Watching within

“You’re feeling sleepy…” No, I’m NOT!

So, this year is off to a roaring start. I’ve already had a few situations of hurting people’s feelings — that escalated from people being super-sensitive to something I said, or how I behaved.

I will admit, I have come on very strong at times, and I have had a little “scorched earth” action, where I felt like I was either being threatened or disrespected.

Yeah, I’m not much for being threatened OR disrespected, and I will react if it seems like that’s happening. I have to watch myself, though, because that can cost me — in damaging existing relationships or nipping new ones in the bud before they get a footing.

The thing is, I need to make sure I don’t over-react, which I can certainly do. Especially if I’m not paying attention to what’s going on inside my head and veins and autonomic nervous system, I can quickly switch into survival mode over some interpretation. In some cases, I need to be in survival mode, but I don’t need to completely scorch the people who I perceive as a threat, like Smaug laying waste to so many Middle Earth towns.

Yeah, gotta watch that. Particularly when I am tired and stretched.

I had a couple of tricky situations this past week, during the conference. Even before I left the airport, I had sent an email to a colleague who is also a good friend, which really hurt their feelings. I was reacting to them running their mouth and getting me in trouble because they don’t know how to be discrete about sharing information with upper management before it’s been fully analyzed. They let a few little factoids slip, and the uber-uber-boss got wind of it and proceeded to tear my boss a new one, over what was really nothing.

Geeze. And this after I’d specifically told this person to NOT share information with the uber-uber-boss. God help us.

Anyway, the email I sent was terse, abrupt, and pretty harsh. The situation called for it — something had to be done to keep them from continuing to run their mouth. But then they got all worked up over it and pitched a little hurt-feelings hissy fit, and then it blew back on me and I had to spend days patching things up. If they’d been able to keep their mouth shut, this never would have happened. But the individual who “over-shared” has impulse control problems. They always have. They get carried away and say and do things that make them extremely difficult to deal with. I don’t doubt for a minute that it’s due to them having sustained a severe brain injury when they were younger — they got thrown from a motorcycle and landed on their face and spent the next week in a coma, then had to learn to do everything — walk, talk, function — over the course of several years.

When they get tired and out of sorts, all the standard TBI stuff comes up — impulsiveness, outbursts, emotionality, aggressiveness, confusion, disorganization… and last week, when I sent that email, they were coming out of an extremely long week that was a prime recipe for TBI meltdown — for both of us.

Because I was tired, too. And under pressure. And I wasn’t minding my P’s and Q’s, and I let things get out of hand. I wasn’t the bigger person, and I took matters into my own hands, and the result was not pretty. It’s human, it’s to be expected under the circumstances, but I don’t want to do it again anytime soon.

The second experience I had was at the conference, when I met up with some old friends whom I hadn’t seen for a long time. One of them brought their new love interest with them, because they wanted to introduce them to me and my spouse. After an initial contact at the hotel that was pleasant and friendly, I had to run out and take care of some more things, then I came back, and we spent more time all hanging out together.

That’s when things got dicey. The new Love Interest started telling us about themself, and the more I heard, the less I liked. First of all, they had dredlocks, which is a huge flag for me with white people. Something about white people wearing “dreds” pushes a bunch of buttons with me, partly because every white person with dreds I’ve ever known has come from a privileged background and they live their “alternative” lives scamming off other people. This is only my own limited experience, but every white person with dreds has given me attitude about being part of the “system” and selling out for my full-time job and my house and my regular life.

It makes me insane. Partly because I work in the “system” and have a full-time job and house and regular boring life, because it’s the only way I can function under my circumstances. I need routine. I need predictability. I need a full night’s rest, or I cannot function. At All. This isn’t by choice — it’s by necessity. Certainly, I would love to be able to come and go as I please and be all alternative and what-not and “live my dreams” and “embody my passion” however and whenever I like.

But for me, that’s a recipe for disaster. My brain is such that if I don’t have regular routine and predictability and a whole lot of really boring stuff giving structure to my life, I lose it. It’s not pretty. I become extremely difficult to live with — as the Love Interest found out.

So, there I am, hanging out with people I really love and care about, and here’s this dredlocked person making snarky comments about “white people”. As though they’re not white. And they start talking about their past, moving around here and there. Back and forth all over the world. USA – China – South America – Europe – Asia – back to the US – all over. I guess I got a bit jealous, because that’s the kind of life I would rather be living, but circumstances demanded different choices from me. It’s a little rough to move around the world all the time, when your spouse is disabled and ill, they depend on you to survive, and you can’t keep a thought in your memory for longer than 15 minutes.

According to my spouse, I got pretty aggressive with this Love Interest, firing off questions about where they lived and when. Thinking back, it was definitely an Alpha-situation, with me standing over them, like some interrogator, bombarding them with questions. At the time, I was so caught up in learning more – I actually wanted to hear more about what they did, and when. At the time, I didn’t intend to be aggressive. At least, I don’t think so. I was actually really interested in hearing what they had to say. I wanted to hear more.

But it wasn’t perceive that way, and apparently I made everyone in the room very uncomfortable. I was clueless that people were uncomfortable. I was just focused on hearing more, because my life has been so incredibly uniform and established for the past 20 years.

At the same time, though, there were some alarms that were going off in my head — so maybe I was being aggressive.

The first alarm was the dreds. The second alarm was the Love Interest trying to sell my spouse on their services doing “neurolinguistic programming” — a/k/a hypnosis — to solve some of their mobility issues. My spouse has some serious and long-standing mobility problems due to back and leg pain, and many people have told them it’s because of some emotional block or unresolved issues. Personally, I think it has more to do with them just not moving enough and not strengthening the right muscles to support their frame. They also need to lose about 30 pounds. Most healthcare professionals we talk to, feel exactly the same way. But lo and behold, here’s yet another “alternative healthcare practictioner” trying to sell my spouse on mind control techniques to solve their physical problems.

Of course, it couldn’t be done in just one session. But after an “intake interview” they could continue to work over the phone at any distance. The rate was $100/hour.  No insurance coverage available.

So, yeah, here’s this individual who’s living on the margins, pretending to be something they are not, just flitting around doing as they please, subtly slamming people like me, and they’re trying to hard-sell my spouse into signing up for hypnosis, which of course I will be paying for out-of-pocket, if it ever happens. On top of it, they’re talking to my spouse about working together to create some sort of alternative event, and I’m getting a sickly deja-vu in the pit of my stomach about all the other marginal folks my spouse has tried to work with who started out seeming so alternative and progressive, and just turned out to be nutso, flighty, opportunistic users who thought they could take advantage of the “rich” people with the salaried job, the house, and the two cars in the garage.

Come to think, of it, I’m surprised I was as polite as I was, that night. If I had really been aware of how I was feeling at that time, I probably would have 86’ed them, or called it an early night.

But like I said, I was pretty clueless about just how threatened and aggravated and antagonistic I was feeling. I was in the “zone” — or so I thought. And my memories of the evening were totally different from how my spouse describe them to me later.

Anyway, the rest of that evening went slowly downhill. I was actually feeling pretty strong, that night, and I had a good time catching up with my old friends. But the Love Interest became increasingly withdrawn as the evening went on. They wouldn’t make eye contact with me, and when we rode back to the hotel, they made sure to sit far away from me. It was weird. I mean, I tried to reach out and talk to them, but they kept their distance. Maybe because I was a representative of “THE MAN”, and/or I wasn’t playing along with their alternative role-playing game.

In the end, they barely said good night to me, and they were obviously glad to get away.

I feel badly about the situation — mostly for my friends, who were obviously fond of the Love Interest. To them, they were wonderful, from what I could tell, and it seemed like they did really care about each other. But my shields went way up – to 110% – with this person around, and I was NOT going to have my spouse snookered into yet another boondoggle that was expensive, time-consuming, far from guaranteed, and happening on the other side of the country.

Yah, not gonna happen on my watch.

Looking back, I realize now that my instincts were pretty accurate. I was “tuned in” to what was going on beneath the surfaced, and I took corrective action without going ballistic. I could have gone ballistic, under the circumstances. The warning signs were written all over the situation. But aside from some pointed questions and uneasiness-provoking directness, I didn’t go all Rambo on the Love Interest. I just made it clear that I was not buying what they were selling, I didn’t just agree with every little thing they said. And I didn’t give a shit if I did piss them off.

My friends were certainly uncomfortable, now that I think about it, and they should be. Because here is someone they ostensibly love and trust, who is probably using them for their own selfish purposes. And I hate seeing that happen to anyone I care about. My friend who is dating them has fallen in with questionable people before, and they are extremely susceptible to users like this. I’ve seen it before, and it appears to be happening again. I think it has to do with some sort of guilt from their parents having money and being community leaders, and them wanting to reach out and help the less fortunate.

In my experience, the “less fortunate” can sometimes get that way because they would rather scam others than take responsibility for their lives. And I hate seeing good-hearted people used by those kinds of scammers. So, to stand by and do/say nothing and act like everything is hunky-dory… that’s not an option for me.

This isn’t a game, folks. This is life. I know that my friends come from money, so they will always have someone to help them, should things go sour for them. They can afford to fritter away their days and years without terrible consequence (like for me and my spouse). Their parents keep them well provided for, even well into adulthood. But can we really afford to squander our lives — our precious, precious lives — on people and experiences that constantly take, and do not give?

There is so much that needs to be done in the world, and it makes me absolutely NUTS to see the talented, gifted, intelligent people in my life frittering it all away on people who take advantage of their good hearts. They fritter it away to rebel… for entertainment’s sake… or because they don’t realize just how precious and rare their talents and gifts and intelligence really are.

What a waste.

Unfortunately, I can’t spare my friends from their poor choices in love mates. But at least, in this case, I didn’t allow the User to “attach” themself to my spouse and come home with us. Yes, people got their feelings hurt, and yes, people were really uncomfortable. But I can sleep better at night, knowing that there is no way in hell that predatory parasitic Love Interest is going to come anywhere near my family again.

They tried to work their NLP hypnosis magic on us, and it didn’t work. I saw through it and took corrective action. I wasn’t consciously aware of the details at the time, while it was happening, but I went with my gut and my instinct, and as it turns out, I was — as they say — Right On, Man… Right On!

Figuring out what matters

Find what matters and focus on that

One of the big differences between the conference I went to last week, and the first time I attended, about four years ago, was that this time, I could tell what I needed to focus on, and what I needed to ignore to conserve my energy.

Part of the challenge is usually figuring out what matters the most, and that comes with experience. When you’re new at something, you often feel like you have to do everything (or at least try), so that you have all your bases covered. You don’t want to leave anything unchecked, you don’t want to be under-prepared, you don’t want to get taken by surprise. Especially when you’re new at something and you’re just learning those particular ropes.

That’s how it was, four years ago, when I first worked that conference. I was a nervous wreck, for weeks in advance. I was way over-prepared, with a clipboard full of printouts with notes and all sorts of color coding for where I was supposed to be, and when. And I ran myself ragged. I helped out anywhere I could — at registration, behind the scenes, running errands and interference for people. I was completely baked, by the end of the six-days I was there. It took me days (maybe weeks) to get back to normal.

The next year, it was a little better. I had fewer notes, and I relied a lot more on the vendor I was managing to do their job. I was there for five days, and I picked up some work here and there, to help out. I was tired at the end, but not destroyed, like I’d been the first year.

The year after that (last year), I was too sick to go to the conference. I was just getting over the flu, and there was no way I was going to make it in one piece.

This year, I went for four days, which was plenty, and I came out of it in good shape. I will need to catch up with my sleep, of course, but that will get done. I feel a tremendous sense of comfort and satisfaction at how things went, and I really got a lot out of the interactions with people there. It was more than I usually do, but it wasn’t enough to completely wreck me.

Probably the biggest difference between this conference and the last ones I went to, was that I didn’t get all worked up over every little thing. There was very low drama for me — some people had a lot, but I kept it pretty mellow, overall. I didn’t micromanage my staff, I just checked in, now and then to shoot the sh*t and make sure they had what they needed, and I let them do their thing. We know each other by now, which is a big help. And we trust each other, which is even better.

I also didn’t push myself to attend every last session that was offered. This conference is typically chock full of workshops that are interesting to me, but there was so much going on, and the sessions were about things I am interested in, but don’t do on a daily basis, so whatever I would learn, would have evaporated, anyway. I saved my energy. I hung out with my teammates. I mended bridges and talked some of my higher-strung colleagues down from their drama highs (and also pushed them a little to do the right thing they didn’t feel like doing). And I generally had a good time. I didn’t set all kinds of impossible goals for myself, and I didn’t measure my success based on how many strangers I talked to, or how good of an ambassador for the company I was.

My spouse also got to come with me, which was both a blessing and a challenge. They got pretty irritable at times because I was working so much and I didn’t have all the time in the world to spend on leisure. We also didn’t have the money to stay a few extra days in the warm, sunny weather, which was disappointing. But in the end, it was all okay, because they met up with friends who lived in the area, and they had plenty of time to kick back and relax in that beautiful place… which was good.

I also didn’t get waylaid and sucked into the drama when they would get angry at me in the mornings. They’ve got their own brain injury issues from several minor acquired brain injuries, a few years after my own last TBI, so much of what applies to me in the irritability department, also applies to them. When they are tired — or just waking up in the morning — they can be hell to deal with — very demanding, accusatory, needy, and pulling on me like crazy, while I’m trying to get out the door and go to work. This is especially true if they start to get anxious, which is frequent.

The difference between us, is that I know what it’s about and I manage it. But my spouse doesn’t see it as being anything unusual or irrational. They figure, they have every right to be irritable and to vent. And so they do. They just want to be “free and unfettered” and “let it all hang out”… and if I “cramp their style”, they lash out in anger. They get anxious and demand to be settled down and soothed, while my own plans are more and more delayed by their games. They don’t actually want to fix any of their anxiety — they just want to be soothed, calmed, feel like they’re being taken care of. Meanwhile, I’m running late… and getting more and more delayed all the time.

It’s very unpleasant. Some days, it just sucks.

But this vacation, I didn’t get pulled into the drama of them dragging me down and holding me in the hotel room in that choke-hold of “anxiety bartering”. I just kept saying, “I’ve gotta go…” and managed to extricate myself from that choke-hold. And I got myself out the door in one piece, in good shape. This is something I’ve been working on, and it went pretty well. I felt a bit guilty, as I was leaving the room, but that’s just the old routine wearing on me. I’ve got to break that cycle of emotional manipulation and control, so I can just get on with my life.

This trip, I managed to do that, and it worked out well. My spouse was not harmed by the experience of me leaving when I needed to go — they just rolled over and went back to sleep. And I made it to breakfast with a colleague on time… well, almost. I was a few minutes late.

The point is, I managed to figure out what was happening, when it was happening, and I figured out how to block out the anxiety static that was just standing between me and my goal of getting out the door. I was able to not get sucked into things that don’t have any reality and that don’t actually matter in the grand scheme of things (problems that are self-invented fall into that category), and just get on with my day. And I think, in fact, my spouse was better for it.

Anyway, I’m back now, and speaking of being on time, I have some things I need to do by a certain time. Gotta get my mail from the post office, where they’ve been holding it. Gotta take my trash to the transfer station. Gotta get this day rolling in earnest.

Yep. Onward.

 

Finished another book! Woo hoo!

The books are back!

Holy smokes – I actually finished another book! It’s called “Who’s Pulling Your Strings?” and it’s about how to deal effectively with manipulators. I have had issues with getting involved in relationships with manipulators for as long as I can remember. When you have skills and talent and energy, and you don’t have a lot of real direction and you haven’t developed the ability to clearly focus on what you want and how you’re going to do/get it, it makes you very vulnerable to the manipulations of others.

Because the control they exercise over you and their ability to get others to do what they want them to do, can be very attractive to someone like me, who wants to be effective, but doesn’t always have the attentional ability or sustained focus to make things happen reliably.

And being manipulated doesn’t feel like manipulation – it just feels like you’re making progress in the world, and it can feel really good. The only problem is — it’s not your progress. It’s someone else’s idea of progress.

So, over the years, you can find yourself drifting farther and farther from where you want to be, and the life you want to live. And eventually, you can even forget what it is you originally wanted to do.

That has happened to me a lot over the course of my life. I haven’t even minded it, until the past few years, as I’ve gotten clearer about my own abilities and interests, versus the interests and agendas of everyone else. I was so mired in TBI and attentional issues, that I was an “easy mark” for people who wanted to use me for their own purposes.

A great example is my job — I got into my current line of work because it fit the definition of a “real job”, with the regular schedule and seat at a desk. I have never, ever longed with all my heart to sit at a desk all the livelong day, working for someone else, and hoping to be noticed by the “right people”. That just kind of happened because I needed to make a living, and this line of work was the path of least resistance.

It was originally interesting to me, and I turned out to be pretty good at it, but I have felt the burn of carpal tunnel issues, back issues, and all sorts of physical issues, in the past 25 years of being a desk jockey.

And while the money was good, and the rewards were there, I have still ended up entangled in a way of life — being sedentary, primarily mentally engaged, sitting at a desk from 9-5 each day (or more like 10-7) — that has never, ever appealed to me, and which I used to cringe when I thought about doing it. 30 years ago, I would have sooner killed myself, than been consigned to the life of a desk jockey.

That’s probably the best example of my life going off the rails, that I can think of. And manipulation has played a large role in getting me where I am. The coworkers who maneuvered and schemed with or against me, the bosses who tried to control me, the whole system, which threatened and rewarded and has pulled out all the stops to keep itself in place… Also, my spouse is a masterful manipulator, and they have roped me into doing a ton of things that I did not want to do. The big reason we have been so deeply in debt, is that I gave into their pressures to spend money on things that we did not need, or that were massively over-priced. I have only myself to thank for that… and I have actually used the last three years of lean living as an example of what can and will happen, when we live beyond our means. It has been hard on us both, but mostly for my spouse — who then in turn has taken it out on me.

I don’t want to sound like a whiner or a victim. I am neither. I am just seeing clearly the manipulating-capitulating patterns that got me where I am today. I have willingly participated in this kind of relationship, at home and at work, for the sake of the rewards. And now I am seeing that something else is possible.

I really need to escape this way of life for the sake of my sanity and physical health. This manipulation-capitulation will not stand. I’ve already started taking steps to stop the momentum of those moments when I’m urged to do such-and-such right away, even though it’s not the right thing to do. And I’m turning things around at home. My spouse manipulates for their own reasons — largely out of anxiety, because not having things all set and figured out and exactly “just so” makes them intensely uncomfortable, and they don’t do well with discomfort.

I myself am working on becoming inured to discomfort. I try to condition myself a little more each day, and it’s working pretty well. But my spouse… that’s not their “thing”, and they chase after relief for their self-induced discomfort, just about every waking moment. Their habits of mind are what hold them hostage, and everyone around them pays.

Reading the “Strings” book has helped me see things more clearly. And it’s also validated the steps I am already taking to shift the balance of power in my marriage. I know my spouse loves me with all their heart, as I do them, so I have hope that things can turn around. I just need to be more clear about what I want, and what my agenda is. That’s something my spouse understands — a self-centered agenda. So, if I can invent one (even if it is not 100% accurate, seeing as I have very few agendas in my life, period), that changes the dynamic, and they respect that.

Reading this book has been both eye-opening and validating. And it has kept me engaged throughout. I actually read almost 200 pages of it yesterday afternoon, while I was resting. I had a very active morning and I needed to rest, so I just read… and read… and read. The amazing thing was that it went very quickly. I could follow what was being said, I could remember what was on the previous pages, and the flow of the book made sense to me. I could even tell when the author was repeating herself and over-simplifying things, so I just skimmed some parts.

The skimming is probably the biggest sign of progress for me. It shows that:

  1. I can read and comprehend what is there at a glance.
  2. I can get the “gist” of what’s in the paragraphs without needing to digest every single letter of every single word. I can understand what’s being said on the page, without needing to consume every single paragraph.
  3. I am not nearly as obsessive-compulsive about every single little detail that’s being communicated. I am not spending 15 minutes on a page that should take me 2 minutes to read and digest.

Only a few years ago, I wasn’t able to even get through an entire page without losing my way and having no idea what was being said. I would forget, from one page to the next, what I had read, and I would give up after a while. That was so demoralizing. I grew up with books as my best friends, my only solace in an otherwise overwhelming and hostile world. Books where my refuge, my safe place, my domain. And I would write my own stories and invent my own worlds, when books fell short. Books surround me in my home and my study — there are shelves full of them, in every room of my house. My bedside stand has a stack of books 8-high on it, and my spouse’s bedside stand has even more.

Books have been the cement in many a relationship. Having my parents read to me was a way for us to bond when I was very young. Reading the same novels smoothed over interpersonal conflicts with my parents later in life, seeing what books others were carrying and reading helped me figure out who could be my friend, and showing others what I was reading let them know if we had common interests — especially with regard to science and non-fiction. Sharing things we read has joined my spouse and me together, and bookstores have been one of my favorite places to meet interesting people.

So, when I was no longer able to read, and I lost all interest in writing, I lost a huge chunk of my life. I lost my safe place, my solace, my refuge. I lost my best friend(s) from before I could even read. It wasn’t just words — it was any story line, any collection of ideas that I needed to keep in my memory for later. I just couldn’t follow. I just couldn’t manage it. Everything just evaporated so quickly for me… and it was devastating and left me feeling left out in the cold.

The weird thing was, it didn’t even register as that huge of a loss to me. Maybe there was part of me that couldn’t face up to the intensity of the loss, and it was so potentially devastating that I could not even really think about it. Or maybe I was just too busy keeping things in order and trying to keep my life in some semblance of togetherness, that I just didn’t have the time to read. That could be part of it.

But whatever the reasons, it was tough to lose that part of my life.

And now it’s back. If I can find a book that deals with something I am intently interested in, that is relevant to my life, and that gives me good food for thought and tools to use in my everyday life, that is a huge help. It keeps me engaged. It keeps me coming back for more. I have another book called “White Coat: Becoming a Doctor at Harvard Medical School” that I am also reading, because I wanted to be a doctor when I was little, and I am fascinated by what makes doctors the way they are. This book is helping me to understand the process people go through to be enculturated into the medical community, and I am getting lots of useful tips about the mindset and the orientation of doctors.

That’s always helpful. I read this book while I am riding the exercise bike in the morning, and I’m about 1/3 of the way through. It’s a little slim on substance, but it’s an entertaining and informative overview of the kinds of experiences that make docs how they are.

I also have another book which my neuropsych loaned to me several years ago. It’s called “A User’s Guide to the Brain” by John Ratey, and it’s all about how our brains work.  I have not been able to finish it — I read it 3/4 of the way through, years ago, then I put it down when I got too confused and overwhelmed by all the information. I want to finish it and return it to my neuropsych before spring comes. It’s a goal. If things are going really well, maybe I’ll just start from the beginning and re-read it. I think that would be a good exercise, because it will show me how much I retained over the years. And I think it will also help me better understand it this time, because my comprehension is better and I’m better able to get the gist of things.

Now, I’m not sure how things are going to be tomorrow… or the next day… or the next.  It could be that I’ve maxed out my reading-with-comprehension muscles for a little while, and I need to rest for a few days or weeks to rebuild my resources. I do feel a little tuckered out, to tell the truth. But for today, by God, I have finished a book, and it feels pretty damned good!

Now, it’s time to go outside, to get my blood pumping and get some sun on my face. I’ve got a whole Sunday ahead of me, and I have a feeling it’s going to be a good one.

Onward.