Greetings from the island of missed opportunities

Happy Belated Memorial Day to All
Thank you for your service.

Last weekend, I had every intention of taking care of essentials. Getting my hair cut, mowing the lawn, going for long walks down the road, blogging on Memorial Day to thank veterans and their families for their service.

I got a fair amount done on Saturday. Then it rained for two days, and the rest of my plans were shot. The naps I was going to take didn’t materialize the way I’d hoped. I was still tired from last week, and I was irritable. I was off my regular schedule, which made me antsy. And I had too much time on my hands to think about how my life had taken so many wrong turns, and how I couldn’t seem to get it back on track.

When I’m tired and I can’t catch up on my sleep, problems happen. I cause them, of course… and then I need to fix them.

So, that’s how I spent the weekend — dealing with my self-made problems.

Fortunately, a lot of stuff got worked out, and I’m on better footing than I was, last week.

And life goes on.

The thing is… Sometimes things need to fall apart before they can get fixed. I’ve been kind of limping along on, for months (maybe years) at work and at home, trying to make the most of bad situations and challenging conditions, without knowing what to do about them. Either I was too tired, or I didn’t have all the the information. Or things (politics at work) were out of my control. And I just made the best of a problematic situation. Of course I did. That’s what I always do.

I tend to complain a lot on this blog, but to be honest, that’s mainly because I don’t whine about a lot of things in my everyday life. I keep that proverbial stiff upper lip. I make the best of things. I keep positive and can-do, as all Americans are taught to do. Being anything less is an affront to everyone around you and a sort of blasphemy in this country. Of course I can do it! Of course I’m capable of figuring things out! I’m an American. By God.

Every now and then, though, I just have to let that go and indulge myself in a little realism — how I really feel. How things really seem. It’s not giving up. It’s just being honest about how I feel about the situation… before I rally to get myself back on track.

I always rally. No doubt about that. I’m still here, after all.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about missed opportunities, lately. I’ve missed so many, due to slow processing speed, foggy thinking, and of course fatigue. The kind of tiredness that wipes everything messy, like all the class notes being smeared on the blackboard (or whiteboard, as they have now). And nothing makes sense, anymore.

I think about all the dreams I’ve had, and how logistically impossible they’ve all been. I have responsibilities. I have a household to maintain. Insurance to keep. A job (or two or three) to do, each day. The things I always wanted as a kid… most of them haven’t happened, in large part because I just didn’t have the capacity to keep up the pace required to do them all.

And there’s a sense of loss to that. A deep sense of … I dunno… deprivation? Failure? It’s hard to put my finger on it.

Then again, when I look at my life and all that’s happened, I can’t feel badly. Not for a moment. I’ve been able to experience some amazing things, and I’ve really had a great run. I continue to, as well. Even more now, than before, because I know so much more about my limitations and how to work with them. Ironically, my life started to come together after I learned about how limited I am. Only then, could I put systems in place that offset my difficulties. Especially with regard to memory, sleep, and prioritizing things in my life.

I learned how to listen to people, how to talk to people. Before I knew that my short-term working memory was horrible, I thought I could keep things in my  mind and interact with people by just being quiet. Now I know better, and I know that I have to keep engaging with people during our conversations, or I’ll forget what they said just a few moments ago. Not only does that help me remember, but it also makes me a better conversationalist. By far. And I’ve gotten over my self-consciousness, I’ve quit telling myself I was an idiot because I couldn’t remember sh*t.

I’m not an idiot. I have organic limitations to my memory, and I just have to work with them.

I also learned how to pace myself and take care of myself on weekends. I used to push myself constantly — keeping a steady level of stress in my life, to boost my “tonic arousal”, keep myself alert and aware of my surroundings. I realize now that while the stress is tasty and energizing like junk food, it’s also terrible for me. Like junk food. I’ve given it up, and I go to extra lengths to get as much sleep as humanly possible. My spouse helps, too, not pushing me so much to stay up late watching movies and late-night t.v.

I just can’t go without sleep for long, without there being serious repercussions. And the changes I’ve made have been hugely helpful to me, my spouse, our marriage, and my work life. It’s a win-win all around.

Most important, perhaps, is how I prioritize things in my life and say “yes” or “no” to things. I pushed myself really hard, up until about 10 years ago, just driving-driving-driving towards my goals. In a way, it worked wonders for my career. It built up my skills. It won me recognition and respect. But it also fried my nervous system. I was chronically over-committed in so many areas, working long hours, driving a long commute, doing extra jobs on the weekends, and pursuing my hobbies. I traveled a lot. I was always juggling a lot of balls in the air. And I could do it. For decades, I did it.

Until it undid me. My fall in 2004 was directly caused by being overcommitted, over-tired, under-rested, and not paying attention. It was nearly fatal to every aspect of my life, a kind of delayed reaction payback that forced a reset in my life that permanently altered so much.

I lost a lot in the process, including my ability to drive-drive-drive.

And along with that, so many opportunities disappeared. Just evaporated.

But when I think about it, I’m not so sure that’s a terrible thing.

I’ve gone from quantity to quality, now. I pace myself better. I pick and choose. I know I can’t do it all, nor do I want to (anymore). I realize just how much time and energy I wasted in all the rushing around, all those years. I was driven by a long history of TBIs / concussions that scrambled my thinking and set me careening through life without good systems in place to keep myself on track.

And that’s not a bad thing. It’s a very good thing, in fact. I don’t need to be doing all that stuff, at every turn. I don’t need to over-extend myself, every week and every weekend. Sleep is good. Rest is essential. And actually enjoying my life… well, that’s a concept I’ve gotten used to.

So, all in all, missing opportunities isn’t nearly as terrible as everybody makes it out to be. I’ve gotten over my FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), to the point where I actually look forward to missing out. I see that the rest of the world can easily lose its mind by racing around at top speed, without stopping to think about what’s going on.

I have my music. I have my books and my house. I have my marriage. I have my steady paycheck. And the work situation seems to be sorting itself out, at last. The most important opportunity is still available: to appreciate and enjoy it for what it is, each and every day.

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And now I can rest.

Thank you for your service, USA veterans!
Thank you for your service, USA veterans!

Memorial Day. Thank you to all the vets (living and passed on) who have sacrificed so much for us. We literally would not be here without you.

I just wish you had a nicer day, instead of all the rain and cold.

Then again, if you’re like me, you welcome the downtime. And you can use a break from the rest of the world. This is your day. You should enjoy it.

I’m staying off Facebook today. Twitter is another thing, but Facebook has gotten too volatile for me, of late. I need to rest. I need to sleep. Nap. Take it easy. And let my frazzled sympathetic nervous system chill from all the fight-flight. Just chill.

I worked out more strenuously, over the weekend. So, now I’m sore. And that’s good. It means my body needs to rest, and I’m more than happy to do that. I did some balance exercises this morning after riding the exercise bike, just to get myself woken up. I was going to ride a long time on the bike (I had extra dessert last night). But I got tired.

Yeah, I need to rest.

So, that’s what I’m doing. I have a bunch of reading I want to do, and a bit of writing I need to do, as well. Ideas I’ve got going, which I need to continue to develop. The nice thing is, I can just let them develop and not make myself nuts over it all. This is a big change for me, and it hasn’t been an easy one.

For years before I fell in 2004, I had a number of my own businesses going in addition to my 9-to-5 job. I was quite prodigious, I have to say. Always on the go, always cooking something up. And I created some pretty cool products and services that other people really got some use out of. I was part of some pretty exciting ventures over the years, and even though I had a ton of fatigue and sensory issues all the time, I was able to power through them and keep going on the adrenaline alone. It was so exciting, and it was very satisfying to be part of teams working “on the sly” towards common goals.

After I fell in 2004, I couldn’t keep up the pace. I tried. For years, I tried. I really pushed myself to continue to code and be involved in events and ventures. I hatched all kinds of startup plans, and I went so far as to start a formal business for one of them. I had project plans for about 20 different ventures, most of them around selling information and spinning books off into videos and online courses.

But I couldn’t get any traction on them, I’d get confused and discombobulated and turned around… and then frustrated and angry and difficult to live with. So, about 4 years ago, I started backing off on a lot of those things. And I started culling the list of ventures I had planned and waiting in the wings.

It was a hard change, because DOING BIG THINGS was always such a part of my identity and my sense-of-self.  And no longer having a full roster made me feel lost and disoriented and un-moored. Like I’d been cut loose from my anchor and set adrift in the big, wide sea.

But you know what? After a while, I realized that it was a huge relief for me to not have all those things constantly “cooking” in the background. And I realized I could actually start to relax. I became less and less reliant on Super-MEGA-PRODUCTIVITY for my sense of well-being and direction, and I actually gave myself a chance to catch up with myself.

It’s taken years for me to feel more comfortable with this — and I have to admit there are times when I revert back to my old over-doing ways. But nowadays, it comes more naturally for me to plan less, rather than more. And in the end, whatever needs to get done, gets done.

Today, though, not much really needs to get done. I’m chilling out. Relaxing. Giving my body and mind time to catch up with themselves. Without pressure. Without agenda. Just so.

 

Finding a good place

May you find your own good place

I’m sitting outside this morning, writing in the quiet of the day, before the lawnmowers start and the leaf blowers and the construction projects my neighbors are doing over the long weekend.The sun is hot, where there is no shade, but the air is cool where there is no sun, and I have been moving my chair around to find the best place to sit where I am not too hot, but not too cool, and I can enjoy the morning.

Some robin has found some good bugs/worms in my back yard, and it’s making repeated caterpillar-fetching trips to the high grass (I’m letting it grow, so the roots get well established before I start mowing for the summer (and yes, I am aware that summer is practically here). Other robins have also discovered this, and they have been fighting over that little space in the back yard for a little while, now. They are very aggressive with each other, and they have been flying and fighting over this territory with loud, angry cries and swooping attacks. The other birds that happen to be nearby — the blue jay, the downy woodpecker — have been also getting the brunt of their aggressive anger.

But something very educational just happened, while they were fighting with each other. They were all embroiled in a flying group brawl, when I saw a big crow fly into a nearby tree. He sat there a few minutes, seeming to hide behind the trunk of the tree, seeming to look over at the robins. Then, when all the robins were flying around attacking each other, the crow flew over to where they were… and a minute later, it flew away — with a baby robin in its beak. I could see its legs hanging down, and the crow’s flight was a little more lumbering than it had been, coming in.

All the robins flipped out and realized what was happening, and they turned from their attacks to chase the crow, which was already on the wing, headed off to some place where it could eat its little victim.

Over at the nest, a lone robin calls plaintively, chirping with distress over and over again.

Nature can be cruel. And it can be beautiful. Just now, a yellow swallowtail butterfly flew over to me and fluttered around my head for a while. A study in contrasts — in the space of a few moments, terrible “cruelty” and wonderful beauty. Coarse necessity and fragile bliss.

That crow has to eat. The butterfly has to fly. Sooner or later, each of them will in turn become food for something else. That’s just nature’s way — as surely as it’s also nature’s way for yellowjackets and mosquitoes to be visiting me, as well.

This was a good lesson this morning — watching the robins fight, and seeing how their distraction cost them one of their little ones. I doubt that if they had all been minding their nest, the crow would have come in and picked off one of their babies. It is a natural thing, but it could have turned out different, if those birds hadn’t been so fixated on fighting amongst each other.

The other thing I noticed was how quickly these aggressive enemies became allies, when they had a common foe. When they had the same threat to combat, they quickly left their differences behind and joined forces. That is also nature’s way.

Seeing this happen, I can’t help but think about all the ways that we people also fight amongst ourselves, and in the process lose things that are very important to us. We can be so intent on proving we are right, or filling some need that we are convinced we need to fill, that we trash our relationships and alienate/punish those closest to us. We can get so caught up in “taking care of ourselves” — or just looking out for NUMBER ONE — that we lose the connections that bring us life and happiness and fulfillment. We can get so caught up in chasing after the things we think will bring us happiness, that we never get there. And the more we chase, the harder we try, the farther we are from our goal of ultimate happiness.

Ironic, no?

But it seems to me that that’s how we are built. All the chasing, all the fight-flight we are caught up in… that’s the very thing that keeps us from being truly happy. When that is all we do, day after day, week after week, year after year, our ability to just let in the happiness and joy tends to shrivel and shrink. It’s like a muscle, this ability to enjoy ourselves — if we don’t use it, it atrophies, shrivels, shrinks, and becomes so weak that it actually hurts to try to use it.

But like our muscles, our ability to enjoy life can be restored. It doesn’t have to go away for good, and although at times it may feel like we will never ever get back to a place of peace (like I felt this morning at 1 a.m.), the fact of the matter is that with practice and time and patience, we can get back that sense of pleasure, that sense of enjoyment, that resting, digesting part of our lives that is as real and as vital to our survival and ability to thrive, as our beloved fight-flight reflex.

We can get back to that good place again. Because it’s always there. We just need to find it again.

We can, you know. We all come into this world with an autonomic nervous system that gives us as much access to enjoyment and relaxation, as it does to drama and stress. Over time, we may get trained to focus more on the fight-flight, and we may actually feel more alive when we are in fight-flight. But the fact that we digest our food and breathe and even have a regular heartbeat is testament to the fact that we always have a side of us that can — and does — love to just chill. Getting back to that place takes practice. God knows, I can testify to that. For some of us, it comes easy. For others (like me) it takes A LOT of practice. But it gives you something to work towards — and the rewards are pretty awesome.

So, on this beautiful day, I wish you rest and relaxation — remember those who have given their all so that we can enjoy our freedom and our opportunities. Remember those who have also returned, still bearing the burdens of their missions and their service. I like to also remember all those who have served in another capacity, tho’ they weren’t in the military — all the individuals who have given their all to make this country, and this world, a better place for those to come in the future.

May you find peace, may you find rest, and may you find your own good place.