Done worrying about stuff — for the time being

man and woman jumping for joy on a beach

It’s Friday. Woot.

Ha – that’s pretty much of an ingrained response, just one of my habits that usually serve me well. Today, I don’t actually have a lot of reason to say “Woot!”, because this day is no different than most of the days of the past week. I haven’t been working my a** off all week, so I don’t have a ton of reasons to be jumping for joy.

It’s another day. But come to think of it, that in itself is worth a “Woot!”

I’ve got some appointments this afternoon, and then we’ll get some Chinese food and watch a movie. Nice and drab. Boring is lovely. Not a lot of drama. Just taking care of business. Maybe I’ll have a nap later, probably I won’t. That’s fine. Because I’ve been catching up on my sleep, and I don’t have a very busy day today.

At all.

Woot.

Yeah, thinking about my day, it’s pretty sweet. I have time this morning to catch up with some reading and writing, and just putter around the house. I’ll contemplate my life, think about the coming New Year, maybe take care of a few little things here and there, and get the ball rolling this afternoon.

Check the news… read some websites I’ve started following… and not worry about much at all.

And this is actually a slight change for me, since I’ve been a bit anxious over the past few days. Plans didn’t work out, or I got stir crazy, or I forgot to call people I promised to call… A while series of little annoyances set me off, and since all the Christmas activity wore me out more than I expected, the fatigue got the better of me.

But today is different. I’m just kind of hangin’ out. I’ll make those calls I forgot earlier, and I’ll go pick up the neighbor’s mail from their mailbox while they’re out of town for the next few days. Just get myself sorted and situated and settled. Enjoy the day, don’t make a big deal out of stuff… just kind of roll along and listen to some music I love. It’s not every day I get the chance to just chill out, so I’m taking advantage.

Looking back on the last year, I see I’ve spent way too much time worrying about stuff. For sure. It worked itself out, even though I was so focused on individual details — losing sight of the big picture, and getting swamped in minutiae. Maybe it’s just me getting older… maybe it’s looking back with hindsight (not exactly 20/20, but close)… maybe it’s just a shift in my priorities and interests… but I’m a lot less concerned with stuff outside my immediate control, than I used to be.

There’s only so much I can control or influence. I can certainly try, but my abilities are, of course, human, so…

The best thing to do is really take care of myself and figure out how I can make stuff work for myself. The rest of the world will figure itself out. Or it won’t. Either way, my life goes on.

And on.

And on.

Woot.

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Tending to my present… Kick-starting my future

road leading into the distance, with country landscape surrounding it

Well, that sounds dramatic. And I suppose it is.

Taking care of the present sounds so formal. It seems common-sense. And I suppose it is. But we live in a non-sensical world, these days, so it’s a lot more difficult than it seems like it should be.

Kick-starting my future is something I do — or don’t do — each day, with every choice I make. It’s a lot simpler than it sounds, and it’s a lot more complicated than it seems.

The thing is, we do this each and every day with the choices we make. We define our lives by our choices, and we further our plans with our actions. It’s not mysterious, it’s not magical. One thing leads to another, then another, then another. And all along the way, we have the chance to change direction, even slightly.

If you’ve ever thrown a ball, you know how wide of the mark you can go, if you alter the angle of your arm just a little bit. The same is true of our lives. One slight change in “angle”, and you can end up in a very different place than you originally intended.

A “little” slip on some stairs… a “minor” bump on the head… and your life can change in that instant. You can find yourself waking up each day, not knowing where you are, exactly, or where you want to go. Or you may wake up each morning wondering why the heck you didn’t get to where you were going the day before.

The brain is an amazing thing, and it’s surprisingly easy to disrupt in life-altering ways. We constantly take it for granted, like electricity or hot-and-cold running water. They’re all supposed to just work, just be there. And when they don’t… when they’re not there, we’re thrown into a state of chaos and confusion that blocks our ability to deal with anything.

The thing is, we tend to get stuck at that place of chaos and confusion. Perhaps because brain injury “rehab” is big business, with plenty of facilities billing plenty of hours to insurance companies, we don’t see a wholesale rush towards figuring out brain injury the way we should have long ago. Too many facilities make their money from people in need of help, rather than getting people back on their feet, never to need them again, so where’s the impetus to properly serve the brain-injured population? There are lot of us, with over a million TBIs added to our numbers, each year in the United States, alone, so I’d expect someone, somewhere to figure out how to end the suffering and teach people how to get back on their feet.

But no.

Well, never mind. Because there’s nothing I can do about that. What I can do is share my own experiences for everyone who’s interested in actually doing something about their situation, rather than staying stuck in something that can actually get fixed.

We all need a good dose of reality, when it comes to brain injury. That goes for health care providers, as well as those of us who get hurt. The brain is highly vulnerable. And the ways it’s most likely to get hurt are ways that hit us where it hurts the most — in our executive functioning, in our ability to plan and follow through, in our accustomed patterns that fall apart and plunge us into a steady state of anxiety… which builds up over time and impairs our ability to heal over the long term.

When we understand the true nature of brain injury (and don’t just get caught up in recycled notions that came from investigations done back in the infancy of brain research), we can also see that it is survivable.

We can — and do — recover from brain injury.

No one can take that from us. No one. Not any of the “experts”, not any of the scientists or neuropsychologists or psychiatrists.

The thing is, “recovery” means more than just restoring prior functionality to the injured brain. ‘Cause people, once the connections in your brain are disrupted, they stay that way. You can’t rewire broken connections. But we can — and do — create new connections that may function a little differently, but are still every bit as useful (sometimes more useful) than the old ones. And ironically, in my case, I find that some of my new connections are much, much better than my old ones, because I formed them with more life experience than before.

What we’re recovering is our personhood. Our dignity. Our self-respect. Our individuality. I think the brain injury rehab industry lacks an understanding of how much more important that is, than any level of physical or cognitive processing. People get hurt all the time. We break bones. We get cut up. We get smashed and smooshed and crushed. And then we recover. We may not have full range of use after we heal, but we get on with our lives. We may limp along or not be able to reach over our heads to get stuff or have to stop shoveling our own snow, but that doesn’t keep us from living our lives.

Same thing with brain injury. We may not restore our brains to their former glory, but we can adapt. Losing certain brain functionality is not the problem with TBI recovery. It’s losing our Sense-Of-Self that does a number on us. It’s the panic that sets in when we find ourselves doing things that are “unlike us”. It’s the repeated little shocks of being surprised by one thing after another that didn’t used to surprise us. It’s the gradual disappearance of our friends and family who used to know us as one person, but can’t adjust to the new person we’ve become. That loss of the Self, that erosion of security about who we are… that’s the biggest hurdle to overcome with TBI.

Because if you don’t deal with that, your functional recovery is going to lag. Brain injury recovery is a re-learning process. It’s all about re-training the brain. And if you’re totally stressed out over everything, you can’t learn properly.

It’s that simple. And it’s that complex.

And it doesn’t need to be the big-a** mystery that we make it out to be, because it has to do with the braaaaiiinnnn.

Brain injury recovery is a matter of living your life. Learning to live your  life. Teaching yourself how to get on with things, when everything looks different, feels foreign, and doesn’t square with how everything used to be.

It’s about choice. Action. Reaction. Learning. Adapting.

And when we tend to our present, choosing to learn from each and every conscious moment, we move ourselves towards a future of our own making.

As the current year winds down and the new year approaches, I hope you can own that, yourself, and — whether your brain is injured or not — take responsibility for a future you can absolutely positively make up as you go along.

Looking back, looking ahead… and trying to get some sleep in the meantime

rowboat at docks

I have been meaning to get more sleep, during this vacation. I’m able to take naps in the afternoon, which is great. I just can’t seem to get to sleep at a decent hour (before 11:00 p.m.) Part of the problem is that I just don’t want to go to sleep earlier than 11:00. I’ve got an internal clock that tells me when it’s time to sleep, and it generally doesn’t kick in till 10:45 or so.

It’s a little nerve-wracking. But I do it to myself, putting all kinds of pressure on myself to go to sleep, when I’m not really feeling that tired. And then getting up at my regular time, which lately has been anywhere between 5 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. So, I’m not always getting a full 7.5 – 8 hours, like I need to. And then I wake up irritated, because I can’t sleep through.

It’s an ongoing problem, especially during this vacation.

Well, my life is structured very differently now than it is when I’m working. I’m still doing my morning exercise, which is crucial. I’m actually doing  better with it than usual — getting both my bike ride and the weight lifting done. I just don’t move enough during the day. I move more, when I’m at the office, because, well, I’m at the office. I have to go to meetings. I have to get my lunch on the ground floor. I have to make trips to the water cooler as well as the restroom. It gets me up and around, while being at home — where everything is within easy access and just a few steps away — keeps me sedentary. Heck, I can even work while sitting/lying on the sofa, which sounds great, but is a bit of an occupational hazard.

Anyway, it’s the end of the year, and I’m kind of out of sorts. Feeling like I’m drifting, cut loose from my moorings a bit… feeling like I fell asleep in a rowboat that was tied to a dock, and then I woke up finding myself drifting out in the ocean, with the dock in the distance. The thing is, although the distant docks look familiar, and that’s where I expected to wake up, I can also see other sights in the distance.

Cities I didn’t know existed before.

Distant piers and jetties that look every bit as interesting as what I’ve known before.

Busy industrial ports that hold mysteries within their iron fortresses

And secluded beaches to explore.

Different sorts of places where people live, work, and go about their business, which are both foreign and fascinating to me.

And lighthouses to guide me along the way.

Lights… sights… sounds… And a whole world of choices out there.

When I actually have some time to catch up with myself, I can see so many more possibilities. And it’s invigorating.

But it’s also a little depressing. Because I spend so much of my time in recovery mode, just trying to right myself in the very wrong world, that I don’t have as much time as I’d like to just kick back and relax into finding out What’s Next.

I look around me at my life… And I see so much more beyond my present situation. And I also see that the resources I have at my disposal are, well, limited. I’m not complaining. I’m just saying. I don’t have all the energy in the world, and I don’t have all the patience to match it. I want to cut to the chase and get on with my life, to the best of my ability. And after all these years of really working on my TBI recovery and firming up my Sense-Of-Self, I’m finally at a point where I have a reliable idea of how “I” am going to react and behave under certain circumstances.

That’s the biggest, hairiest, most dangerous part of life after TBI — losing your Sense-Of-Self. It erodes your self-confidence. It crushes your self-respect. It makes every situation into a danger-fraught series of surprises that threaten everything you care about. And then the real trauma of TBI sets in.

I really believe that the biggest trauma in mild traumatic brain injury comes after the injury itself. There’s a steady stream of “micro-traumas” which stress out our systems and add to the fight-flight biochemical load. And unless we learn how to manage our fight-flight overload and learn how to clear out the neurochemical gunk of all that ongoing stress, mild TBI continues to take its toll. It continues to haunt us, to tax us, to load us up with invisible burdens that nobody else understands, but which are very, very real.

If you really understand the physiology of trauma (and not a lot of people know about it, let alone understand and fully appreciate it), and you understand the profound change that even a “mild” TBI brings to your entire system, all of this makes sense. You know that the subtle changes to how your system works are disorienting and anxiety-producing. You know that the body’s mechanisms for protecting itself are working overtime post-TBI, and they’re kicking in, in the most unlikely of situations. You know that the overall effect builds up, and you know that it’s cumulative.

You also know that while the effects may show up as a psychological disorder, the underlying basis is a combination of mind and body — and the body bears the burden of it all.

The thing about this whole deal is, because the body is involved, it’s possible to work with the body to turn that sh*t around. Even if your mind feels like mush (I’ve been there), even if you can’t remember what you did, just a few hours before (I know the feeling well), even if you can’t get through your morning without a detailed checklist (the story of my life for years), the body can act as a gateway to recovery.

Regular exercise helps stabilize your system. Eating the right foods (and steering clear of the wrong ones) helps your metabolism stay stable and keeps you off the blood sugar roller-coaster. Getting enough sleep lets the brain “knit itself back together”, as well as clear out the gunk that builds up, just as a result of everyday living. Plus, learning to regulate your heart rate and your blood pressure can train your overall system to get back to a stable state, even if everything feels like it’s falling apart around you.

I’m sipping the last little bit of my half-cup of coffee, as I write this. The snow from last night is giving way to freezing rain, which will fall until midday, when the temperatures start to rise, and regular rain falls. There’s always a chance that the ice buildup will take out our power, and that’s no fun. But I have wood for a fire in the fireplace, and we’ve been keeping the house pretty warm, so we’ll have some residual heat to see us through. In the past, we’ve had some pretty hair-raising experiences with losing power, and I don’t look forward to repeating them.

But I know a lot more now about keeping my physical system stable, and I’m in a much better place, mentally, than I’ve been in past years. So, I’m at much less risk than before. And knowing that relieves the pressure and also reduces the risk of my “losing it” even moreso. And that’s good. It’s awesome.

So, where was I… I’m kind of meandering, this morning, as I try to get my bearings. I’m looking back at the last year, wondering if all the effort really paid off the way I wanted it to. I’m not sure it has. Some things I started have kind of stalled. And other things I wanted to continue with have floundered, as well. In some ways, I’ve been as diligent as ever. In my day job, for example, I’ve been invested and involved in ways that have actually paid off. When I think of all the other jobs I screwed up since 2004 (and even before that), it’s kind of depressing.

So, I won’t think about them. I’ll focus on the good.

And as I look forward to my future, I see a much simpler — but much more do-able — path ahead. I’ve let go of a lot of old activities that were busy-work I picked up for the sake of pumping up my tonic arousal (the state of wakefulness in your brain) and getting my system turned “ON”. I had a handful of websites I wanted to start, a number of business ventures that seemed promising, apps I wanted to build, and novels I wanted to write. That extended experiment in busy-ness went on for 10 years or so, and it just didn’t work out, so I’ve now narrowed my focus to a few particular activities, which will actually lead somewhere.

Heck, they’ve already started to pay off. And taking the pressure off myself to go find another job… yeah, I’ve let that one go. Yes, traveling for work every few months really takes it out of me, but there’s no guarantee the next job won’t be just as much of a pain in the ass. Plus, it’s too stressful to go changing jobs every few years. I used to thrive on that experience, but now it’s just a pain in the ass. I need to look for the good in things and tweak the things that I’ve got going on… not ditch them and go looking for something better, somewhere else.

So, I guess I’ll wrap up my ramble. My morning is in free-flow, so I’m just letting my mind wander as it will, for the time being. I got my grocery shopping done yesterday. I got my meals for today prepared yesterday, too. I can’t go out and do anything, because the roads are bad. There’s no need to go anywhere, anyway. I’ll just hang out for the day… drift… make a fire, perhaps, and catch up on my reading.

And write a bit more. Because I can. I’ve got the time and the opportunity. So, yeah…

Onward.

Back in the swing of things

So, it’s Monday, and I have to say I’m relieved. This past weekend was kind of sh*tty, and I didn’t get much of anything done that I had planned, which is a bit of a problem, because I have a lot of things I need to get done, and I had two whole days to do them.

Oh, well. Next…

It’s always interesting, seeing how my best-laid plans turn out. I mean, I had the whole weekend choreographed within an inch of its life, and then Friday I flared out and spent the weekend feeling like crap, fighting with my spouse, recovering, and just trying to feel like an normal person again.

Now it’s Monday, I’m back in the swing of things, and I’m actually feeling better — even though I am still foggy and dull and not nearly as sharp as I’d like to be.

The thing is, during the week, there’s all this energy, all this activity. And on the weekends, there’s not. It’s a massive disconnect, and I think that’s what makes me sick — just not being able to keep moving. My spouse has a lot of issues with my “energy levels” — they say I make them anxious, and I’m “too kinetic”. Yah, well, whatever. Kinetic gets the bills paid, you know?

At the same time, they do have a point — I do push myself too hard at times, and I burn out. That is my doing, and it’s the result of me not taking sufficient breaks and not allowing myself sufficient recovery time to come back from my flurries of activity. I need to do a better job of that, and I’m working on it.

One other piece of the puzzle, though, is how much my spouse has slowed down over the past years. They’re a few years older than me, but they act like they are a LOT older than me. We each have very different ideas about lifespans and quality of life — they are convinced that they’re going to live only a few more years — as long as their parents (who both died years sooner than they should have) — and at the same time, they’re terrified of dying. I, on the other hand, believe I’m going to keep going for decades to come, and my main concern is keeping myself mentally sharp and active and able to be involved in my life for the many coming decades. So, I’m ramping up at the same time my spouse is slowing down.

Total disconnect. It’s pretty tough to see someone so close to you, who has been such an integral part of your life for the past 25 years, just giving in to the hype and giving up hope of anything different happening. They say they don’t want to die, and they say they want to live a long time, but they actually don’t act like it. Actions speak louder than words, and their actions say they’re getting ready to pack it in and pass on. The bitch of it is, at the same time they’re doing less for themself, I’m required to do more.

Yet another reason to keep my strength up and keep fit. I can’t imagine the next 10-20 years with them (if we have that long) is going to be a cakewalk.

Well, anyway, what can you do? I’m just glad the weekend is over, and I can get back to my regular routine, taking care of what needs to be taken care of.

I did my warm-up exercises this morning — some weight lifting and some balance work and some coordination footwork. I’m focusing less on building strength and endurance with extended workouts and focusing more on warming up, feeling good, moving, and getting in the swing of things. Waking myself up, and feeling good at it, too. Just moving. Getting the blood pumping and getting a bit out of breath. Pushing myself a little bit, and then giving myself a chance to recover.

I’ve got my list of things I need to do, and I started on one of them this morning. Having my list makes things so much easier — I don’t have to keep things in my head, and I can put everything in perspective by seeing it all on paper in front of me.

That helps. When I try to do it alone without any tools or props… look out.

Speaking of looking out — the day is waiting. Gotta get a move on and see what the day has to offer.

Onward