunday, which gives me yet another day to move at my own pace, get things done, and really take good care of myself and my life.

Now that I have figured out how much just a 20 minutes of sleep in the afternoon helps me, and I have found a way to make sure I get a nap in regularly, it’s like I have a whole new lease on life. Seriously. It makes all the difference in the world, to not have to cram all my important activities into the first two hours of each day, and then spend the rest of the day worried that I’m not going to have the energy or the resources to make it through in top shape.

Having a nap in the middle of the day is like having two days instead of just one. It’s like that stock split at Google, which has pretty much cemented the two founders’ control over the company. Having some more rest in the middle of the day, when I have completely wiped myself out with all my going… and then having a second chance to pick up where I left off.. or just start something completely new… THAT is an amazing thing.

The other amazing thing is that having a nap in the afternoon actually helps me get to sleep at night. I can just allow myself to feel tired, not push myself through like a crazy person. I can just let myself feel exhausted, not force myself to be ON, like I used to have to, before I got into the whole nap thing. And when I really get into feeling how I feel, and I allow myself to just feel tired, then I can call it quits for the day, when it makes sense to do it, and just get myself to bed.

I did that last night, when my spouse wanted me to stay up and watch more episodes of a show we both really enjoy. I wanted to stay up a bit longer, and they wanted me to do it, too. But I just couldn’t do it. So I turned in at 11:30 — later than I wanted to, but earlier than I might have. After all, it was Friday night, so I “deserve a break” and should stay up as long as I damn’ well please, right?

Wrong. Staying up that late does a number on me. And today I woke up at about 5:30, so that means I got maybe 6 hours of sleep, if I’m lucky, which is not enough.

The pressure’s off, though, because I can always nap later. And because I have been getting more sleep lately, and I know I will have time later to nap, I don’t feel this intense pressure to be ON for the next four hours — or else. I can relax. And that’s so important.

Another benefit of getting additional sleep is that I have been making better choices with the time and energy that I do have. I have a number of new things I need to learn, and it’s easy for me to spin my wheels and run in a million different directions, but I’m better able to stop myself from getting too distracted, and I’m finding it easier to just choose to NOT do or learn or try certain things.

Life is better with naps. And I realize how much it was stressing me out, to feel like I only had about four good hours each day to work with. Nobody really gets just how exhausted I am — all. the. time.Β  They just seem to assume that because I can keep going, I should keep going. That because I don’t complain or draw attention to my exhaustion, it must not be that bad.

It has been bad. The fatigue has been crazy. And it really screwed up my life for years and years.

But now I have alternatives, and it’s good.





One day down, next day up

Yeah – that

Okay, I had my “down day” yesterday. I got up after 7 (late for me), I took it easy in the morning, then did a bunch of stretching and “physical therapy” for a few hours, studied my anatomy books, and took a nap. Then I called my parents to talk about their Christmas, talked to a sick friend, had an early dinner, watched a movie and some t.v. with my spouse, and then went to bed.

All in all, a very relaxing, restoring day. I took good care of myself and really focused on just being as well as I could possibly be. I also headed off a couple of arguments at the pass, which was good. I just stopped arguing with my spouse, before we got going. That’s progress. I think the food fix is working for me. At least, it seems that way.

It’s also good to just take the pressure off and decompress — just forget about accomplishing anything for anyone else, and take care of my own body, mind and soul, for once. I didn’t stress out about a lot of things. I just worked out the kinks in my body and rested as much as I could.

The thing is, after my physical therapy yesterday, I am really sore today. I worked a lot of knots out of the muscles in my back and neck and legs — all over, really — and now I’ve got a lot of “sludge” floating around that needs to get moved out of my system.

So, I got up this morning and got moving, first thing. I jumped on the exercise bike and rode for about 8 minutes, with some good intervals included. I know it’s not much, but I have not been on the bike regularly for quite some time — a couple of years, probably — and I need to work my way back to where I was before. I feel pretty good about the ride this morning — it was just enough to get my blood pumping and get me out of breath and make my legs a little wobbly when I got off the bike, but it wasn’t so much that I felt awful. I did get that headache towards the end, and my head is still hurting a bit right now, but I really don’t care. I’m active, things are moving, I feel better, and that’s what matters.

After my ride, I did some easy push-ups and stretching while I made my coffee, then I lifted weights while my fried egg was cooking. It takes about 5-7 minutes for my fried egg to cook up the way I want it, and that’s about enough time to do one “circuit” of my weights. I used to do that circuit each morning, years ago, then I stopped because I was overtraining, pushing it every single day without any rest, and I was starting to get too stressed and strained.

So, I just stopped.

It actually felt good to have that rest and extra time each morning — I was dedicating 20-30 minutes each morning to getting going, and it started to feel like it took forever. There also was no joy in it. But after stopping for a couple of years, and not replacing it with anything, now I’m feeling the results — lower energy, smaller range of motion, less good feelings in the morning. I can tell the difference between now and a couple of years ago.

So, I’ve started exercising again. I’ve done something about every other day, for a little over a week, now.

And it feels good.

After my rest day yesterday, I’m feeling really motivated to get going. I did my exercises this morning, as I said, and I’m feeling really energized by studying anatomy. It fascinates me, how our bodies are put together, and it’s also knowledge I can use — on a daily, moment-by-moment basis. I also discovered a website called Inner Body, which lets me study the body in its entirety, including all the skeletal, muscular, and organ systems. Fascinating. I’m looking at the bones of the head right now, because I need to understand the underlying structure that the muscles all attach to. I am most interested in the muscular system, because that’s what’s giving me trouble. But after spending a fair amount of time, yesterday, studying the muscular systems of the neck and back and legs, I realized that they kept talking about what bones the muscles were attached to, and if I didn’t know what bones they were talking about and the different parts of them, then I couldn’t really understand how the muscles were connected.

So, I need to learn the skeletal system, if I’m going to learn the muscular system. The skeletal system is a lot less complicated, because there are fewer parts, but it’s still a challenge for me to learn all the bones in the body.

I guess this is one of my goals for 2014 — to learn all the bones in the body (at least) — and if possible learn the muscular system as well. I think I can learn the skeletal system in a few months at the most. I just need to keep at it on a regular basis and keep refreshing my memory. And then I can learn the muscular system. Or I might study them simultaneously, so I understand the workings of them all, as they interact with each other, and better remember them that way.

For me, it’s all about how things are put together and how they interrelate to each other. If I can think about things in terms of a complete system that interacts with all the different parts, it makes more sense. I also need to find some videos of anatomy to understand the motions and movements, so it makes sense to me when people talk about adduction and abduction, flexion and extension.

Maybe if I can see it in action, it will make sense to me.

Let me Google that… videos of muscular system… Oh, I see there are plenty on YouTube. I’ll find time for that later.

Right now, I’m rarin’ to get into the day. I am a little tired, because I only got about six hours of sleep, last night, but I will take a nap later to make up for it. I’m off work for the next four days, so I have time. I just need to rest up, because next year is going to be a trip. I can feel it in my bones. And by the time I’ve learned all the bones in the body, I’ll be able to say which ones I can feel it in, and what parts of them are the most sensitive πŸ˜‰

So, I’m making my list for things to do. I have some chores to do, which I can take care of at my own pace, now that the rest of the world is either at work or at the mall. I can take my sweet time, roaming around, and spend some time at the health food store, discussing Tyrosine with the folks who work there who always try to engage me in in-depth discussions. I have to be careful with those folks, because they love to up-sell me, but overall, it’s cool. As long as I don’t get sucked into their hypnotic displays of expertise, I’m fine.

I just have to keep moving today, and give myself time to rest and digest as well. I made some pretty phenomenal food on Christmas Day, and I’m going to take another crack at it. I’m gonna get my shopping list of Tyrosine-generating foods, stock up, and refill the cupboards. I’m also going to pay some bills that are due by month-end… because I can, now that I got paid again this week. And I’m going to do some work on some of my projects that keep me interested and engaged. I’m going to study the skeletal system today, learn some basics, and also take the information with me to practice as I’m going about my chores. I have a little holder for 3×5″ cards, and I’m going to write down things to take with me, so I can use the time I spend standing in line or waiting for something or another.

I started doing this several years ago, then I stopped, because I had a lot of learning difficulties after my TBI. I had trouble reading, I had trouble remembering, I had trouble sorting things out and also staying motivated. I’m hoping that my Tyrosine and dopamine increasing strategies will help me with this. It’s a plan, anyway.

It’s all good. Having a rest day is helpful. Getting going… even better.


Learning for its own sake – and everything else, too

So, I’ve got this new perspective on things, and I’ve got this new role at work, which is expanded and far better than what I was doing before… and all the while I know that it is not what I truly want to be doing, over the long term. I also know that it actually puts me at a disadvantage to focus 100% on this role and make it my long-term choice, because I do not have a college degree (I attended for four years, but ran out of money and hit a rough patch, and I could never afford to carve out the time to go back to school. I had too many health / TBI / learning issues, and I was pretty much flying by the seat of my pants, from the time I hit the workaday world. So, no college degree — and there’s probably never going to be one, unless I become magically independently wealthy and can take time out of my life to do the coursework.

Yeah, not much likelihood of that happening anytime soon. I’m pushing 50. Maybe after I retire — at age 85 — I’ll have the time.

Anyway, what this means, realistically speaking, is that for the type of leadership work I am going to be going into (that is, being in charge of getting people on board and ensuring they deliver on what they’ve promised), if you want to progress in any organization — especially a global one — you must have a degree — if not several. You can’t just get by with “equivalent experience” — in order to play at the top levels, you have to possess that piece of paper… preferably several, most of them advanced degrees… in order to move up.

So, while it’s all very well and good that I’m in this high profile leadership position in the new organization, I have to be realistic and expect that it will not be long-lived. So, I have to stay fresh and current in the cutting-edge areas that don’t yet have a lot of coursework associated with them. And I have to keep building my portfolio of products I’ve helped create, so that I have something to show for all my work.

That is the one area where I am well-appointed — an actual track record of things I’ve produced and helped to build.

Now I just need to get them all together.

And I shall — especially because the most beautiful part of this whole portfolio building process is that I will be using the technologies I am seeking to perfect — so I will get more bang for the buck — a double-whammy of “how you like me now?” that speaks for itself, even where my educational background falls down.

Yes, this is good. I am in a good position at work… and I am in full possession of the realization that this will not last forever, and the bubble will eventually burst. Heck, it could burst in a year, when they re-org us again. Or it could happen sooner.

Bottom line is, I can’t waste time and rest on my laurels. That would be a terrible mistake.

So, I’m getting inventive and taking initiative. I’m training myself and using what I’m learning, not only in my daily job, but also in my side activities. And it’s good. It’s really, really good. For three reasons:

  1. It is keeping me current with emerging and highly popular and in-demand (and lucrative) technological skills.
  2. It is giving me a safety net of skills I can fall back on, if/when the current managerial/leadership position ceases to pan out.
  3. It is helping me get my brain back to where I want it to be, learning-wise, so I can not only know how best to learn, but I can also know that I can trust my brain again.

These are three incredibly important aspects of my life that — more than any amount of money — are the true “safety net” of my life.

  1. Proficiency
  2. Fund of marketable knowledge and skills
  3. Confidence in my ability to learn and adapt

I let these things slide before, when I got comfortable and over-confident… and never imagined that a fall down some stairs would derail me this severely. I made that mistake repeatedly over the past years, when I figured I was “good” where I was, and if I just kept doing what I was doing, everything would be fine. I was wrong – so very, very wrong. And I have a lot of ground to make up.

I’m not making that same mistake again. This is a new day for me, a new world. A new life.

So, that being said, I’m going to get on with my day, learn some things, and make the most of this day off, before I go back into the fray.

Sleep – to be functional, and also to enjoy

Sleep makes it all better

So, I’m extremely happy to report that I got about 9 hours of sleep last night. Perhaps a little more. I did some reading before I went to sleep, so that might have added on to my awake-time, but who cares – I woke up about 9 hours later, and I am actually feeling human again. This is huge progress. Usually, I push right through — have a bowl of ice cream or some other sugary snack to keep me awake. Or I go channel surfing and indulge my inane side with late-night talk/comedy.

Not last night, though. I ate my dinner, helped my spouse with some web searches, and went off to bed.

This morning I woke up and started reading my book again — it’s a how-to book for my work, with stuff I have been needing to know, and I cannot advance my career until I know it. This is stuff I needed to know four years ago, when I had a different job that was much more technical than what I’m doing now — it’s the stuff I actually was doing… but didn’t understand at all. I fudged my way through that work, and it was pretty painful (and I made a quick exit at my first opportunity)… but now I need to get back into it and really understand it, not just fake it.

Faking it is not an option with me anymore – after doing it for years, I can no longer keep two steps ahead of those who might find me out. So, my only course of action is to study and learn and master the material. It’s not that difficult, actually. I just have had a hell of a time in the past reading and understanding and putting what I was reading into action.

It’s pretty wild, this whole reading and comprehension thing. I struggled with it for years, after my last TBI. I couldn’t read anything for about 5 years — it just didn’t make any sense to me. I would read online articles, that I thought made sense, but I was really just skimming through them, and I had no real comprehension. And that was a tremendous loss. Because reading was always my “thing” — it was an integral part of who I was, and when that went away, part of me went away, as well.

In the past years, I have more actively read — specifically to practice understanding what I read. I can’t take that for granted, anymore. And in fact, as I look around, I realize that an awful lot of people (who may have never had TBIs) also don’t really “get” what they’re reading — they just think they do. But anyway, back to me… I need to really exert some effort in reading with comprehension — reading and understanding what I’m seeing… and also (in the case of this technical training), doing what I am reading about. It’s not a given that it’s going to make total sense to me — I need to exert myself, I need to make an effort. It doesn’t just come easy-breezy to me anymore.

So, that’s what I’ve been doing. And it just wears me out. Seriously. I get so tired. I have to pace myself. But I also can’t let up. I need to keep going, but I also need to keep my strength up… or I just don’t enjoy what I’m reading. And if I don’t enjoy it, then it becomes that much harder to do, and the words become that much harder to remember and understand.

Now, when I get good sleep, like I did last night, everything changes. It’s no longer a struggle and a trial. Sure, I still need to keep focused and maintain my level of effort, but it’s not nearly as painful as when I am tired. And when I am rested, I remember why I am doing this — to learn and grow and take more control of my life, and get back to earning the kind of salary that I should be, so I can have the kind of life that my spouse and I should have.

Okay, that being said, it’s time to sign off now and turn my attention to that work again. I got a good 9 hours of sleep last night, and I feel human again. I’m going to use my first good hours of the day building my skills and moving towards the future. And I’m going to enjoy myself.

Rock on.

Beginner’s mind all over again

I spent a little time yesterday at the library, looking through books that summarized things I knew by heart, left-right-front-back-and-upside-down in 2002, which I have really struggled with, since my TBI in 2004. It’s like I have to start from scratch.

Learning all this stuff — much of it all over again — is turning out to be a total trip. It’s like, I can remember a lot of it… faintly… and I know I used to do this on a daily basis, and it used to be second nature to me… but now it feels like I’m in fresh new territory all over again.

I can’t let myself get down about this. I truly can’t. That will stop me from where I’m going. The rest of the world – as far as they’re concerned – thinks I’ve been doing this stuff regularly, and that I’m up to speed. That’s what the recruiters think, that’s what the folks who are hiring think. They don’t see the big black nebula that sucked in my life and skills in 2005… that just got worse, over time.

The weird thing is, I didn’t have real problems thinking and focusing and producing work until around 2007… 2-3 years after my fall in 2004. From 2004 through 2006, I was faking my way through and doing a pretty good job of some rudimentary stuff, and I was passing for competent, because I was doing pretty basic, elementary stuff.

But after 2007, everything just sort of fell apart, and I think a lot of it had to do with me not keeping current on the emerging technologies, because of fatigue and confusion and fog and all the hell that was breaking loose around me. More than the injury, the chaos that surrounded me afterwards, really did a number on me.

That’s all water under the bridge, though. My main concern right now, is getting myself back on track and getting myself to a place where I can feel comfortable and confident in my skills. I’m not sure how long this is going to take. It could take a number of months. But I am focused on what I want to do, and even if I am delayed, I am not going to be stopped.

I have my work cut out for me, but I know where I’m going, and I know what skills I need to build up, so I’m doing just that. I’m keeping concentrated on the specific areas where my long-term interests lie… and that’s a good thing.

So, it’s beginner’s mind all over again. In a way, it’s okay, because a lot has changed, since I last did this kind of work on a daily basis. How can I be expected to be up to speed on it all? I haven’t been in the loop, quite frankly, and I haven’t invested the time in practice, which is what you need to do with this stuff — practice, practice, practice.

I see myself shirking, here and there, avoiding things that intimidate me. But now I see what I am doing, and this weekend I intend to just dive in and do it. Just do it. Take a chance. Re-learn much of what I have lost over the past several years. And revive some of my old projects that were pretty advanced, if I say so myself, until I got scattered and wandered off to do other things that added nothing to my life.

So, onward. Time to rekindle that old sense of discovery and fan the flames… not worry so much about struggling with things the way I do… just keep going and keep practicing. Because one of these days, I won’t struggle with it. And that will be a good day.

I finished reading a book

Here’s a blast from the past. About a year ago, I wrote this post (but forgot to publish it), absolutely giddy about having finished reading a book. Looking at where I’m at now, it’s pretty amazing the changes I’ve been through. After not having been able to get through an entire book in years (although one of my favorite pastimes was always reading), last November, I actually finished reading a book.

Here’s the post:

November, 2009

Yesterday afternoon at about 3:30 p.m., I finished reading Aging with Grace, the book about the Nun Study of those long-lived School Sisters of Notre Dame, which explores how and why some people live long and never succumb to Alzheimer’s or dementia, and why others may be more vulnerable. This book has a lot of meaning to me, because as a multiple TBI survivor, I’m statistically more vulnerable to dementia, and about the last thing I want, is to be incapacitated and demented later in life. No thanks…

I found a number of tips and clues about what you can do to avoid dementia — even if you do have some brain degeneration — and I read reports of nuns who had all the signs of advanced Alzheimer’s, but no symptoms whatsoever before they died. Sounds good to me.

I’m invigorated by this new information. I highly recommend it to anyone. And I’m even more invigorated by the fact that I actually finished the book! It took me a month to read all 219 pages, but I did it!!!

This would not be big news for most people I know. Most people I know read books as a matter of course, and when they start a book, they generally finish it (unless it’s truly awful and/or they run out of time). I, on the other hand, have not finished reading a book I started in a number of years. It’s hard for me to remember the last time I actually reached the last page of a book I started.

Let me walk around my study, looking for a book I know I’ve read cover to cover… Let’s see… I am reasonably certain I’ve read about 56 of the books in my study, which constitute maybe 10% of the total on my bookshelves. And theΒ  most recent one I finished prior to Aging with Grace was consumed in a hurry back in 2006. I may have read something from cover to cover in 2007, but I cannot recall.

Now, mind you, I have tons of books, but most of them I’ve only read the first couple of chapters, if that. It’s a lifelong habit that goes way back to when I was a kid, and I never even really realized it was a problem, until this past year or so, when I started to take a long, hard look at my reading habits — or lack thereof — in the context of my TBIs.

It’s a complicated issue — part difficulty with the material, part difficulty with keeping focused on the material. I can be really distractable, so I often end up wandering off on cognitive tangents, when I’m reading. But part of what feeds my distractability, I think, is the fatigue that sets in after I’ve been reading for a while, as well as the discouragement I feel when I realize my eyes have been skimming pages for the last half hour, and I cannot remember what I just read. It’s complicated. And it sucks. And it never occurred to me before that I might have difficulty reading. I’m such an avid infovore — I’m usually reading something. Who would guess that reading is such a challenge for me?

It’s taken some adjusting to get used to this fact. And the adjustment has been as much of a hit to my self-image as anything else. I was always known as a bookworm. Much of my knowledge comes from books. If I’ve been reading at substandard level all these years without knowing it… and also not grasping a lot of what I was reading… what does that say about me, as a person? Does it completely invalidate many of the beliefs and assertions I’ve had about myself, for over 4 decades? It’s troubling to think so.

But now that I know reading is a problem for me, I can take steps to do something about it.Β  And that’s good. I literally cannot live this way, not being able to read a book from cover to cover. I am NOT going to continue in life this way. Something must be done. I need a plan. Here’s my plan — which so far has worked well, the first time through.

I need to acclimate myself to reading for longer periods of time, by reading for fun and pleasure, getting up to speed with that, and then starting to read for learning and understanding. I need to practice regularly and build up my stamina, and also develop different strategies for how to handle the material I absorb.

First, for the fun reading, I need to identify a topic that interests me which will stimulate me. I need to have some investment in the material, some payoff, some reward that comes with it. Preferably, I need to find something to read that also has “companion” material, like a movie that was made of it. I need to have the information presented in different formats, that different parts of my brain can “hook into”.

I chose The Bourne Identity, because it’s an action adventure novel that’s broken into relatively short chapters. It’s also got a movie made of it that is one of my favorites, and I have visuals of the action to prompt me as I read along

Second, I need to set aside time to read. I have to have time to do it, when I have time to rest either before or afterwards, or both.

I do this on the weekends. I take naps on the weekends to catch up with my rest. And I read during the afternoons.

Third, I need to gradually increase the amount of time I spend reading. I pay attention to how much time I’m spending, how I’m feeling, how my pace is. And I really congratulate myself, when I’ve read more than 10 pages at a sitting and understood what was being said the whole way through.

I can do this, but I also need to make sure I’m not tiring myself out. I need to make special efforts to reward and praise myself for having read as long as I have. I tend to get down on myself and think I’m stupid, when I’m not reading well, and I assume that it should be easy for me. But my reading has never been as strong as I always thought, and since my fall in 2004, it’s got even worse.

Fourth, I will then transfer my stamina and interest and good experiences with action/adventure fiction to my other non-fiction reading. And I must pace myself, gradually working my way up, again, and re-reading the things that I didn’t get the first time around. I need to keep an action/adventure book on hand, to keep my interest bolstered. I don’t worry so much about finishing the fiction in a timely manner. It’s more for the sake of keeping my spirits up and having a good experience while reading, so I can focus my more intent energies on the non-fiction/professional reading.

This is what I’ve been doing, on and off, with Aging With Grace over the past month. And now that I’ve done it and see that it works(!) I am ready to move on to my professional reading.

This is such important work. My survival and success depends on it. I’ve got a bunch of books I bought in the past that I need to read for work, but I haven’t been able to crack them. Now, I’ve got to do it.Β  Now I have a strategy and a plan, and I’ve proved (at least once) that it works. Reading really is fundamental. And the fact that I have done it with Aging With Grace has really lit a fire under me.

But before I go any further, it’s time for my Sunday afternoon nap.

Learning to read… again

One of the things I’ve been really struggling with, lately, is my uneven ability to read and understand. I’ve always been an avid reader, but until the past couple of years, I never really understood that what I had thought was “reading” was something a lot more irregular than looking at words and understanding what was being said with them. I’m running behind schedule this morning, but I do want to call out some things I need to focus on — as much for my own sake, as for this blog’s.

I’m actually in a position, right now, where I may be able to change the job I’m inΒ  — for something better that I’ve been wanting to get into for quite some time. It’s a great opportunity, but I need to be able to read and understand and learn, if I’m going to do it. No two ways about it.

First, I have to realize just what my real reading abilities are. I am having a hell of a time at work, reading and understanding what I’m taking in. Sometimes, I’ll get 10 pages into some text, and realize that I stopped reading 3-4 pages back. My eyes continued to move across the page, but my attention was elsewhere. Or it was nowhere.

I also have a nasty tendency to forget what I’ve read before long. I may get something very clearly, one day, and then completely lose it, the next.

I need to figure out how to address this. And I need to figure out how to retain what I’ve read in ways that let me act on the material.

I need to get on with my day, but I’m going to give this more thought. I also need to look at some of the materials I have on hand, most notably from Give Back Orlando and the neurological information Dr. Schutz provides about how the brain can be affected by traumatic injury.

It’s all very exciting, but I have to say, I’m a bit unnerved by it. Well, I’ll figure something out. And either it will work, or it won’t.


Common sense for quality psychotherapy

It seems so obvious to me. Or maybe it’s just me. I just got done reading Eve LaPlante’s book Seized, about temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE). It’s a fascinating book, even for folks who don’t have a vested interest in the specifics of epilepsy (or seizure disorders, for those who are a little faint of heart about the topic). I have relatives who have (seldom discussed) seizure disorders, some of whom have distinctly unique personalities that are very similar to what LaPlante talks about with regard to Geschwind’s Syndrome — a set of personality characteristics that, while controversial, are commonly found among folks with TLE.

Anyway, the book is a fascinating read for anyone who is interested in how the brain interacts with the body and personality. It covers all sorts of ground that probably is taboo in the scientific/medical community, but since LaPlante is a writer, not a scientist dependent upon institutional funds for research and professional survival, she can write what she pleases. She intimates about controversies that surround TLE within the scientific/medical community, and hearing her talk about all these doctors with radically opposing opinions gives me hope, on my own side, because I don’t feel quite so alone or quite so crazy, having all these conflicted impressions and opinions of the doctors I encounter.

My favorite part of the book is the last chapter, where she talks about the intersection of body and brain. She advocates something that makes total sense to me, and which I’ve long felt would make for better medicine and better psychotherapy — training therapists in basic neurology, so that they don’t end up treating conditions which cannot be fixed with talk therapy, but they also don’t miss doing the work of helping their clients live with the burdens of neurological issues.

Amen to that, sister! I’m telling you, it would have made my life a whole lot easier, if someone along the way had insisted that I have a real neurological workup done — top to bottom, front to back, beginning to end — before I commenced with my therapy. Now, don’t get me wrong. I really dig my therapist. They have a great way about them, and I look forward to meeting with them each week, even if the terrain we’re covering is dark and stormy. But the more I find out about TBI and how it affects people’s lives, and the more I think about how my own TBI’s have impacted my own experience and shaded it in certain ways, the more I realize that not addressing the neurological aspects of my condition leaves a huge, gaping hole in the efficacy of my psychotherapeutic treatment.

In Seized, LaPlante talks about how in some cases of psychiatry, patients are sent out for a battery of imaging tests to rule out any organic bases for their issues. Makes sense to me. In fact, I think that I had that in the back of my mind, when I selected this therapist, who actually has a medical background — albeit short-lived, as they got out of the psychiatric nursing business before too terribly long. I believe that a part of me has always known there is something structurally “unique” about my makeup that causes me to experience life in a much more extreme, much more convoluted, much more confusing way than others appear to experience it. I mean, how many times do I have to get left in the dust, metaphorically speaking, while others are having these long, involved conversations, or the movie I’m watching takes off on intricate tangents, before it starts to sink in that I’m not processing information as quickly as other people? Not long, really.

Of course, it hasn’t helped that I’ve learned to mask my slowed processing time by “cueing” off other people and just kind of going along with what they’re doing, agreeing with them ’cause it seems like the thing to do, not ’cause I necessarily want to. My coping strategies have actually worked against me, in many ways, as I’ve gradually come to believe that I was getting everything that was going on around me, when all I was really doing, was doing a damned good imitation of getting what was going on around me. It’s no easy task, to admit this, now. It really isn’t. I mean, how humiliating, to have to cop to the fact that you’re, well, slow… In some ways, anyway.

But what helps even less, is working with someone who is convinced that — absent some verifiable data that I process information slower than most people — what I really need, is to just stop being so hard on myself and boost my self-confidence by feeding myself a constant string of affirmations. I have sat there in sessions and admitted that I was having trouble following what was going on around me, only to be told by the trained professional sitting across from me that, No, that wasn’t true at all. I was just being too hard on myself, too exacting, and everybody has trouble processing information, now and then, so I shouldn’t make an issue of it.

While I appreciate their attempt to make me feel better (and presumably foil some impending suicide attempt or other form of self-injury lurking in the hind-parts of my brain), I have to say that in my case, I’d rather be factual and turn in less rosy numbers, than delude myself any more about my cognitive capacity. It just doesn’t help, when I’m trying to do a realistic assessment of what I can and cannot (safely and prudently) do with my life, if one of the people I rely on for objective information is busy further obfuscating my true situation — all in the name of making me feel better.

Trust me, it doesn’t make me feel better to delude myself. It doesn’t make me feel better, to spin fairy tales and fish yarns about how fabulous I am, when a big chunk of my objective mind is questing for the truth about my capabilities. It doesn’t make me feel better to overstep my bounds and overreach my capabilities — in front of others and in work situations where there’s a lot on the line. It doesn’t make me feel better to realize — when it’s too late to stop myself or fix what I’ve broken — that I’ve once again screwed up, because I bit off more than I could cognitively chew.

What does make me feel better, is knowing precisely where I stand, cognitively speaking, so I can manage to it. If I know that my processing speed is slower, that I have trouble absorbing spoken words, that I get meanings turned around, that I confabulate and confuse not only nouns in sentences but verbs as well, and that I’m completely, wholly, entirely, and blissfully unaware that I’ve mucked up this language-based learning… well, that gives me something to take to the bank.

As in, it tells me that project management is probably NOT the route I should take in my career. It tells me that heavily verbal work, predominantly spoken work, work that depends on my understanding exactly what I’m told at a given time and not losing track of what I heard 10 minutes ago, is NOT the kind of work I will thrive in. It tells me that I should avoid that sort of career change and not get my heart set on moving into management anytime soon. It tells me that — as I’ve known for many, many years, but just now got objective confirmation — I do best in work that is very visual, very immediate, very binary, very technical. I do best working with machines that can “forgive” my muck-ups and allow me to screw up over and over and over again — in ways that people never can/could/will/would. It tells me that my instincts were utterly correct, all those years ago, when I went into web development, and it tells me that although I do love to write, it’s probably best that I stick with coding to make my living and let my writing be more something I do to talk about my life, rather than document mission-critical systems.

As hard as it is to know that my brain is broken in certain ways, it’s invaluable, as well. Because even if there are parts of my wiring that are totally hosed, there are other parts that have overcompensated so enthusiastically, that there is no one — but no one — who is my equal in my areas of expertise. I’ve been called “the best in the business” by more than one co-worker, when it comes to building out code. I’ve been praised and lauded and paid lots and lots of money, because I am literally able to recreate in code the very same image that I’m shown in Photoshop. I am so good at it — and this is objectively speaking, not boasting (a habit I detest) — that I have at times been unable to tell which image on my computer screen was the starting Photoshop comp and which was the completed web page I created. AND I’ve been able to recreate the experience across multiple browsers, which — if you know browsers — is no small feat.

So, in some ways, while I’m incredibly dense, in other ways I have these gifts which add a sublime transcendence to my daily life that makes all the pain and suffering well worth it.

I think that’s what my therapist doesn’t understand. They may be trying to take the sting out of the pain I’m in, but they don’t seem to grasp that the pain is real, and the sting is real, and it’s very important for me to be well aware of the sting, of the pain. If I don’t know that I’m prone to turning words around and turning positives in sentences into negatives, as well as confusing subjects and objects in statements — who did what to whom — then I run the risk of taking up a line of work that relies on me being 100% accurate with my language and interpretation of others’ language. Once upon a time, I did technical writing, and a part of me has thought seriously about returning to it. But the fact of the matter is, I’ve had a bunch of head injuries since my last bona fide tech writing gig, and each one has probably disposed me a little (a lot?) less to that line of work.

So I need to step away from that option.

To avoid creating more pain for myself, on down the line, without knowing it.

Let me tell you, it’s bad enough having to deal with the fallout of a turned-around life… deal with the consequences of poor choices, the residue of numerous traumas, the burden of mis-steps, and injuries… all those injuries… But what’s even worse, is not identifying the real reason that many of them happened — not understanding the limitations I have that contributed to them, and will continue to contribute to my poor choice-making and mis-steps and traumatic outcomes, unless I identify them and come to terms with them.

I can patch up the holes in my leaky boat as much as I like. And I can bail all the water out of my dinghy from dusk till dawn. But if I keep rowing around in rocky shoals in the middle of a moonless night, what can I expect, but to keep knocking holes in the bottom of my boat?

That’s what I’m trying to do — find out where the rocks are, where the shoals are. So I can steer my boat in a different direction. And if I can’t seem to get out of the shoals, maybe I should just jump overboard and swim for shore and take up walking on solid ground.

That is to say, if it turns out — as it seems to be — that my language-based-learning oriented brain functions are not as fully functional as they could/should be, for someone with my level of brightness ) had I mentioned I’m in the 99th percentile? πŸ˜‰ ), due to all those brain injuries over the years, then it’s probably a pretty safe bet that I should seek out work that is NOT primarily language-based-learning oriented. Yes, it’s sad that someone with a vocabulary in the 99th percentile and an ability to connect two disparate ideas in the 98th percentile, should be so prone to screw up fundamental components of sentences… that someone with my love of language should be ill-suited to making a living off the thing I love so much. But at the same time, there are other things I do extremely well that can provide the level of challenge and fulfillment I need — not to mention a good deal more money than writing — that do not require that I get nouns and verbs and subjects and objects just right.

It doesn’t take a lot of verbal acumen and accuracy, to look at two pictures and tell if they match. It doesn’t require a high level of linguistic accuracy to create properly coded applications. It doesn’t require a sticky short-term memory to tell if a web app functions properly or not. In the binary world I have instinctively gravitated to, I have immediate, simple, straightforward feedback from machines that do not look at me strangely or call me names or make me feel like an idiot, if I get things wrong, the first 2, 3, 10 times.

If I jump from the proverbial dinghy of writing-for-hire (especially technical writing or systems documentation or some other sort of high-accuracy type writing), and wade onto the shore of straight-ahead programming, and I turn my back on the shoals of my language-based learning disabilities, well, then, I’m so much the better for it.

And I have not lost a thing — other than the risk of making an ass of myself, screwing up a project, making myself less employable, and setting back my career and future prospects through my own ignorance and/or unwillingness to squarely face my own limitations.

Plus, if you think about it, I haven’t actually lost anything, by not being able to be gainfully employed as a tech writer or editor or some other sort of language professional. Fact of the matter is, I love to write, and I love to do it on my own terms, in my own way, without having someone to answer to. I have this blog, I have my journals, I have plenty of outlets for my writing, that don’t rely on me being 100% accurate according to someone else’s standards. I can write about my life, because there’s no one outside dictating to me, that I can screw up. I can write about my experiences in great detail, because being there and living it is a very different thing than hearing it from someone else. I can really get down to the nitty gritty of my own body of work, editing my own words and making sure they’re in line with what I want them to say, rather than being tied into some other outside influence that I may or may not be able to satisfy.

In fact, if anything, being forced to look to non-verbal ways of making a living actually widens my world. It sends me into areas I’d never dare to venture, if I could just fall back on my writing to get me by. It forces me to reach beyond myself and find out what else I can do, other than the standard stuff that everyone assumed I’d do — become a writer, or an editor, or some other sort of literary-type person. It impels me to find other ways to express myself and make my way in the world, and it pulls me out of myself to see what else is possible for myself, my brain, my talents, my gifts.

It’s hard to let go of my belief that I’ve got everything all straight in my head. But it’s also very liberating and challenging and, in some ways, invigorating to realize that there is yet more to me, that I must discover. And this at age 43, when a lot of my peers are just starting to settle into the rut they’ll occupy till they depart this mortal coil. It’s hard, yes, to come to grips with my difficulties. But it’s tremendously humanizing, as well. And what more could I ask from life, than a wholeheartedly humanizing experience?

So, contrary to what my therapist might have to say… contrary to what the can-do coaches of the world may think… contrary to what the you-can-do-it-if-you-just-put-your-mind-to-it cheerleaders of the world may cry from the rooftops… I’m much better off admitting my shortcomings and facing my acquired limits, than soldiering on, oblivious to what’s really going on with me.Β  Believe you me, I don’t want to be this way. I didn’t ask to be this way. I never, in a million years, would have wished for or expected this type of language-based deficit to rear its ugly head. But there it is, warts and all. I’m better off seeing it for what it is and getting on with my life.

In the end, the book is not yet closed on what all I can accomplish in this world. And I’ll feel much better about myself, and I’ll stand a better chance of having a healthy, balanced life, if the person I’m cheering on and praising and parading around for all to see actually exists.

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