Each year better than the last – I hope

Looking back… looking ahead

Now that Christmas and Hanukkah and Winter Solstice have all passed, it’s time to start looking ahead to the New Year. Kwanzaa is still underway till January 1, and the Seven Principles that mark this time give me good food for thought, even though I don’t actually celebrate it formally. Yuletide is also underway till January 1 (or the 13th, depending what part of the world you live in), allowing everything to just slow down for time to reflect and look ahead to the new year.

I’m celebrating the spirit of Yuletide more than any other holiday this season. It’s been a quiet time, without a lot of travel, and minimal racing around to take care of presents and what-not. If anything, I’ve been pretty neglectful of others, this holiday season. But you know what? They’ve been totally neglectful of me, too, so we’re even. If anything, the past years have been about me and my spouse doing a hell of a lot more for them than they did for us — doing more travel, making more of an effort, going out of our way to keep everyone aligned and on track with coordinating our holiday activities. This year, we haven’t done all that — and guess what… nobody picked up the slack. So there you go — they must not care that much, so… what-ever.

It’s time to us to take care of ourselves for once.

And we’ve done just that. I’ve been in a pretty low-key frame of mind since before Christmas — all the excitement of work notwithstanding — so, it’s been a very “Yule-like” time. Things have slowed down. I’ve allowed them to slow down. I’ve taken time OFF from all the sense of obligation and duty and required activities, to just rest and relax and not race around like a chicken with my head cut off, as I did in prior years. I’ve done energizing things that are good for me, and I’ve been eating lots of new foods that support me and my brain, as well. I’ve cooked up some pretty excellent dishes lately, if I say so myself, and my spouse says I’m becoming quite the chef 🙂

Looking back on the past year, it’s odd — I can remember bits and pieces of it, but I don’t get an overall sense of how the year was. I know it’s been challenging, and I’ve been actively looking for a new job for much of that time — especially in the past three months. At home, things have stabilized somewhat — with less undercurrents of stress and strain, but some extreme meltdowns that have taken a toll on my marriage. I’ve been through a lot of intense challenges with my spouse, including issues with money and infidelity and physically unhealthy choices. All in all, though, I think we’re on the up-swing, and taking time out from all the travel to see family, as well as me getting my own “house” in order, has benefited us a great deal.

I feel stronger and more stable than I have in a long time. Perhaps ever. And yet, there’s a constant sense of confusion and disorientation that is always in the background. I am more functional than I can remember being in a good long while, and the circumstances of my life are leveling out and becoming more “structurally sound”, but at the same time, I’m in a fair amount of general pain much of the time, I have tremors and shakes, and my brain is definitely not firing on all pistons. I feel like I’m maybe at 65% on a regular basis. 85% if I’m lucky.

And that makes me sad.

But I think perhaps I am acclimating to the instability. I’ve decided I’m going to just get on with my life, even though I can’t seem to get rid of the memory problems, the sleep difficulties, the constant sense of fatigue, confusion, distractability, getting things turned around, and getting lost and not knowing where I am for a few minutes at a time… and more.

My solution is to just keep going and not get sidetracked and depressed by what’s going on inside my head. If I can just keep going, keep working at things, and do my best to learn from my lessons and try again, this all doesn’t need to hold me back permanently. It might slow me down, but it’s not going to stop me.

I’m also coming to terms with the idea of not being Alpha in every situation at work — and beyond. At work, I have been long accustomed to being Alpha and being in a leadership position of some kind. But now that things are shifting and changing at work, I’m not sure if this is going to last. There are so many people at work who are a hell of a lot more possessed by the demons of blind ambition and greed, and I just can’t see competing with them around the clock. There’s all sorts of politicking — and if it takes politicking to get ahead, then I’m going to step back and not engage with that, and allow myself to simply be happy in the position where I am.

Now, I don’t for a minute expect that I’ll stay in that subordinate position for long, if I get the attention of the right people who recognize what I’ve got to offer. I do want to get ahead. I need a raise. I need a promotion. I need to really put what I know and have learned into action. But I need to be smart about it and not just charge forward into the gap, without understanding what’s ahead of me. If a promotion means I’m going to have to travel all over the world and not be home more than two weeks out of every month, then I’ll pass. There is that possibility. But who can say? Who can say…

Anyway, I can’t invest too much time and effort in thinking about what may be… inventing all sorts of dramatic stories about what that will mean for me. Who knows what will happen? I need to conserve my energy, because I continue to have some limiting difficulties — the headaches and the joint pain which suck a lot of energy from me… the confusion and disorientation that keep me guessing and demand even more energy from me to keep up and do my part… the vertigo and tinnitus that are just so damned distracting… and the attentional and distraction issues that interrupt what I’m doing with a regular dose of screw-ups.

I need to keep going, and in order to do that, I need to take good care of myself and also practice things that will keep me sharp and make me sharper, while not using up a lot of time.

  • Ride the exercise bike or move and stretch, first thing in the morning to get my blood pumping and clear out some of the sludge that’s built up. (10 minutes a day)
  • Practicing juggling one thing at a time, tossing it into the air, and then catching it.  I do this with my toothbrush each morning, to improve my eye-hand coordination and also my focus and attention. (1-2 minutes a day)
  • Working on my balance and leg mobility with exercises on a daily basis. (5 minutes a day)
  • Doing my measured breathing that regulates my heart rate and keeps me calm. (5-10 minutes a day)
  • Allowing myself to really, truly relax on a regular basis — just letting myself collapse into bed or on the couch, and letting the fatigue just wash over me. (The first few minutes when I go to bed)
  • Increase my dopamine levels by eating more foods with L-Tyrosine and also taking the supplement… and also taking Oil of Oregano, to keep my body from breaking down the dopamine and seratonin in my system. (In the regular course of my day.)
  • Drinking plenty of water to flush out the sludge.
  • Studying anatomy and physiology, to help me better understand the inner workings of my physical life — and how to improve my health.

All these things are really good for me — and I can work them into my daily routine. The biggest challenge is figuring out how to do them as a regular part of my life, without up-ending my routine. That is totally do-able, because I can find time when my breakfast is cooking, and I’d just be sitting around anyway.  I just need to do it. And I need to not just take things for granted, because I’ve been doing them a while and it feels like I don’t need to do them anymore.

That’s probably the biggest threat to my well-being in the new year — getting complacent and just assuming that “I’m good” and I don’t need to keep up my routines and activities. That state of “good” can rapidly decline, as I’ve learned time and time again.

So, as I look forward to the new year, I’m thinking about the basics. Focusing on that, and not making myself crazy with a whole lot of dramatic schemes and Big Plans, like I have in the past. I’m settling in, in a way, and it feels pretty good. I just can’t get complacent. Gotta keep working at it. Each day.

Well, speaking of working at things, I need to get a move on and get my ass in gear. I have some errands I need to run before everything closes for the day.

Onward.

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It doesn’t have to be that difficult

Back into the everyday…

So, yesterday we had company – the friend who visited us over vacation who’s looking for a place to live. The morning started out good and we were just hanging out, talking everything through. By mid-afternoon, they had driven us crazy enough for us to ask them to leave. Seriously, they were spinning their wheels, back and forth all over the place, and cancelling out all their progress with a single simple statement.

Holy f’ing crap – how maddening. I mean, it’s not like they can afford to dick around with things, but they just kind of flit-flit-flit all over the place from one idea to the next. I get it, that they’ve got intense ADD, dyslexia, and a bunch of neurological issues from having been beaten a lot as a kid. But holy crap. They were just all over the map.

Then I come downstairs this morning after waking up earlier than I wanted to, and I fin the downstairs in a bit of a shambles, because my spouse was up till god-knows-what-hour just hanging out, watching t.v., and probably snacking, too. It would not have taken much for them to just pick up after themself. Just a little.

But I guess that was just too boring. Not very exciting at all. And who wants to bother with that?

I’m guilty of that, as well, though. There are things that need to be done, to just take care of everyday life, that I just don’t do. So, there are two of us in the house who slack off… just ’cause.

That being said, I got my ass in gear and did some exercises this morning. I mowed yesterday and tended to the plantings and trees in the front yard and back. I also realized that my grass is in really bad shape, which is not good, because that’s what keeps my leachfield together for my septic. I’ve been saying each year in the spring that I was going to take care of that… this year. And then the summer comes and the summer goes, and in the fall I’m looking at the sad state of my grass, wishing I’d done more for it.

But like cleaning up the living room, somehow it’s just not that exciting, so I get distracted by other things, and then everything falls by the wayside.

The ironic thing is, it’s really not that difficult to keep up with stuff, so long as you do a little bit at a time, and you do it regularly. Consistency, practice, application, repetition — those are the keys to keeping things going. And those are the things where I (and most people I know) fall down the most.

So, it starts with the little things and it moves from there. Little things, done everyday, stay little things in the short term, but turn into big things over the long term. That’s also true of the little things that are NOT done everyday, which then turn into big regrets later on. So, keeping steady is the thing. Keeping motivated. Seeing the point to it all, and keeping focused on the future direction you’re headed.

How to stay motivated? Well, that’s the question. I think for myself it needs to be a combination of work and rest — intervals of activity followed by a chance to recoup and regroup and really digest what’s going down. I have to be careful that I don’t get caught in a vortex of rumination, of course. I have to keep things moving — but in a good way, not in some crazy manic numbness-inducing grind that just dulls the pain of daily existence.

It’s important to have a life.

And it’s important to enjoy it and not get hung up on all kinds of crap and bogus drama… for nothing other than entertainment value, as well as getting yourself to feel more “alive” because you’re all amped up with adrenaline and all the rest of the stress hormones that are designed to dull pain so that you’re not suffering so terribly when you die.

I’ve got no intention of going down that route. There’s no point to it. It’s such a simple thing, to just do a little bit everyday on the things that mean something to you. It’s not always a simple thing, to keep up the motivation and inspiration and keep those things in mind. Sometimes I just get tired, and nothing means anything to me at all. But if I can find ways to keep myself even vaguely interested in what I’m doing with my life, then so much the better.

And this applies to the things I want to do with my workaday life, as well as the things I do outside my workaday world. I’ve realized that I’ve been investing waaaay too much time in work-and-work-only (9-to-5 work, that is) and I’ve not allowed my life to be full and well-rounded. I’ve poured myself into my day job, and utter exhaustion is the result — exhaustion of body, mind, and spirit.

Does it have to be this way? Oh, hell no. One thing that this vacation brought front and center is how much I miss my contemplation time. Back in the day before I got sucked into the whole career focus, got all those awards and rewards for being so dedicated to my employer, and made my workaday world the primary focus of my life, I used to spend a lot of time just sitting and thinking and letting stuff sink in. It wasn’t so much processing… it was just sitting and being, listening to music, reading, and taking time for myself. Just soaking up whatever life I could experience.

Actually, come to think of it, what took me away from that contemplative way of life was the mild TBI I had in 2004, which send me reeling… and sent me spiraling off into this hyper-drive state of constant alert and constant fight-flight fever pitch “living”. Prior to my TBI, I could sit and read and write, look at art and listen to music for hours, and lose myself in that world. I was pretty much of a hermit, and I liked it that way. Then I fell and smacked my head a bunch of times on a staircase, and I decided I had no use for that kind of life – the reading, the contemplation, the writing. All along, it was because I couldn’t read, I couldn’t keep my attention focused on anything for long, and my restlessness was off the charts. So much for a contemplative lifestyle, right? The change was really dramatic, and I can hardly believe I used to live that way.

Well, now things are different. I am really noticing this, lately. It’s like a switch got turned on with me again — a chute got opened, and all the old ability to just sit and be and make sense of my life, has started to flow in again. And that’s good. Because I sorely need that. And I needed that vacation last week like nobody’s business, because until I was able to completely unplug and step away. I had no access to the internet in the condo where I was staying, and until I had the choice to do whatever the hell I wanted to do, I didn’t realize how much I have been needing that quiet orientation, that focus, that perspective.

And now that I’m back to everyday life, I really want to keep that going. I need it. And I don’t want to sink back onto that massive fight-flight mode that keeps me so much on edge. I need to re-learn how to get back that sense of peace in the midst of the storm.

Concussion can be such a bitch, because it can fray the pathways that make it possible for you to be how you need to be. It can “reroute your wiring” and make you into someone you don’t recognize. And you can spend a whole lot of time chasing that person you used to be, trying the same old routes in your neural pathways which just are not working like they used to. And when you don’t let go of the old routes, and you don’t try to find new ones, it can be a very discouraging and self-defeating process that puts you under such stress that you develop PTSD… and maybe some other neuroses and mental illnesses to boot.

See, that’s the real danger of TBI — not the initial damage that happens. The brain is capable of creating new neural pathways to do the same kinds of things you’re used to doing. It’s the long-term disruption of your life that does the most damage. It’s the confusion that arises that keeps you trying to go down the same old pathways to get where you’re going. It’s the rigidity that keeps you stuck in old ways of thinking and doing, for fear of anything else. It’s the brittleness that comes with anxiety and fear and lack of insight and control over your emotions and behavior.

TBI is just the start — the real problems happen after rehab, after discharge, after the doctor has given you a clean bill of health. And those problems can persist for years. Taking their toll.

But it doesn’t have to all be that difficult and painful and frustrating… we have other options. We can look for different ways of doing things. We can accept that things have changed in our brains in ways we cannot detect — and we’re going to make a bunch of “mistakes” and take some “mis-steps” along the way, in the process of learning how to live life in new and different ways.

But we have to be willing to step out on a limb and take some chances. We have to be willing to endure the embarrassment of our mis-steps and our mistakes, and learn something from it all. We have to be willing to let go of preconceived notions that are holding us back. Those notions can be old ones we are accustomed to and are still holding onto. Or they can be new ones that we developed about ourselves after our injuries, which we are allowing to limit and define us in ways that are less than true about who and what we are.

I must admit, I struggle with both — but the latter more than the former. Since my fall in 2004 (and in fact throughout the course of my life, when I got hurt and then revised my view of myself), I have been in the habit of deciding that such-and-such was true about me, and then letting that define my personality and my destiny. The real truth of it was that I was going through a rough patch, and I was going to come out on the other side, but I had it in my head that I created the problems I was having and — clearly — I was somehow deficient.

I was crazy.

I was lazy.

I was stupid.

I was error-prone.

I was doomed, no matter what I might try.

None of that was true, but enough things happened that “confirmed” these suspicions, so there you go — I magically turned myself into someone I was not.

Thank you TBI. Not.

But that was then, and this is now. I really have a very different perception of myself, and coming off this vacation, I have a renewed understanding of who I am and where I fit in my world. I also have a renewed understanding of what I want to create in my world — and chasing fabulous career success in technology is not at the top of my list anymore. Getting away from it, I realize that that’s just one part of my life, and I have given up a lot in my life for its sake, while losing out on some things that were really important to me. I also realize that that tech career focus was very much about proving to myself and the world that “I can do it!” and I’ve invested so much of myself in just proving things to everyone that never needed proving, that I’ve lost perspective… and also some of the things that have meant the most to me in my life — reading, writing, reflection, contemplation… The outside world prizes highly social, outgoing, extroverted behavior. But guess what — that’s not me.

And I don’t have anything to prove to anybody anymore. I’m doing so much better with the many aspects of my life. My issues are still very much there — the 84 ways that TBI can make my life really interesting are still very much in evidence in my life — but I’ve found a way to live with them, to manage them, not try to control and stop them.

I’ve given up the tries at stopping them. They’re just there. They may always be there. But they’re also lessons I need to learn. And I know — TBI or not — there are plenty of other people out there who struggle with these same issues, on some level.

We all struggle. We are all human, after all. And if we’re living life to the fullest, we tend to get hurt. We fly… and then we often fall. It’s not the falling that’s the challenge — it’s the getting up that tends to be so hard. But when we work at it, we can learn a lot. And when I think about it, getting up doesn’t have to be difficult. It doesn’t have to be hard. If I just accept that I’ve fallen and I need to pick myself back up, and get on with it, I can get my head off the whole mess and get on with living. Just living.

It doesn’t have to be that difficult, if I just get out of my own way, and remember — there’s more life where that came from.

Calming it down, one breath at a time

When it’s all coming at you…

Got 8 hours of sleep last night — actually, I ran out of steam about 9:30 and lay down on the couch while my spouse was watching t.v., and slept till about 10:45. Then I woke up and watched a little t.v. … and went to bed at 11:30. Woke up at 6:30, so that gives me 7 continuous hours (not bad, compared to how I’ve been doing lately) plus a little over an hour, for 8 hours total.

I know I’m supposed to get 8 hours of continuous, restful sleep, but please. Life is just not the sort of experience right now that lends itself to total relaxation and restful sleep. I’ll be happy with what I can get, and try to not sabotage myself this weekend. I’ve got some travel going on this afternoon and evening, so it may be tough to get enough sleep, but I can always nap in the afternoon, I suppose. Maybe…

Anyway, I got up this morning and did my breathing exercises. When I first started doing this regularly, several months back, I tried to focus only on my breath — put everything else out of my mind, and just focus my full attention on the in-breath and out-breath. Okay, that’s good, but eventually I found my mind wandering and flitting about wherever it chose. I kept the breathing steady, but my mind was all over the place.

I was feeling sort of bad about that, thinking I was failing at this, not being able to keep my mind focused… but then it occurred to me that it’s actually pretty useful for all this “stuff” to be coming to mind while I’m doing my breathing.

See, here’s the thing — this steady, deep breathing calms me down physically. It slows my heart rate and really helps tone down the stress that’s going on with me. It also fills me – when I get to the zone – with a sense of well-being and calm that I can’t get anywhere else in my life.

So, when all this “stuff” starts getting riled up in me, when I think about it, I can feel my breathing speed up and my heart rate too. But when that happens, I can consciously slow my breathing, and get my heart rate down, and I can change my stress level while I’m thinking about this stuff, to something that’s way less than it is, when I’m just thinking/spinning about it and not doing anything about the quality of my experience.

When I start to “spin” and get all riled, consciously changing my breathing and my feelings about it, actually helps me get it under control — well, not control, per se, but rather it helps me to have a different way of thinking about it and a different way of approaching the problems.

So it’s actually good that all that stuff comes up when I’m sitting and breathing. It’s my chance to turn it around, to change it, to make it into something other than something that just drives me, day in and day out.

Maybe that’s what people are doing when they sit za-zen for long periods of time. Or maybe it’s not what they are doing, but what they could be doing. I don’t know. I’ve always wondered what the attraction is for sitting still all day and all night… I guess it takes all kinds.

In my case, I think it makes more sense to sit for shorter periods of time to get a handle on my experience each day. I’ve done it at work, a few times, and it seems to have helped. But the times when I did step away, I wasn’t actually “working on” any particular experience or feeling. I was just sitting for the sake of sitting and breathing.

Hm. I’ll have to try that intermittent stopping-and-breathing when I have specific problems I need to address. I think that can help me. Logically, I know that reducing stress levels around problems helps with problem-solving activities. And I know that sitting and breathing reduces stress levels. And I know that sitting and breathing with specific problems helps me feel differently about them. So, sitting and breathing on a regular basis during the day — or whenever a real problem comes up that I am getting stuck on — can be a valuable practice and tool for me. Anytime, anywhere. If I can manage to take just 2 minutes between my tasks to slow down my breathing, to settle down and just sit… it can be incredibly helpful to me, I’m sure. (So long as I don’t end up getting stuck in that sitting and breathing, and end up never getting anything done – which is also a possibility with this brain.)

It’s simple. And it’s free. And all it takes is some awareness that I need to do it.

That awareness is the challenge, actually. Just realizing that my breathing is getting fast and I’m getting tense is often difficult, if not impossible. It’s like I get so absorbed in the problems that I can’t see past them. I can’t see myself. I can’t feel myself. I get lost in it all, and I lose my ability to cope really well.

But that doesn’t have to stay that way. On the contrary. I’ve just spent the last 20 minutes writing about how I can handle this, so it’s time to do it — time to put it into action. This is good and useful, so now it’s time to use it.

Onward.

Settling down and keeping up

Zen Rock Photograph – Frank Burnside – click here to buy a Fine Art Print

I got to bed at a decent time last night — 10:30 p.m., versus 12:30 a.m.  Then I woke up at 3:30 a.m. and almost couldn’t get back to sleep. I lay there for a few minutes, then decided to sit up and do my breathing exercises, which have helped me get back to sleep in the past. It did help me this time, too. After about half an hour, I got back to sleep and was down until 7, when my alarm went off. So, I got at least 7 hours of sleep last night. I can’t be 100% positive, but I’m pretty sure.

The interesting thing is that the more sleep I get, the more groggy I feel these days. It’s like I’m not stressed out enough to be alert. And that sucks.

So, I’m doing something about it. I had a pretty intense talk with my neuropsych yesterday, when I told them about a bunch of things that have been giving me trouble that I haven’t brought up before. The lurking, constant sense that something is going to go wrong, that I’m going to screw up, that I’m going to mis-speak and alienate people… that I’m going to keep talking trash and running my mouth and get myself in trouble…  It all lurks in the back of my mind, and it keeps me from really engaging fully in conversations and interactions with people. It keeps me from really engaging fully with my NP, because I’ve said things to them that have come out wrong, and I couldn’t back up and correct it — too slow to realize, then really felt like crap and was too busy being dismayed at what I’d said, to correct it.

It’s been hanging over my head – that happened over a year (maybe two years) ago with my NP, and it’s had a dampening effect ever since then. They don’t seem to realize how much it holds me back, and I definitely need to raise it as an issue and bring their attention to it. Because I’m telling you, I’m really, really good at covering things up, so how would they know?

I really don’t think they appreciate the extent to which this hobbles me. It also holds me back, in that I actively seek out situations and people that are hard on me — or when others are really tough on me, abusive even, I don’t stand up for myself and correct things. This has been an ongoing problem with my spouse for years — they can get pretty rough at times, and they can be very volatile and verbally aggressive. But I generally don’t say anything, because frankly having them yell at me keeps me sharp and it keeps me on my toes.

But it gets a little old after a while.

Likewise, when people at work are really hard on me, or they’re piling up more on me than I can reasonably take on (as they’ve been doing for the past 18 months), I don’t say a word. I welcome it, even. Because the added stress keeps me on my toes, and the added workload — even if it does exhaust me (maybe because it exhausts me) — sharpens my focus and blocks everything else out.

Like getting good sleep. Somehow, I don’t actually think I need to sleep, when I get in a hyper-stressed state.

But that all takes a toll. Big-time. Eventually things start to break down. I start to break down. And looking back on my employment history, I can see many, many occasions where I’ve skipped out of a job when I was completely maxed out and couldn’t continue. When I was so stressed and fried, I couldn’t think straight anymore. I had to get out. I had to start fresh. Because I was starting to make mistakes that came from the extended stress, and I cannot stand performing well and/or at less than my full capacity. I just hate it. So I’ve always moved on.

Now, however, I’m so maxed out and fried, that even if I did want to make a move, I would be incapable of making a decent choice. I’m seriously overloaded, and I’m stuck in reaction-gear, with reactivity running my days, rather than pro-activity. I’m just beat. And that’s not good. It has implications for my daily life. And it has implications for my future. The insights I got a few months back about the direction I want to go in for my career have stalled, and I’ve gotten pulled off in a dozen different directions that distract me from my ultimate goal — a goal that makes sense and serves my future. The stress of my present situation (which I thrived on for the first 9 months or so) is coming around to bite me in the ass in a very big way. And if I can’t turn this around, I’m going to continue to make the kinds of choices that put me in “professional harm’s way” time and time again. It’s just not good.

So, the first order is to get more sleep. I realized in a very immediate way, early this morning, that with my breathing and progressive relaxation, I can actually spend my time awake (if I do wake up too early) feeling well and relaxed, as well as doing body scans that help teach me how to gauge my stress levels — which can help when I am in dangerous situations. I don’t have to feel stressed and sick to my stomach, the way I did at 3:30 a.m. When I sit up and do my measured breathing, as well as do some relaxation, I actually feel physically better, and that helps me to relax further. And when I do my progressive relaxation and body scans (I tend to forget how tense my back and shoulders get), it helps me manage my stress all the better.

I have techniques I can use. And I have skills. I mustn’t forget that. I need to develop the kinds of habits — such as doing these exercises when I wake up too early, so I can get back to sleep — that will translate into a solid foundation of progress… and ultimately help me get to a place where I’m making decisions about people I’m around and work that I do for a living, because of the good they’re going to do me, not the attention-spiking threats they present to me.

So, I have work to do. But ironically, that work is about easing up… loosening up. It’s like with my shoulder. I’ve been lifting a lot, over the past couple of months, and I haven’t been stretching enough. And now my right shoulder (which was my throwing shoulder when I was in track in high school) is giving me trouble. I’m taking a few days off the weights to stretch and let it rest. And then when I get back into it, I need to be easy and remember to get plenty of rest then, too. It’s all a balance, but for some reason, balance feels like it’s “off” — probably because there’s not all this stress involved in it.

It’s not “off” — it’s just unfamiliar. Coming up with new habits that make this more familiar and help me to relax and just “be”… that’s the next step for me. Well, steps. ‘Cause I’m not sure that’s ever going to end. It’s a process. Heck, it’s life.

But enough writing. Time to live a little.

Two cups of coffee can make all the difference

Breakfast is served

I’m coming off a long week of ups and downs and extremes, topping it off with two cups of coffee with my cereal this morning, instead of the customary disciplined routine of having just one cup, interspersed with exercise and stretching and a cooking up a soft-boiled egg.

I’m feeling a bit all over the map this morning, so it’s good to just sit down and have some coffee and blog a bit.

It actually feels good to let myself off the leash, now and then. I tend to be so diligent about everything I do, it’s nice to just kick back and stop with all the intense adherence to a rigorous schedule. Every now and then. Every now and then. Not all the time, mind you. I have far too much going on in my life, to just scrap the whole shootin’ match.

Last night I stayed up till about 2 in the morning, hanging out with a friend who’s visiting for the weekend. Woke up at 6:30. Four and a half hours of sleep does not a happy puppy make, but when I woke up, the adrenaline started pumping, and it woke me up — making me jittery and sick on my stomach and anxious in the process. So, after lying there for a little while, checking Facebook on my phone, seeing what everyone is up to, first thing on Saturday morning, I decided I felt too revved to just lie there anymore, so I got up and did some sitting and breathing before starting my day in earnest. As it turns out, my day picked up after I got up and started to sit and breathe. Kind of like night and day.

I feel like I’ve come a long way with my breathing. It used to be that when I started doing my steady breathing, my heart would race and I would feel so uncomfortable. But recently I’ve noticed myself being able to settle into the rhythmic breathing without having my heart race. So, I think that’s progress. I can get to “the zone” much quicker, these days — that place where my body and mind feel really balanced, and even though I know there is a lot that’s not working out, still I can find a settled, peaceful spot inside where I can focus and just be.

And after about 15-20 minutes, I started to feel myself relaxing again, getting sleepy… not all revved and jazzed, and actually needing to lie back down.

So I did. I lay back down and dozed for a while.

Something weird happened this morning, though, while I was lying there, drifting between sleep and wakefulness. I had these mounting waves of sadness, remorse, confusion, dread… Just wave after wave of increasing discomfort with myself, with my life, with everything about me. I felt so keenly that sense that I am so messed up, I can’t manage to get anything right. And those old thoughts of how stupid I am, how damaged I am, what a waste of space I am… it all started washing up on shore.

What a way to start the day, right? I lay there for a while, feeling totally useless and despondent, not wanting to do anything, say anything, see anyone, plan anything, promise anything. I felt so used up and broken and washed out, it was like my world had ended and there was no redeeming either me or it. And I just started crying — softly, so I wouldn’t wake up the others in the house. I hate to cry. It feels terrible, and I end up with a splitting headache most of the time. I do my best not to cry, actually — it’s just not comfortable for me, and it doesn’t make me feel good like it does for others. But this morning I just had to have a good cry, so I did. I just let myself lie there and feel like crap, feel like a useless, used-up, washed-up waste of space who was never going to get their act together or redeem themself from all the stupid sh*t they’ve said and done over the years.

It felt strange — really out of place for where I was. I’ve had a full week, I know, and I’m behind on my sleep. But it didn’t feel like this rush of emotion was really proportional to all that stuff.

It made me feel even more freakish, lying there and crying — over what? So, I just lay there and let myself be. And eventually the tears stopped. And I blew my nose, wiped my eyes, and lay back down to rest some more.

Screw it, I figured. I’m just too messed up to figure out.

Then something occurred to me — it was probably a couple of things that brought on this crashing wave of emotion:

  1. Fatigue and overwhelm from this week — even the good kinds of activity and fun over-doing it are still overdoing it, and I know that can screw with my emotional equilibrium.
  2. Being able to chill out the fight-or-flight means that the adrenaline walls that constantly hold back the waves of emotion actually came down a little bit, and as a result, a lot of pent-up stuff that didn’t have anything to do with today — or even me — got released, and it had to go somewhere, so it came out. I’ve been holding it together for months, now, and I haven’t really let myself really feel a lot that’s been going on with me, so that pent-up emotion is going to need to go somewhere, sometime.

This made me feel a lot better, so I got up and made myself some breakfast.

With two cups of coffee. And no intently focused morning routine.

Because sometimes you need to just let that all go for a little while. So you can see what else is “in there” besides all the discipline and focus and deliberate intention.

Sometimes you just gotta let it all be. And that includes yourself.

Overcoming TBI with the breath of life

Breathe in, breathe out

Just a note, I haven’t forgotten about the series I started writing about The wars we wage – of sport, concussion, and our warrior style. I’ll be getting back to that, this weekend.

What I want to write about right now, is how what I call “the breath of life” can help overcome TBI.

Now, I understand that a lot of people think of “the breath of life” in religious terms, and maybe I do, too. But I don’t align it with any particular religion, rather the really meaningful aspects of the everyday — and they in themselves could be considered “holy”… but that’s another discussion for another day, I suppose.

What I mean when I say “the breath of life” is breathing intentionally, as though your life depends on it (which it does). It’s about breathing consciously and steadily, with a focus on the full breath — in and out — in a way that calms you down and stabilizes your whole system.

Everybody who’s alive breathes. Yet many of us don’t realize what an important part steady, regular breathing plays in our lives. It’s common, I understand, for people to hyperventilate — to breathe faster than their body actually needs them to. Or to breath more shallowly (is that a word?) than they could. On the other hand, a lot of people take deep, deep breaths, thinking that will calm them down… when in fact inhalation actually revs you up and stimulates your fight-flight sympathetic nervous system.

What does this have to do with overcoming TBI? A whole lot. Because TBI is traumatic, from the beginning, and on through the years. The initial injury is just the start of ongoing trauma you’ll experience on a daily basis. After TBI you’re often unable to do the things you used to do, and you go through a serious personal crisis… and that’s traumatic.

And you often have to really push yourself to get things done the way you like… and that gets your sympathetic nervous system all fired up, and that can ultimately lead to diminished cognitive capacity, in and of itself, which then compounds the trauma of TBI difficulties.

And after TBI, you can often find yourself totally screwing up things that “should” be easy for you, that used to come easy to you, and that everybody else thinks should be easy for you. Screwing up, time and time again, is traumatic — especially if the mistakes take you by surprise, and you have to work double-time to make right what went wrong.

So, the trauma that takes place isn’t just with the injury. It’s with your whole life, after the injury. Maybe things clear up and get better, maybe they don’t. But they’re different from how they were before. YOU’RE different from how you were before.

So, what that means is your autonomic nervous system — the wiring and chemistry that regulates your digestion, your sex drive, sleep, your immune system… all those systems that you don’t consciously control in your body — gets stuck on permanent ON status. And if you can’t manage to disengage the sympathetic fight-flight in favor of the parasympathetic rest-digest, you can eventually find your body breaking down in hidden ways. You can get colds and flu more often. Your digestion can get screwed up. You can lose your sex drive. You have trouble sleeping, or you sleep too much. And more. It’s like you’re running your car’s engine on 15,000 rpm, day in and day out, and you never change your oil.

We know what happens to cars when that happens. Imagine what’s happening to your own nervous system.

So, this is where the breathing comes in — the breath of life.

It’s basically sitting quietly, either cross-legged on a cushion or sitting up in a chair, or even lying down, if you can’t sit comfortably, and breathing slow and steady from the belly. Just focus on the breathing, as though your life depends on it, without thinking about a lot of other things. I find that when I sit still for a while, my mind automatically starts taking advantage of the downtime to think about a lot of stuff. It can’t be helped, but I can get my attention back to my breathing just by reminding myself that I’m not fixing things right now, I’m just sitting and breathing.This can — and will — balance out the autonomic nervous system, strengthening the parasympathetic, which is so critical for making up for the wild activity of the sympathetic. You can’t have one work optimally without the other, so strengthening the parasympathetic strengthens the sympathetic, so when I DO have to go into fight-flight mode, I am stronger and have more stamina, which is helpful.

The other thing this helps with is attention. I’ve got serious attention issues, and I get really distractable when I’m tired. The breath of life helps in several ways — it helps me balance out the ANS so I rest and sleep better, and consequently the fatigue doesn’t eat into my attention as much. And focusing on my breathing and the sense of just sitting also trains my attention to stay on one thing longer. So it prepares me for when I’m not sitting anymore. This is two kinds of practice in one — for body and for mind.

This really works for me (and it’s a variation on what has worked for lots of people in meditation and zen for many generations). It’s literally helping me get my life back – so it is the breath of life for me. Yesterday my neuropsych was remarking at the huge difference this breathing practice has made in my quality of life and outlook and attitudes, since the New Year, and it’s totally true. It may work for others (and I suspect it will), but everybody’s different, so you may find it doesn’t work for you. But it would be good if you tried it.

Give it a whirl — you may find it can help you overcome TBI (or other problems, too).

Leveling it out

The road takes the brunt

I woke up this morning at the usual time — 6:30, which is regular, even for weekends — and the first thing I did was sit. Sit and breathe. Just to get myself balanced as best I could before launching into the day. I sat for twice my “usual” time — 100 breaths or so — then I stretched my legs and realized that now that I was more relaxed, I was also really friggin’ tired.

So, I lay back down and went back to sleep.

Now, the disciplined, go-go side of me that wanted to get up, do my morning routine, and get into the day with a full head of steam, was kind of disappointed in myself, for lying back down and sleeping for another hour. But the rest of me — the sensible, truthful part of me that’s a whole lot more pragmatic — won out over the self-chastisement, by reminding my go-go self that go-going without a full tank of fuel sorta kinda defeats the purpose of go-going in the first place.

First things first — rest when I can. Even if that means being a “wuss” and going back to bed after morning sitting.

In a way, it makes sense that I’d start getting all up in my stuff about going back to sleep. Because in the process of sitting and breathing, my fight-flight dogs of war had their influence balanced out by the parasympathetic rest-digest side of life, and the dogs of war weren’t happy about it. They want to run the show. They want to drive the action. They want to be THE MAIN EVENT, and screw everything else. Get on board, people. If you’re not with ’em you’re against ’em. Or something like that.

So, the barking dogs didn’t get to be the main attraction, and they got all pissy about it, gave me crap for taking care of myself, and they’re still growling, hours later — even after I did get up and do my morning exercise, and I did get out and run my errands, and I am in the process of packing back up and heading home again to do yet more errands… before going back to bed to sleep. Somehow, with the barking dogs of war, it’s never enough. There’s always some other thing I could do more of, or better, or less of, or smarter. It’s just never enough.

Thank the heavens for this sitting and breathing business. Sitting. Just sitting. Counting my breaths. Paying attention to… absolutely nothing. Giving my sympathetic nervous system a rest, and getting to that place where I’m suspended between mental and physical, flight and rest, maraud and digest… and letting myself just be, for 15-20 minutes, before I launch into my day.

Living on sympathetic overdrive is a little bit like driving through life in all seasons with studded snowtires on. It rips the crap out of the roads of my life, and although it may help me when the going gets rough and slick, and I can’t see where the hell I’m headed, it still tends to dig up the trail as I’m blazing it.  So, even when I’m chill and have some measure of sanity in my life, the rugged terrain still persists somewhat. And the combination of depleted energy (from all the fighting and flighting) and complications introduced by my double-barrel “c’mon – I’ll take ya!” attitude, ends up ripping huge gaps in the otherwise level spaces in my life.

So, something’s gotta give. And I know how to make it give. By taking time out, the first thing as soon as I wake up, to sit and breathe and NOT get into all the upheaval, first thing in the morning. I count my breaths. I get my heart rate to slow down. I feel myself rooting into the ground (even though I’m on the second floor of the house), and I feel my bones become like an ancient tree that reaches deep into the earth and high into the sky. Okay, maybe not that deep, and maybe not that high, but you get the idea.

And I do it, no matter whether my brain is telling me gotta-go-gotta-go-gotta-go, or I’m feeling tired and worn down.

And what comes after it, totally depends on the day and what’s required of me. Today is Saturday. Screw rising and shining, if I’m completely tapped out. If I need to go back to bed to regain my humanity, then so be it. Of course, if I’m up for it, then yeah, I’m up — and more power to me. But sitting and letting everything balance out and get even across the board at least gives me the choice about which I’m going to do.

So long as I let myself make that choice. Today, I did. And another hour of sleep is exactly what I needed.

Onward.

Extending my attentional endurance

Who has a longer attention span - him or me?

So, I was up at a decent hour this morning, and I took time to sit and breathe for about 20 minutes. Generally, I try to focus on my breath and counting how many times I breathe in and breathe out. It’s good for me. It gives my brain a rest. And it helps me start the day with good concentration.

Here’s the thing, though – when I am tired (which I am, today), my mind really wanders, and it takes a mammoth effort to bring me back to where I need to be — focused on counting my breaths. Suddenly, a ton of different things seem so critical that I can’t help but think about them. And I am convinced that I have to solve these problems right here and now.

So, there are a number of issues that I can address in this exercise:

  1. Distractability – being prone to have things catch my attention and pull it off where I need it to be.
  2. Impulse Control – just “going with” the stuff that comes up, instead of consciously deciding that I’m not going to pay attention to those things until after I’m done sitting.
  3. Weak Attention – if all these different thoughts are coming up, if my attention is strongly enough focused on what I’m doing, the two things above don’t need to bother me.

But they do. And that’s the thing. It’s a thing I need to address. And guess what – I can address it. Each morning, as well as at different times throughout the day.

Now, I know that meditation is supposedly good for your soul — it’s supposed to lead to enlightenment, and that’s why a lot of people pursue it. But enlightenment is not my main goal. I want something a whole lot less grand — I just want to be able to sustain my attention on a single fixed point for longer than a hummingbird focuses on drinking nectar from a flower.

Seriously. It’s just ridiculous, sometimes, what comes up in my mind for no apparent reason. Things like the current political debates, the task items I have to do for work by end of day Monday, my upcoming schedule this week, what I want to discuss with my neuropsych, repairs I need to make to the house, and of course the pain and discomfort I’ve been feeling in my left upper back, due to my body acclimating to the different movements I’ve been making when I work out in the morning.

It’s just this never-ending march of whatever-ness that just won’t quit. And there I sit, boldly attempting to hold my attention to the number of the breath I’m presently on.

Hm.

I’ve read up on this a little bit, and apparently there are a number of different ways to spend your time while sitting in meditation. You can look at the end of your nose or your hand or a selected point out in front of you. You can count your breaths. You can recite mantras. You can can think about unsolvable puzzles in hopes of receiving a sudden flash of insight when your brain finally gives up trying to do what it isn’t designed to do.

I’m sure there are tons of people who have made good use of these practices, and for all those who sit in meditation in service to humanity waking up, I’d like to say “Thank you.”

For my purposes, however, the point of sitting is much more basic and far less grand. It’s just to get a handle on my head and extend my “attentional endurance” — to train myself to be able to focus on one single thing for longer than 15 seconds. Not being able to keep focused on one single thing for extended periods of time has serious repercussions for my work and my life. Just the other day, I misplaced some gift cards I’d received over the holidays, and now I can’t find them. Because I wasn’t paying attention when I put them away. I have no idea where they are. I’ve looked high and low. I’m sure at the time I thought was being clever, putting them somewhere “safe” — so safe, I can’t find them now.

This is just one example. At work, not being able to focus on things for longer than a few minutes at a time (partly because of constant interruption, but also because of poor practice), cuts into my productivity and keeps me from achieving what I set out to achieve. It makes everything that much harder to do, that much longer to finish, that much more of a chore.

In my personal life, too, not being able to attend to the people around me, not being able to focus exclusively on them while they are talking to me, not only makes them feel unimportant, but it also makes it really hard to have a conversation. I already have issues with working memory, so when I don’t pay attention and I don’t actively follow along in the conversation, I can lose pieces of what we are talking about, and then I sound like I’m talking gibberish.

And that’s no good.

So, that’s why I sit and count my breaths each morning. If enlightenment comes, that’s fine. 🙂 But I’ll (hopefully) be so focused on keeping my attention fixed on a certain point, that I won’t exactly notice. And that’s how I think I’d like it to be. The day when I can keep my attention fixed so intently on something as “insignificant” as a shoe lying on the floor in front of me, that I’m not distracted by something as profound as an evolutionary bump to the next level, is the day my attention is good to go.

Truly encouraging. Truly amazing.

chill

So far, so good. I am still managing to get up and get into my day first with sitting and breathing, then with some exercise before breakfast.

The results have been pretty amazing. I knew it helped me before, when I would do my exercise, first thing, but I think the thing that was missing was the sitting piece — breathing regularly to balance out my autonomic nervous system, so that I’m neither exclusively in fight-flight mode nor in rest-digest mode, but I can move freely between the two.

In years past, I have found myself either all jazzed up when I got up — I’d leap out of bed and race into the day. Or I would be sluggish and cold and numb. Nowadays, even when I am tired, I am still relatively alert. And even when I am well-rested, I am still pretty calm and balanced.

That calm and balance is priceless to me. It eluded me for so many years — pretty much all my life, actually. Now, with some simple, relatively minor changes, I have a way to start out the day on that note. And that’s pretty encouraging.

In the past week or so, I have not woken up angry or pumped up. I have not started my day on sour notes. I have been able to keep steady and clear-headed, even when I was sick and was really very tired.

This is good. It’s very good.

Because the times when I have had the hardest time of all, has been when my fight-flight impulse was dialed up to a deafening level — when I was so jazzed, so charged up, that I couldn’t settle down. It was like I was stuck on ALWAYS-ON and couldn’t find a way to turn it down. I didn’t even want to turn it down, because it was familiar and I thought that was what worked for me.

Untrue.

This is better.

I’ve been reading Training the Samurai Mind: A Bushido Sourcebook, gleaning what I can from the online version. I’m short on cash, so I can’t afford to buy the book, and I can’t find it at the library, but I can read bits and pieces on Google Books, so I have been. (It’s better that way, too, because it forces me to read only portions of the book and focus on and them and digest them over time, rather than rushing through, willy-nilly, and not really digesting any of it.) I have long been an avid reader about Samurai and Bushido, and it makes sense to me — the life path of warriors who very likely sustained their share of TBIs in the course of battle… a life path which enabled them to restore their faculties and remain viable warriors… that is very useful to me, and I learn a lot from reading those kinds of books.

One thing that strikes me in Samurai-related literature is the focus on self-lessness. Getting rid of thoughts of the self. Focusing on an certain ethic, a certain way of life, to the exclusion of the self. And I have to say, I feel so much freer, when I get my mind off my SELF, than when I focus on my “own” self.

The difference I feel in myself when I read Samurai writings, compared to how I felt when I was seeing a therapist who was intent on getting me to think more and more about mySELF is remarkable. It’s amazing. And when I think back to when I was in therapy, I realized that although the therapist meant well, they were actually leading me down a path that was completely wrong for me. They wanted me to focus on mySELF more, but what I really needed to do, was focus on my “self” less.

It’s been several years since I was last in therapy, and it’s taken me this long to get back to a way that suits me much better than those SELF-absorbed conversations that used to plunge me into confusion and chaos on a weekly basis.

I have no words to describe the sense of calm I have, that comes from simply sitting and letting all the crap go… that comes from refusing to get caught up in the drama that churns inside my head… that comes from balancing my nervous system with steady focus on my in-breath and out-breath.

There is another way for me to find peace. There is a genuinely reliable way for me to chill. This is truly encouraging. It’s truly amazing.

Back to the action

Let's get it started

I’m off to a good start, today. I woke up early and tried to get back to sleep, then realized after a while that I was pretty much *up* so it would make more sense for me to just get moving and get ahead of my day. I caught a nasty head cold over the holiday trip, and I wasn’t going to get much more sleep, thanks to my running nose and watering eyes.

So, I got up and did some mindful sitting, first thing. I started out with the intention of just going to 10 breaths. Then I went past that and went to 13… and beyond. I wasn’t feeling very settled at the start. My heart started racing, and my breathing was very tight. But after about 15 breaths, things started to settle in, and by the time I had counted to 25, I was feeling more settled, more stabilized. So, I breathed and counted to 47, a prime number that has more associated with it than most people would guess. I felt really good, by the time I got to 47, and I was tempted to keep going, but I had more plans that I wanted to follow up with, and I didn’t want to ruin a good thing by overdoing it.

So I got up, came downstairs, and got on my exercise bike for a15-minute ride. I listened to music as I rode, trying to keep my mind on the actual bicycling and not chafe too much at it. In past months, I have gotten away from riding the bike, first thing, because it started feeling forced and boring and same-old-same-old. This morning, however, I had motivation to ride, because I am sick with this cold, and I need to move the lymph through my system to help clear out this infection. The sludge won’t move itself out of my system, so I need to give it a little boost, which is what riding the bike will do for me. Plus, it warmed me up — it’s cold — winter, after all — and I hate feeling cold, first thing in the morning. So, having a brisk bike ride not only got me moving in a healthier direction, but it also got me warmed up. And that was great.

After my ride, I put the coffee water on to boil and did some stretching and moving. Then I poured my coffee and put the water on for my soft-boiled egg. While that was heating up, I did my old familiar free weights routine, where I go through a whole circuit of lifting for my legs and upper body. It actually felt really good to do it again, and I had to wonder why I haven’t done much of that at all, in the past several months. I guess I just got bored with it. Lost my motivation, for some reason. Just lost it… Probably due to all the anxiety over the changes at work and my fight-flight instincts getting tweaked all over the spectrum.

By the time the water had boiled and my egg was ready, I got in my quick free weights workout, as well as my balance work. The balance stuff is really important, because my ears are quite stopped up, and I’m off-kilter, these days. But doing the leg lifts without anything to stabilize me, got my balance “tuned up” a bit, and by the time my breakfast was ready, I’d gotten a full morning workout in.

Now, I’ve been pretty hard on myself, lately, about having slacked off on my exercise routine. I guess I just got sick and tired of it, doing the same thing every morning. I also lost sight of how important it is to do it regularly. I guess I started taking it for granted, and I started taking my physical well-being for granted. I did need a change of pace, actually, but thinking back, I think it was really a motivation void that sucker-punched me. The changes at work, which have all happened on a pretty extreme scale, got me thinking that I’m a helpless victim and I can’t do anything to help myself. The home office is overseas, and the people making the rules are far from any of us who are doing the everyday work. So, it’s a very different and much less invested sort of arrangement than before. And with all this going on, I guess I just felt, “What’s the use?” I succumbed to the feeling of being a victim, of being helpless, of being the subject/target of someone else’s ambitions, and unable to change any of it. And when I went out looking for other jobs, that helplessness came through, I’m not proud to say.

Now I’m back, though, and I’ve got a different perspective on things. I know what I need to do, to move on to the next level, and I’m setting about doing that — on my own terms and in my own way. My employer can do what they like, I’ve got my own agenda, and I fully intend to stick with it.

I also fully intend to stick with my exercise routine. Because I got a good look at what happens to people in my family when they don’t take care of themselves, and they just give in to the “inevitable” march of time. I got a close-up look at what happens when you don’t exercise, or when you don’t eat properly, or when you are in total denial about your state of mind and body. I got a good look, too, at what can happen when you take care of yourself — one of my relatives just turned 100 years old, this past year, and the contrast of their quality of life with the rest of my family is truly remarkable. That’s what I want — the 100+ years of decent self-maintenance and care — NOT the however-many-years of “inevitable” decline that has everyone wondering about how you’re going to take care of yourself when you get so badly off that you can’t even move or think or function.

Yeah, I’ll take a pass on the latter. The former — whole health for a long, long time — is what I want for my life.

And because of that, I did manage to get up this morning and do my sitting/breathing exercises. Because doing that balances out my nervous system, it calms my mind and it restores my ability to not only discern what is going on inside my head and heart, but it also restores my ability make independent choices about what to do with those things. When I sit and breathe and watch my thoughts and emotions come up without reacting to them, I become better at seeing what the hell is going on with me, as well as not letting it get the betrer of me.

I had actually started doing my sitting/breathing while I was on my trip. I started it again the day after Christmas, I think, and it really helped me keep calm and cool in the face of some pretty drastic upheavals and revelations. There were a couple of times that tempers got hot, and it could have boiled up and spilled over and gotten messy — and my meltdowns can get messy. But it didn’t. Things didn’t boil over. I was able to see and identify what was going on, and I was able to call attention to what was really going on, so we could have a bit of a laugh about it, and dispel the drama before it even got started.

And that’s a good thing.

It’s a really, really good thing.

And I’ve been thinking… a lot… about how much this breathing/sitting practice helps me with post-concussion issues… helps me with mTBI issues… helps me with life issues. It’s a bit uncanny, but at the same time, it makes perfect sense. And now that I understand the mechanics of it, it’s more valuable and sensible to me than ever before.

Sitting and breathing balances out my autonomic nervous system — the part of me that runs the fight-flight scene, and can send me downhill into a raging meltdown… or chase me into a fog of flight that has me avoiding any and all human contact or activities… ultimately wearing me out physically and making me feel like crap about myself. Just sitting still and counting my breaths gets my body back in balance, with my heart rate regulating and my attention focused on relaxing, which is key for me.

Sitting and breathing also strengthens my attention and focus. I’m far from perfect, of course, but just practicing regularly makes me better at sustained focus and resisting distraction. That’s so very important to my daily functioning – my levels of distractability can go way off the charts, so strengthening this ability has a direct and significant impact on my ability to be effective and capable in my daily life. And the fact that the sitting and breathing takes place in the privacy of my own home, makes it that much more comfortable for me. Sure, I can try to practice sitting quietly and breathing at work — either stepping away from my desk, or taking a moment at my desk. But there’s nothing like doing it in my own home, where the focus is on me and my well-being, rather in what needs to get done next.

And it occurs to me that I’m not the only person in my situation who could benefit from this. It occurs to me that plenty of other people who are struggling with TBI/concussion issues could do this, as well… Particularly in the days after a concussion or TBI. After a brain injury, they tell you you’re supposed to rest and do nothing. Well, how about doing the kind of “nothing” that actually helps your nervous system balance itself out, and also helps you regulate your moods, heart rate, and racing mind?

It’s an idea. And who knows? It might just be a missing piece in the puzzle that is concussion management and TBI recovery that helps people get back to their everyday lives — in whatever form — with greater presence of mind as well as a well-toned autonomic nervous system.

But speaking of management and recovery and action, it’s time I got myself in gear and started getting ready for work. I’m back from my week away, and I have one day left in 2011 to gather up some of the loose pieces of the past months and set the stage for next year.

I’ve already managed to get up at a pro-active time of day, get my much-needed exercise in, and figure some stuff out.

Not a bad way to start the day. Not a bad way to close out the year.

Now, back to the action…