I dunno what it is, this week, but I am wiped out. There’s more drama at work, And the weather-related disruptions have not helped any. I’ve also been working crazy-hard on my projects, studying and testing the limits of my brain and attention.
So, of course I’m tired. I’ve been getting up early, and going to bed early, too.
As it should be.
And I have to always remember what fatigue can do to me. It clouds my judgment and makes it very difficult to think clearly. It makes me cranky and ill-mannered, and it makes me a little paranoid, too. I start to think people are saying and doing unkind things to me on purpose, instead of just being mindless.
It’s good to remember these things… so I don’t try to make people “pay” for things they haven’t even done.
Today is another “on” day for me. Yesterday I had to step away from my LIST of to-do items that I’d put together on Friday, and just move at a more restful pace. I’ve been pushing pretty hard all week, with a lot of good ideas which promise to bring good things to me.
But by Saturday morning, all the Activity caught up with me, and I had to just back off a bit. I juggled a bit in the morning, wrote a little bit, then got together with friends, took a long nap, and got up to do a little bit here and there in the evening.
All in all, it was a good day. There were some things I was really hoping to get done (some that I really needed to get done), but I didn’t. And that’s that. I don’t really care, right now. The main thing was, I got some rest, caught up with myself, and gave myself some breathing room.
That’s important. I tend to push myself so hard — overachiever that I am — that I don’t give myself enough down-time to recoup. And that is far more damaging than any lack of ambition or “failure to launch”. Overwork and overtrainng are all very well and good for the short term. I almost have to do it, sometimes, to get things to lodge in my brain permanently.
But every single day of every single week of every single month of every single year?
Thankfully, I’m learning to do things differently.
It’s interesting, what changed that mindset for me. Most of the time, I try to overpower my unhealthy tendencies with raw, brute force. Willpower. Resolve. Even a bit of guilt. But that doesn’t work. What does work, is introducing a new piece of information into the mix that provides a better Idea about what will be most effective.
Case in point: Rest. And its importance.
I have intellectually “known” for a long time that rest is important. It helps the brain consolidate memories. It helps the body remove toxins from the brain. It is important for rebuilding the capabilities that you’ve fried, in the course of everyday overwork. I know that rest helps me keep emotionally centered, as well. It keeps me from snapping out. It keeps me from getting depressed. It gives me a great sense of well-being and ability.
But have I made a point of getting to bed at a decent time and sleeping all the way through the night?
Until recently, not so much. I “knew” I was supposed to, I had the whole raft of ideas about how helpful it was. But not until I had an Experience of the incredible help that rest gives me, have I enthusiastically gone to bed at a decent hour — during the week before 11 p.m., on the weekends, before midnight.
What changed things? Having a bunch of good great experiences with Rest, that really brought home how much it helps me.
First, actually being able to rest in bed has been huge. I bought a new bed a couple of weeks ago, and ever since then, I have not had any trouble falling asleep. I used to lie in bed for hours, unable to sleep. I couldn’t afford a new bed. And I had to make do with what I had. But it was rough. I never actually put it together that the problem was the bed. I figured it was just how things were. For some reason I didn’t get that the lumpy mattress that wasn’t flat and forced me to balance my weight in different ways was keeping me up. Now that I have a new bed which is exactly flat and very firm, I have been falling asleep almost immediately. The only times I don’t, are when my body is seizing up from not stretching enough. But when I get out of bed and stretch, I’m able to relax, and I fall right to sleep. And I sleep pretty much through the night — except when I wake up in a sweat, which has been happening lately, with the change of seasons and the stresses at work. Now, when I think about going to bed, I don’t dread it because I expect to lie there for hours, unable to sleep.
Second, waking up rested is a whole new thing for me that puts a whole different spin on my day. I’m actually semi-functional, first thing in the morning. And with my rocket-fuel coffee that gets me going, my mornings are now something I look forward to, and get myself out of bed for. I wake up feeling so great, that I can’t wait to get to bed at night, so I can have that feeling again.
Third, getting a little bit of rest at work in the afternoons, has completely transformed my days. I used to really dread my days, because I would burn through all my energy by noontime — if not before. Then I’d spend the rest of the day scrambling to keep up, feeling like crap, eating junk food that would rev me up and make me crash, offsetting that effect with more coffee… and more coffee… and more coffee… and ending up so wired by the evening, that I could not fall sleep, even if I was on a decent bed. Taking a quick power nap for 20 minutes in the afternoon, when I just can’t go on anymore, has completely turned that around. Now I know the pressure is off, and if I need to step away and take a nap — or just close my eyes for a short while — I can do it. I generally keep a couple of hours open and free of scheduled meetings, most afternoons of my week, just so I know I can step away, if need be. And I do it. It makes all the difference in the world, to sleep — or simply relax. The boost I get, coming back after a nap, not only makes me more productive, but it makes me feel so much better about myself and my abilities, that I actually don’t mind being at work. I don’t dread and resent it the way I used to, which is a real blessing.
Fourth, learning to juggle much faster than I thought possible — after giving myself time to rest in between practice sessions — is truly inspirational. I love having this feeling of surprise and delight that I can actually keep more than one ball in the air. I never thought I could juggle. I tried many times in the past, and it never “worked”. But now I am learning pretty quickly, and the thing that seems to make the difference, is Rest.
The first day I was trying to keep a couple of balls in the air, I did it for a count of 42, max.
Then 37 times.
Things were clearly not improving, so I lay down and took a nap.
And when I got up, I kept the balls in the air for 135 tosses. That’s quite the improvement. What a confidence-booster! And I credit Rest for that.
Last but not least, I like myself a whole lot better when I’m rested. I am much easier to live with — both inside my head and outside. I have a higher tolerance for frustration. I can think more clearly about things to come up with good solutions. I don’t have the same temper flares, my fuse is a lot longer, and I don’t have the extreme outbursts that come when I’m really wiped out. Just the other evening, after helping a friend move, I started harassing my spouse about something they had done that was troublesome, but not exactly catastrophic. I had it in my head that if they kept doing this, Something Would Go Terribly Wrong, and I needed to “nip it in the bud”, so to speak.
The net result was that we were both pretty unhappy by the time the conversation was through, and I felt like sh*t as a result. There was no need for me to go off like that, but I did. Because I was tired. Getting more rest over the next few days did wonders for my mood and my stability. Too bad my spouse is the kind of person who holds grudges. They’ve recovered less well than I have. (But that’s on them – I’m not responsible for their state of mind, much as they’d like me to be.)
Now Rest is my friend. We’re on good terms. What a difference Good Rest makes.
For some reason, there’s a part of me that thinks I’ll be able to soldier through this TBI stuff and come out on the other side, issue-free.
Like I won’t have any more sensitivity to noise or light when I’m tired.
Like I won’t feel like going off the deep end, when I get overwhelmed and fee cornered.
Like I will finally feel rested and be able to live each day with an abundance of energy.
Like I will feel like my old self again.
Broken record me – it’s not happening.
But check this out – that doesn’t so much matter.
I mean, it does matter that I generally feel like crap on any given day, that I feel like I’ve been dragged behind a bus, at any given moment, and I feel like I’m going to just drop from exhaustion and overwhelm at the least expected times. That’s no friggin’ fun, for sure.
But the main thing is — these things don’t have to ruin my life. Sure, its unpleasant. Sure, it’s troubling. Sure, it’s a hassle to deal with. But just because it affects me, doesn’t mean it has to affect others, make them miserable too, and ruin my chances of being able to do something worthwhile in the world.
I can live and do the things I need to do, regardless of how shitty I feel.
And if I can’t get these issues to go away, I can at least keep them from ruining everyone’s day.
8. Agitated, can’t settle down – I’m all wound up and can’t seem to get myself to chill to get to bed at a decent hour each night. I’m way agitated, and fidgety and am having trouble focusing in to get shit done. 9. Angerrrrrr!!! – I’m pissed off. At work. At my spouse. At myself. I’m just angry. It’s driving me — it’s driving me crazy. 10. Anxiety – Feeling vague fear, worry, anticipation of doom – Yeah, when I go back to work tomorrow, I have the feeling that I’m going to be so totally screwed by my workload and the “lost week+” that I’ve had away. Not that it’s any different than it’s been for the past year or so, but now the sense of doom is really coming in. 11. Depression, feeling down – My mood has actually been pretty good… but I have to really fight back the depression. It sets in quickly if I don’t stay on it. 12. Excitability! – I get all worked up over stuff, then I come back to it later and I can’t see what all the excitement was about. The worst thing about the excitability is that it distracts me and takes me off-course, so it takes me longer to get where I’m going. 13. Everything feels like an effort – Yeah, pretty much. It feels like everything is a massive effort, and I can’t figure out where to start. 14. Feeling unsure of yourself – Yeah, pretty much all the time, these days. I know better (rationally) and I fight it back, but that feeling is always there… like I never know what’s going to come out of my mouth or what I’m going to do next. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I don’t, but I’m never 100% sure what’s going to happen. 15. Feelings of dread – Yeah, that. Dread and anxiety. Like I just can’t deal with sh*t. 16. Feeling like you’re observing yourself from afar – This is a weird one, because it’s really like that. It’s like I’m standing at a distance and watching myself do and say things that don’t make any sense to me. 17. Feelings of well-being – On and off. It’s not all bad, all the time. Sometimes I have these sudden rushes of feeling really good, really solid, really sound. It’s a nice break. 18. Feeling guilty – Guilty over what I’ve done and what I haven’t done… what I should have done, what I forgot to do. 19. Feeling hostile towards others – Yeah, this is a tough one. I’m not feeling that great today, and we have a friend staying over, and I have to watch myself to not come across as hostile and aggressive, because they’re pretty sensitive and have a hard time making and keeping friends, as it is. My hostility has nothing to do with them, but they could easily become a target, if I don’t manage this. 20. Impatience – Yeah – what’s takingeverything so long? 21. Irritability – Like the hostility, I’ve gotta keep a handle on this. Others shouldn’t have to pay for my issues. It has nothing to do with them. 22. No desire to talk or move – This one set in when I woke up, and it’s still there. The antidote? Get the hell up and do something. Anything. Just move, goddammit. 23. Feeling lonely – Yeah. That. The consolation I get is that I’m not alone in feeling lonely. Plenty of people do. I also need to focus on the fact of what I’ve got in common with others, and that helps. 24. Nervousness – Nervous about work, nervous about money, nervous about life. Nervous. 25. Feelings of panic – On and off. This is much less extreme than it was several years ago. I’ve learned how to relax. I’ve learned how to recognize the signs that I’m just panicking, and it has nothing to do with actual reality. Breathing helps. 26. Rapid mood swings – Yeah, gotta watch that. I’m sick and tired today, so I know I’m more susceptible. 27. Restlessness – I want to run, I want to walk, I want to jump in the car and drive away. I want to go out and pick a fight. Not my best ideas… and I know it’s just the fatigue, the fogginess, the feeling of being “off” that’s doing this. Adrenaline and novelty blocks out all the distracting what-not-ness that’s swirling in my head. Surely, doing something extreme will take my mind off it. Well, sure – but at what cost? 28. Tearfulness, crying spells – Not so far, which is good. A few days ago, when I was feeling really sick, I had this. Thankfully it passed. Of all the TBI issues that come up, the tearfulness is the worst for me. 29. Feeling tense – Yeah. That. Like I’m wound so tight, I’m either going to snap, or I’m going to shoot straight to the moon. Tense. Really Tense. Black Flag Tense. 30. Feeling vague longing/yearning – Absolutely – for something I want and need, but can’t quite put my finger on. I used to have an antidote for this: daily meditation and breathing. Then I got sick of it and stopped doing it, because I just wanted to get on with my days with out having a lot of ritual and sh*t to do, first thing in the morning.
And as a result of these things, I’m also grappling with the follwing:
Day-to-Day Activities 31. Being overly busy (more than usual) – I’ve got all this stuff I want to do, and it’s piling up. I’m making myself crazy with it. 32. Feeling like you can’t get moving, you’re stuck – And under this pile of stuff, there I am, pinned down and feeling like I can’t move. 33. Feeling like you can’t get anything done – It’s just a feeling, I know, but that’s how I feel right now — nothing is moving, I can’t get anything accomplished.
Geeze. Enough of this. Yeah, things aren’t great right now, but once I get moving, I’m sure they’ll loosen up. That’s the thing that I’ve had to learn, over and over again. I can’t start from where I want to be (feeling great and having a lot of stuff done). I need to start from where I am — even if it’s sick and tired and foggy and aggressive and a bit ragged around the edges.
Gotta get out of my head and find something to really focus on. Just gotta. I’ve got to get my mind off this headache, this nausea, this fogginess, and all the above-mentioned crap. I’ve got to just get moving and do what needs to be done today. I do have things I need to take care of, and I just need to do them. I’ve had two days to recover and recoup, and that’s been good. Now I need to kick it again and get a move on. No matter how I feel, just do what needs to be done, and then enjoy having done it.
Yeah, it’s turning out to be a beautiful day, so I can get some work done in the yard and hang out with this friend. I will need to watch myself today, to make sure I’m not all edgy around them, so I don’t chase them off the way I have chased off many other people. I just need to keep cool, keep focused on what needs to get done, and do it.
And then sleep this afternoon. Get some rest. And get ready to go back to everyday normal life. Things will take care of themselves, if I’m just honest with myself and keep an eye on myself. This is not rocket science, it’s just life. Everybody has to contend with this, TBI or no. So deal with it, I shall.
Well, I got lucky last night — No, not that kind of getting lucky…!
I lucked out because didn’t have to work late-late, after all. I “only” had to work till 8:30, not 10:00 p.m. And that’s good.
As a result of my reprieve, I got to go to bed before 10:00 p.m., which was a huge bonus. I managed to invest a little time with my spouse (very important) before I went to sleep. We’ve been missing that, since I work late so often. And it doesn’t help things.
Last night was good. I headed off to bed around 9:30, then I sat and breathed slow and steady for about 10 minutes before I went to sleep. I did my progressive relaxation exercises after I sat and breathed, which helped me even more. What a miracle, to be able to relax. This is a new experience for me, after a lifetime of unrecognized and unresolved issues. I’ve been having a lot of pain lately — mostly in my legs and hips — but I managed to get to sleep anyway.
I woke up earlier than I wanted to — about 5:30 or so. It was technical okay, because it meant I’d gotten about 7 hours of sleep, which is more than I’ve gotten recently. But still… I got up and sat and breathed for a little bit, then I realized I was still really tired and I was starting to relax. So, I went back to bed. And I slept for another hour, which was much needed.
This morning when I did get up, I had a conference call first thing. But unlike other mornings when I’ve had to “jump on a call” right away, I wasn’t thrown off or rattled by the conversation, and it actually came really easily to me.
Because I was rested.
After the call, I had to run an errand, which I did — and I cut it short because I had another meeting to attend before long. I used my head and didn’t push things, and I had another good conversation. Now I’m having my lunch and getting ready for the next couple of meetings I have before my official work day is through. I’ve got a ton of stuff to do, it’s true, but being rested helps me think clearly enough to figure out what’s important and what can wait.
It also helps me plan for future days when I’ll be able to do the things I can’t handle today.
Sleep makes this all possible. Good sleep. Good rest. It gets my mojo back, which is just plain awesome.
It’s pretty remarkable, what a difference sleep makes, when your brain is a bit jumbled from tbi. Traumatic brain injury — including the “mild” type, which can really do a number on you, too — can make your brain much more susceptible to fatigue… which can lead to cognitive impairment and irritability… which can lead to a constant sense of restlessness… which can lead to increased agitation… and so on. It can turn into a massive vicious cycle that is wildly self-fulfilling. And if you don’t know about how important sleep is, and you don’t act like it is, and you don’t get enough good quality rest, then you can end up shooting yourself in the foot, time and time again.
Because the brain needs rest — especially a brain that’s been “alternatively rewired” by injury (or multiple injuries, like in my case). It needs rest to recuperate, to recharge, to incorporate all the lessons and learning from your waking hours. It needs to just chill. For real.
But do I listen? Usually, not. It feels so awesome to be up and about, running myself ragged, driving on “pure adrenaline”… it feels great in the moment\… I feel brilliant and wise and clever and happy. But eventually I crash, and I pay dearly for my excesses. And the idea of always running on adrenaline gets old pretty quick.
Which is something the red bull monster and drink people will never tell you. They only talk about the upswing, not the crash. But I know all about the crash.
And I know all about what makes it better — a good night’s sleep and the ability to go BACK to sleep, when I realize I’ve woken up too soon. That second part is the elusive one for me, but I’m learning. I’m learning…
Okay, so things have been up and down at work — some days are better than others, and I’ve gone through some pretty challenging times, lately. Now I’m tired, and I just want to lie down. But I’ve got so much to do. My day is not even over — I have more work to do through the evening.
Guess I just gotta do what I gotta do. That’s just how it is.
I suppose I should really be quite happy, because a lot of the bogus drama has evaporated from my life. By “bogus drama” I mean drama that happens when I’m not being honest with myself about things and I end up creating a lot of confusion and discomfort because I invent explanations in my head for why things turn out the way they do. Like when I get paranoid and start to think that there is a conspiracy against me, rather than admitting that I have come up short in my responsibilities and people are justifiably upset about my slacking.
It’s things like that — as well as me getting all up on my head about my moods, thinking that I’m depressed or somehow deficient, when I’m actually just tired and need a good night’s sleep.
Those ups and downs have become a lot less frequent over the past year or so – thanks to my regular exercise routine and my new practice of just sitting and breathing first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I’ve mellowed considerably, and I’m not as easily freaked out.
Which means the bogus drama factor has dropped significantly.
And now I’m in a blah space. Because there’s not all this brouhaha about the drama to keep my system ON. I’m so accustomed to things being screwed up and having to work overtime to get them back in line, that when things are going right — and have been for a while — I don’t quite know what to do with myself. I know I don’t want to re-create the drama I had in the past, but I also sometimes don’t quite know what to do with myself when things are chilled out.
I guess I’ll have to learn.
Because I don’t want to be like a friend of mine, who has to always have some sort of drama going on, just to feel alive. I swear, they seem like a magnet for all sorts of crap. If they’re not fighting someone else off, they’re going after someone. If they’re not struggling against their own problems, they’re “reaching out” to get sucked into someone else’s troubles. They just can’t leave well enough alone, and it’s maddening, seeing them sabotaging their happiness, when they say all they want is to be happy.
But I get where they’re coming from. Because being in this blah space can be pretty boring. A little depressing, too. I was reading today about how people can be clinically depressed and not even know it, and I wondered if that was the case with me. I don’t think it is. I just have this neurological state that causes my processing speed to be slower, and that makes me feel a little down, now and then. But it’s not like I’m full-on depressed. Not right now, anyway. I do feel that way, every now and then, but it doesn’t last. And I move on.
So, it’s really just texture in my life. More texture. Like this blah space, where I’m just feeling okay, not great, not awful, just okay. The blah-ness has as much to do with me not getting enough sleep over the past week, as anything else. And it also has to do with me having a ton of stuff to do all the time… and it never seems to let up.
But really, that’s a good thing. More texture.
I just need to get more sleep.
And be intensely grateful that the worst thing I have to complain about is that there’s no drama going on right now.
One of the most confusing issues when dealing with traumatic brain injuries is the effect that it has on the individual’s personality and emotions. When we bang our head, we may expect some pain at the location of the injury, maybe a slight headache, or even in severe cases some dizziness. What is harder for us to understand is that even a minor traumatic brain injury can cause changes in personality and emotions, either temporary or permanent.
At the risk of jynxing myself, I’m going to say “out loud” that I’m doing really well. I’ve been doing my breathing and sitting, first thing in the morning, and sticking with my morning routine. I have also started exercising in the morning again, riding the bike for 15 minutes and working up a sweat (so I can move some of the autumn cold gunk out of my system), and then taking time to have my breakfast.
It’s feeling really good. Really solid. And it’s wild, because I feel more stable now than I have in a long time. I really think it has to do with my breathing — balancing out my whole system before I get into my day.
It’s working. There have been a lot of big changes happening, and I have been a lot more stable and a lot less susceptible to my moods, since I started doing this breathing regularly.
I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to maintain this consistently, but the benefits are amazing enough, that I’ve got plenty of reason to do just that.
Probably one of the most annoying things about TBI is the power and speed with which moods can change. You’re going along, doing your thing, and all seems well. But all of a sudden, you’re flipping out – for no reason that anyone can tell.
Our TBI Flies have something to say about this. Meet Jenny, a perfectly normal, nice gal who has a bit of a mood swing problem.
Green seems to think it’s cool that Jenny’s happy again – “so long as she’s happy” right?
Not necessarily. It’s important to understand why folks get bent out of shape with TBI. Depending on the person — and this is not true for all TBI folks — anger can become rage and rage can escalate to violence with the kind of speed that will make your head spin.
Green Fly above seems to think it’s all a convenient excuse for bad behavior. Green obviously doesn’t know a whole lot about TBI-related anger.
You see, anger comes with TBI for a number of reasons, the big one being that pesky constant restlessness that takes over your brain, as though all our synapses were on high alert, looking for a new way to make the connections it was used to making before the injury. That constant restlessness can lead to fatigue — our brain is something like 2% of our body’s weight, but it consumes 20% of our body’s energy. And when we get fatigued, TBI folks can get irritable.
When you get irritable, if you interpret that as that there’s something wrong with you — you’re defective or flawed or a bad person — it can mess with your mind and make you do and say things you would normally not do. It can make you mean. It can make you cold. It can make you aggressive. That sick, sinking feeling that you’re behind and you’re just not going to be able to catch up… that sick, sinking feeling that you’re damaged beyond repair and you’ll never be the person you once were… that sick, sinking feeling that you and everyone around you is completely screwed and you will never be able to dig yourself out of the hole you’re in… that can make people do some pretty desperate things — including lash out at the people around them, doing and saying whatever the hell comes to mind, regardless of any consequences.
When you think you’re damaged beyond repair, you think you don’t have a lot to lose, so you can sometimes do and say things that will cause you to lose the things that mean most to you — love, respect, dignity, grace under pressure — and each episode of high drama chips away at the inner reserves you have, till you end up walking around like a shell of the person you once were.
The people around you may not realize it, however. They may not see any reason to think you’re any different than you were before, and so they react to your outbursts with understandable irritation and puzzlement. And when they don’t factor in what’s going on inside of you, it can be easy to consider them stupid in their own right(s) and treat them like the blind idiots you know they are. They’re so blind, they can’t see what’s going on with you, and they earn your contempt, through and through, by simply treating you like you’re capable of dealing with things like you did before you got hurt.
It’s a vicious cycle that I believe contributes to the downward spiral that can often accompany TBI. Even mild traumatic brain injury can result in this dynamic — sometimes it’s even more likely, than if there was a severe injury, because people outside your head literally cannot tell that there’s anything amiss with you. And they may vehemently deny that you are any different than you were before, or that you’re any different than everyone else around you.
This kind of dynamic is all too common. But it’s somewhat preventable. Keeping chilled out and rested and learning to handle your anger is an important step in this. Also, realizing that everything you feel isn’t necessarily true. And sometimes the things you feel most strongly are the ones that are farthest off the mark. In my case, the more extreme the mood swing, the less likely it is to have merit. The most intense, drastic fluctuations in my moods are clearly neurologically fed, not psychologically justifiable. And the better I am at dealing with the flares of emotion that come out of nowhere — accepting them for what they are, but not feeding them any energy — even ignoring them, if at all possible — the better off I am.
Of course, when I’m tired and stressed, the chances of me being able to do that drop pretty sharply.
So, it’s important to pay attention up front to what’s going on, so you don’t create the kinds of conditions that lead to rage:
Telling yourself stories about yourself that convince you you’re damaged and inept and worthless
Telling yourself stories about yourself that convince you that they are idiotic wastes of space who don’t deserve courtesy or respect
Continuous stress that you feed, in order to keep the steady supply of stress hormones pumping so you feel “sharp”
Keeping an eye on things can go a long way towards helping. Of course, you can always laugh at yourself, too. Not ridiculing or belittling, but understanding that this too shall pass, and there’s no point in getting completely BENT over stupid shit that is gone almost as quickly as it appeared.
Had a great trip down to see family, this past weekend. Truth to tell, I was a bit apprehensive about it all – there was a LOT of driving involved, and multiple family units, some of whom I have not seen in decades (not all of them friendly, the last time we spoke)… all on top of a seemingly unsustainable lack of sleep. Between the driving and visiting and events, there was simply no way I could have gotten 8 hours each night.
And sure enough, I didn’t.
But it all turned out alright, in part because I was prepared for it. I knew I was going to be tired. I knew I was going to be “behind” on my sleep. And I monitored my behavior pretty closely for the duration, to make sure I didn’t get ahead of myself and start down a road that would mess up my whole trip.
Only twice did I get out of hand – once when my siblings kids were disobeying their parents and doing something that was potentially dangerous, and my siblings were not pro-active at all and didn’t get them in line for their own safety. I spoke up sharply, and I think I scared the kids. But it kept them out of danger. And my siblings got a little miffed that I said anything to the kids. That kind of threw me a little bit, because in years past we’ve had a lot of confrontations where I acted out and was pretty aggressive with people around me, and they all remember that — all too well.
So there was the old “vibe” about “BB is up to their old tricks again – they just can’t be trusted in polite company – just a bad seed” that I had to work so hard to overcome in my mind over the years. It threw me for a couple of hours that morning, but then I went to lie down for a nap, had a little rest, and then I got up feeling a little better. But when I joined everyone else, I was still out of sorts, and I had an argument with my spouse that got very tense. They were also on edge, because my family can be very demanding and judgmental and pretty rough on everyone, and my spouse has never been comfortable with that level of harshness in family settings. They think that family should unconditionally support one another, while my family thinks that it’s the family’s duty to find fault with and correct each others’ “flaws”.
So, we had a bit of a squabble that day. We weren’t the only ones, though. My siblings were all having trouble with their spouses, and at various points, they were all split off in different rooms, having “talks” to sort things out.
But at least we did.
So, things actually went okay, for the duration of the trip. And I had some good conversations with family members.
One thing I noticed, however, is that my “flashpoint” is higher than it used to be, but it’s more powerful. The things that used to always set me off with my family didn’t affect me as much as they used to, but when they did hit, my reaction to them was much stronger than in the past. In the past, the discomfort and issues would simmer in the background and be like this sub-text of my experience. Now, however, they just bubble right up to the top and explode. Not as extremely as they used to, when I was a kid, but still…
Just ask my spouse. It’s a wonder I didn’t threaten divorce in the course of our conversation. I thought about it. Seriously. And I was prepared to go through with it. But when I gave myself some time to simmer down and chill out, I saw how ridiculous I was being. I wish I could say I had a good laugh about it, but it bothered me. I knew I was being stupid and ridiculous, but it wasn’t amusing to me. It was bothersome.
So, in the after-hours since getting home late-late-late last night, I’m looking back at the weekend, choosing how I will think about it. I could choose to focus on those two stages of a near-meltdown and think the whole time was ruined by them. Or I could focus on all the really great times I had with people I haven’t seen in years, who genuinely care about me and were very loving and engaging, despite my troubled past.
I feel in a lot of ways, as though my life with my extended family has “resumed”. For many years, I kept my distance from them because I had so many troubles communicating with them, and I felt like I was always getting turned around — and that really upset me. People in my family “knew I had problems” but they didn’t understand why that was, and they often didn’t treat me well. So, I kept my distance. Or when I was with them, I didn’t come out of my shell very well.
I was literally a captive of my perceptions of myself. I felt like I was too “problematic” for them, and they probably picked up on that and treated me accordingly. I sort of have this reputation in my family as being a bit of a loser — plenty of potential, but somehow lacking the moral fortitude to do anything with it. That reputation has dragged me down so very much, and in the past, I didn’t have much hope of interacting well with them, so I never gave myself a chance to just be who I was with them.
That has changed dramatically, however, in the past several years. Working with my neuropsych, they’ve just about convinced me that I’m not profoundly, mortally flawed and an intermittent danger to myself and others. I’ve been learning to give myself a chance around people, engaging with them, striking up conversations and interacting in healthy, productive ways. And I’ve been really gingerly resuming contact with people who I’d steered clear of in the past.
Now, it hasn’t been easy going. It’s been touch and go, and I’ve actually backed off on a lot of social interactions that I once had. I’ve stepped away from a lot of old friendships and acquaintances, to keep myself sane and centered. But sometimes I’ve distanced myself from people just out of laziness. And a desire to withdraw, isolate, and do my own thing without having to work with others. That has not been the biggest improvement in my life.
And yet, it serves its purpose. When it comes time to interact with people, I’m far less depleted. I am aware of my challenges, and I take proactive steps to deal with them. Being aware helps. So long as it doesn’t hold me back. Fortunately, this past weekend, it didn’t hold me back very much, aside from a few blips in the road.
I would like to get to a point where I can freely interact with people, connect, and just have a conversation… eventually building up friendships. I’m not quite there, yet. I think this is one way I’ve slid back over the past few years, while I’ve advanced in other ways. I think I’ll get there, eventually. Maybe sooner than later. But I’m not quite there yet. Sometimes I get down on myself, thinking I should be farther along. These things take time, though. It will come.
I guess this is just how it is… Steps forward, steps back. TBI is never easy, and it has its share of surprises. I’ll count my blessings that I had such a good weekend and such a good time with my relatives. Right now, that’s what counts.