Another Simple Day

Back to basics

Well, I simplified my day yesterday, and no animals were harmed in the process.

I went back to sleep in the morning and got another couple of hours rest, then after I woke up, I laid in bed and checked in with friends on my smartphone. If it weren’t for my job, I would not have a smartphone. I don’t have the money to have one of my own, I don’t generally see the need for them, and I’d just use my computer for Facebook and email and whatnot if I didn’t have one. But the smartphone makes it so much easier to keep in touch – especially via FB. So, I do. When I need to.

Even when I don’t need to, I am getting in the habit of reaching out, just to stay connected with people. Usually, I keep to myself and isolate. A lot. But having social media makes it easier for me to keep in touch. I also have made a point of taking out the “friends” on FB who drag me down, are negative and whiny, and I’ve liked a bunch of positive motivational pages, as well as amazing pictures pages, so I have a steady stream of optimism and encouragement and downright beauty in my life on a regular basis.

It really is addicting, the beauty and joy. In the best of ways. Whenever I’m feeling down and lost, I check in with FB, and the pictures of nature or the positive sayings lift my spirits. If nothing else, they get me out of my own head, which is a dangerous place to be.

I’m feeling better this morning than yesterday. It was a little rough at first, but I got myself up, had some breakfast, moved around a bit, had some vitamins, a warm drink, and some Advil. Now I’m working on my cup of coffee, slowly… thinking about how I want the rest of my weekend to be.

I was feeling incredibly low, on Friday night. Just burnt out and wiped out from drama at work and how hard it has been to actually connect with other job opportunities. This is a tough job market, if you don’t have easy-to-plug-in skills or a degree, and that’s me. I have been doing what I do for a long time, but I’m not some easy-to-pin-down, cookie-cutter worker bee anymore. And I don’t have a degree and all sorts of certifications, so that disqualifies me in the running, from the get-go.

I was reading an article last week, about how the automation of job searches is passing over some really great candidates. I think I’m falling into that category, and I suspect that I’m getting passed over because I don’t list any degrees on my resume. The thought has occurred to me to just make something up and lie about my qualifications, to get past the automated “gatekeepers”. People would probably believe me, too. But with my luck, I’d get caught. And anyway, I can’t live with that hanging over my head.

All that thinking and reading about how bad things are didn’t actually help me. And it really dragged me down. I get locked into one way of thinking a lot, which is not good, and then I get stuck. It’s worse when the one way is depressed and suspicious and anxious.

So, I broke it up yesterday and got out and did things. I wrote down a lot of my frustrations and got them out of my head and onto paper, and that made me feel much better. Then I took care of some chores and just tended to the day-to-day, and that felt better, too. I moved, I took action, and I did a few things for my Big Project last night, that I’ve been meaning to do. It felt good to finally check them off my list.

By the end of the day, yesterday, I was feeling much better. In spite of simplifying my day, I got a lot done, and I made steady progress. And I even had time to watch a little television before I went to bed.

An interesting thing happened last night as I was getting ready for bed. I looked outside, and it looked like it was still evening, with the sky still light and the world around me still lit up. I could hardly believe it — it was nearly midnight, and it looked like it was 4 p.m.

I went downstairs and walked out on the back deck, and the full moon was bathing the whole world in a bright silver light. It was much milder last night than it’s been in weeks, and the stars overhead were phenomenal. So, I pulled on a couple of layers, got my hat and gloves and a flashlight, and I went for a walk.

The evening was so quiet, the roads were empty, and the moonlight was just amazing, flooding the world with silver light. Everything was lit up, and shadows of great trees sprawled across the road in sharp, craggy relief. Outdoors it was totally silent, except for the sound of distant traffic and the rustling of little creatures under the autumn leaves in the woods along the road. It was as though the whole world were there for me alone, with all my neighbors either tucked in and lights-out for the night, or staying up late with all their house lights on.

What an amazing walk it was. I wanted to keep going, but I was really tired and I hadn’t had a nap yesterday. I needed to get back, and not so far off in the distance, I could hear coyotes calling. So, it was probably best that I head back. The coyotes in this area don’t usually bother people, but why take a chance of surprising them at midnight.

Back home, I could feel myself so much more relaxed after my walk. Just having the silence and the space and the room to move — all under the brilliant moon and stars — what a gift it was.

Which brings me around to the topic that has been on my mind a lot, lately — gratitude. I’ve realized that with all the changes at work and all the reorganizational challenges, I’ve lost sight of the good that’s come with the changes. There are a number of things that have gone away, that we’ve lost — a lot of autonomy and freedom to move and make our own decisions, as well as the amazing commute that was a real blessing when I had it. In the midst of seeing all the things that are wrong, I’ve lost sight of the things that are right.

A part of me has been stubborn about admitting that some things are right, because part of me thinks that will validate the stupidity that seems to reign supreme, and somehow make it alright. It’s not alright, and there are some serious issues at play in that place, but when I focus on the bad, it blinds me to what good I can find. And it drains me. It doesn’t only hurt the company (which many folks at work would actually like to hurt), it also hurts me. It saps my energy, it taints each and every day with bilious resentment, and it makes the already difficult things that much harder to handle.

And that will never do. So, I’m finding a new way of approaching thing — Seeing the bad (the awful, actually) and seeing how it can lead me to something new and different. There are so many different options available to me — new paths to explore, new ways of interacting, new ways of working, new projects — why get dragged down by the sh*t, when I can be looking to a new way, a new approach, a new chapter of my life?

Indeed, the fact that things are so bad right now, can actually make my life better. I can see them for what they are, not fight and resist and resent them, but simply see them for how they are — plain and simple. I don’t need to complicate matters with all sorts of mental gymnastics that keep me locked in place because I’m gyrating through all kinds of emotional drama. I can simply — very simply — see things as they are, accept that they suck, objectively move on to what is next in my life, and be grateful that they provided the impetus for me to do more with my life.

It is taking me a long time to move along to what’s next, but maybe that’s for the best. Maybe I have not been thinking about things as expansively as I should be. Maybe I have not been considering all the options in front of me. Maybe I really do need more time – and I need to stretch.

These are all things that have been rattling ’round in my head for some time, now. Plain and simple, I’m in a kind of a holding pattern, and I need to find ways to use this time wisely. I’m not sure that making myself more “plug and play” is the answer — I’m capable of more than that, and being slotted into a cookie-cutter position is not going to do it for me.

The thing I also need to remember is that I have a number of different projects in the works, and some of them are really taking off. So, if I start a new job, that’s going to suck a lot of time and energy away from my overall “supplies.” Yes, it will stress me and “wake me up” and make me feel alive again, but long-term, this is not sustainable, and it’s a recipe for eventual pain and suffering.

So, simplify, simplify. Keep things basic and focus on the fundamentals. Apply myself in intelligent ways, and don’t get caught up in distractions that feel like they’re “taking the pressure off” when they’re just distracting me and interfering with what I should really be doing.

When I think about it, I have plenty to keep myself occupied, plenty to add meaning and purpose to my life. I can let the job situation just BE, for a while, focus on other things, and think about where else I want to go with my life.

It’s all good. I just need to stop complicating things for the sake of the drama adrenaline rush, and let myself be grateful for what I have.

It’s not all about what I’ve lost. It’s also about what I’m gaining.

And another simple day is waiting.

So, onward.

Beyond the stigmas of brain injury

I’ve been thinking a lot about why I keep this blog. Someone who’s been a reader here for a while has commented that I spend too much time over-analyzing and thinking about brain injury, and that I should just be thankful for what I have, live my life and get on with it.

That’s been a challenge for me to digest, probably because there’s some truth to it. It’s partly true that I do spend a lot of time thinking about brain injury and how it affects me, and sometimes it keeps me from just living my life. At the same time, one of the driving forces behind keeping this blog is the deafening silence out there about brain injury, from a personal point of view. When I first came to terms with the fact of my history of TBI, it was all but impossible to find *anything* personal about TBI — there were just a bunch of “scientific” sites, many of which were selling or promoting something — with objective, impersonal information.

And I felt completely alone.

I still feel alone, but a lot less so, since I’ve been blogging about TBI. Something about just writing this all down and putting it out there, is not only cathartic but also helps me put things in perspective. I don’t have many friends or social interaction outside of work — I get too tired to maintain friendships for any length of them. And I don’t keep in regular touch with my family, in part because they exhaust me with their attitudes and their choices and their drama.

More than anything, fatigue has changed the face of my life, since I fell down those stairs in 2004.

And there doesn’t seem to be any relief in sight.

But I digress.

One of the things that a few people are saying that I really agree with, is that it’s not concussion/TBI that’s the problem. It’s mismanagement of concussion/TBI that gets us in trouble.

The Concussion Blog is one of those places where this is talked about. The blogger/author there talks about management from the perspective of an athletic trainer. And I talk about managing TBI/concussion from the “inside” — the personal perspective of someone who is dealing with TBI on a regular basis. I do this because I want to demystify the world of concussion/TBI recovery and put human face on something that usually pulls people into the shadows to hide “until they’re better”, which doesn’t happen nearly as often as we’d like.

When it comes to TBI, there are tremendous stigmas attached. Not least of which comes from inside our own heads. We become different people. Our lives can be turned upside-down. It may look like there is no end in sight, and we can lose hope. Simple fact of the matter is, it is not easy, dealing with TBI, and that’s just a fact we need to accept and work with.

For many, this can be tremendously unsettling, and we may want with all our might to just put it behind us and get on with our lives, not worrying about what was before, but trusting that we will get the help we need as we go on. That help may be from within, from God, from family and friends, or from an agency or rehab. We don’t want TBI to stop us, and we want to just have the best life possible, without staring at our navels all day long.

For others, the many phenomena around TBI may be a source of fascination, even compulsion — some might say obsession(?). When something nearly takes you out, and it’s so big and undeniable, it can be a source of intense scientific interest. Sometimes people turn to studying the very thing that nearly killed them — like people who have close calls with snakes or sharks or other threats as kids, and then become scientists who study them.  I fall into that category — especially because I was raised around scientists and I grew up spending a lot of time with my grandfather, who was a college professor in natural sciences.

For other people, they may never be able to put TBI behind them, and they may struggle for years and years — alone, misunderstood, discriminated against, and marginalized… and never fully understanding why. It’s my hope that some of what I write reaches those people and helps them feel less isolated and alone. Life can be rough on all of us, and TBI folks especially.

The biggest problem that I can see is the isolation and the feeling that nobody understands you, nobody can help you, nobody gets it, and you’re just a freak who’s good for nothing. When you feel that way, it’s easy to let others marginalize you and mistreat you, which does not help your ability to self-advocate and get the help you need. And it just feeds the vicious cycle that pulls us into the progressive downward spiral of TBI. So things can get a lot worse, before they get better. If they get better at all. What happens inside our souls after TBI, can be even more harmful than what happens inside our heads.

So, if I come across as egotistical, self-consumed, and perseverating… it’s all in the interest of being real about my own condition. I don’t want over-analyzing TBI to stop me from living my life — and in fact, it doesn’t — but I also don’t want to pretend that everything is hunky-dory and there are no issues in sight. For years, I was totally focused on barrelling through all the hurdles along the way and leveling every barrier to my success. But lately, I’m just too tired to keep up that charge. And I’ve got to get real about my situation.

So, that’s it for today. I hope it has done someone somewhere some good.

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

First steps – next steps – one at a time

So, I’ve reached a milestone with my project — a big piece of it is done – and a few days before originally planned, which is great.

Now, I have more to do later today, but first I will take a break.

The wild thing is, there are a number of non-optional things I need to do – that’s right. Non-optional. Required. Time-sensitive. But I have a hell of a time getting them started. I can be a total head-case at times, which really only hurts me.

I know that. But I just can’t seem to start those things. I HAVE to answer emails from project teammates. I HAVE to get back to them with details and responses. But I avoid doing so like the plague. As though that’s going to help me.

So, to get started, I make a deal with myself — I will only answer ONE of the many people who have emailed me. Just ONE. No more. At least for starters. I will demand only that of myself.

The thing is, once I get going, and I get warmed up with answering that “one and only” person, then I actually feel like answering everyone else. And I start to enjoy myself, remembering the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction that comes from following up and making contact with people.

That is a huge stumbling block for me. I am just not comfortable with people a lot of the time. Even more-so, I am not comfortable with the prospect of dealing with people. That’s what stops me. The prospect. Once I get going, I feel so much better, I get into the swing of things, and I really enjoy myself.

But the dread… oh, the dread…

Some days, it is insurmountable.

Like yesterday. I had a bunch of people contacting me, needing feedback, but I focused on the other tasks I had, and I didn’t get back to them till this afternoon. Once I got going this afternoon, though, I realized just how much I enjoyed it, and I was sorry I hadn’t done it sooner.

No time to waste on regret, however. At least I did what I did, and I hope the results will be good.

So, yeah — in order to take many steps, I need to take the first. Just do that one thing. Just make a deal with myself to do ONE thing, and not require anything more. Make the rest optional — and then I will want to do it.

Weird, how that works. But at least it works.

Now, onward…

The magical learning loop

Look – learn – act – look – and learn again

Speaking of re-adjusting and recalibrating, I had an epiphany in the grocery store the other evening, when I was picking up supper after a long day of yard work. I was dog-tired from working, I was a bit banged-up from moving and lifting and hauling, but I felt great. As I was walking through the store, I was getting sort of confused, not being sure where I was or where I was going. No biggie. It happens. I get disoriented for a few seconds — usually because I’m overwhelmed with the bright lights and the activity around me and fatigue — so I stop what I’m doing, I take a few breaths, I look at my list, and I continue on. This happened several times, and after the 2nd or 3rd time, I realized that it really wasn’t bothering me. I was so friggin’ tired (I worked my ass off on Saturday and never got the nap I needed), and I was out of it and spaced out and disoriented and feeling like a zonked out zombie. But it didn’t bother me. I just dealt with it.

This is a huge change from how things used to be — I used to get so worked up and bent out of shape about this kind of stuff. I would get anxious and nervous, my heart would start to pound, my head would start to race, and I’d have all these crazy thoughts running wild in my brain. It would practically incapacitate me, and it just freaked me out. And in the process, things would get even worse than they already were. And I’d be even more disoriented, confused, and forgetful.

But yesterday it didn’t. It just sort of was what it was… I knew I was tired — and for a very good reason. I knew that when I get tired I get forgetful and spaced out. I also noticed that there were a lot of people around me who were in really crappy shape — the father who couldn’t keep his kids in line without yelling at them… the guy who was all over the produce section with his cart… the ladies who were so engrossed in the displays that they blocked the aisle with their carts and wouldn’t let anyone pass… everybody was sort of at their wits’ end — probably for the same reason I was — we’d all been working our asses off for the past two days, maybe longer.

At the same time, the folks who worked in the store were very cool. They greeted me like they knew me, even though I didn’t recognize them. Maybe I should have recognized them – I don’t know. All I know is that they were very pleasant and personable, and it’s always nice to have someone greet you and treat you like a decent human being.

I also noticed that I was really relaxed. I mean, really relaxed. I was tired, yes. I was out of my head, yes. But I was relaxed and chilled out and putting out a vibe of real confidence and calm. I was dropping stuff left and right, bumping into things, forgetting things, not knowing where I was or what I was doing, here and there. But it wasn’t bothering me. I just kept going. I just kept on keeping on.

And it worked.

Not only did I pick up all the supper items on my list, but I also remembered a bunch of other things we needed, and I came home with two full bags of groceries that we needed for the coming week. Score.

And then I went out and seeded my lawn — at least, that’s what I thought I was doing… until I realized that I’d bought fertilizer earlier that day, not seed. And I was going to miss the opportunity to seed my messed up lawn before the rain comes later this week. That really threw me for a loop – I had it carefully planned, how I’d rake up all the dead grass, then seed, and water, and then I would be done for a few days.

Except that I didn’t buy grass seed.

After getting a little tweaked over it, I let that go and just decided to fertilize my lawn instead. God knows, it needs it. So, I got out my spreader, gave my lawn a nice dose of fertilizer, and watered afterwards. It wasn’t a total waste, and in fact, it’s probably an even better idea than seeding right off the bat. I just picked up seed the next day, when I was less tired and could read and comprehend the labels on the bags — which was giving me a LOT of trouble at the hardware store the day I bought the fertilizer — I could hardly comprehend anything I was reading, and the words weren’t making any sense to me. But I got in and out without too much drama.

Anyway, this is something new for me — not only taking steps to avoid issues, but learning how to gracefully handle the times when issues are in my face and unavoidable. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been pretty focused on keeping bad things from happening. A huge amount of anxiety has followed me everywhere in life because of that. But now I’m getting the hang of not having the screw-ups really screw me up — just learning my lesson, dealing with what comes up, and getting on with the next thing.

Just keeping moving. Learning. Living. Using what I learn in that “learning loop” and taking things to the next step without missing a beat. Paying attention to the feedback that comes from the world around me and finding the pieces that will help me get to the next level — or just to the next step.

And trusting that I will be able to apply what I’ve learned in a way that makes things better the next time.

Beautiful day today

Uppsala, Sweden – I’ve never been there, but it’s a nice picture

And I got my exercise this morning, to move things around a bit in my cells and wake them up. It’s been a few days since I really exercised, and it feels good to do it. I’m tired, I’m behind on my sleep, and I have a big afternoon ahead of me, but at least I got my exercise in. That’s something.

I’m going to have to watch my energy again today — I need to make sure I do not get too overwhelmed. I’m going to a big picnic with some folks I work with, and I’m feeling a bit of anxiety and pressure over it. I usually just work-work-work with these folks, but today we’re going to relax and play. Who knows? It might actually turn out well.

But I’m concerned that I might get worn out by the experience and end up melting down tonight and taking it out on my spouse — which is what sometimes happens when I am socially active and expend a lot of social energy.

So, I’ll just have to pay attention. And if I get too tired and too turned around, I’ll just step away for a moment, breathe, and head back to the party when I feel better. I also don’t have to stay forever — we have some other plans for later this evening, so I have an “out”.

The main thing is to just enjoy the day. It doesn’t have to be a huge deal. I can just relax and enjoy myself. Who knows, I might even have fun…

The thing to remember is that I do have backup plans. I have coping strategies and tactics I can use. Breathing is a big part of it. Just breathing steadily and staying aware of what goes on around me. And not filling my head with all sorts of messages about not being able to handle social situations… not being able to make it through a day of activity without losing it.

I know my spouse is a little concerned, but I can’t let their concern stop me from trying again. They have social anxiety that’s even more pronounced than mine at times. Between the two of us… but today I need to focus on the positives, be grateful for this amazing weather, and just relax… and enjoy.

Taking it easy… really

I’m still a little rattled after my fall. It’s a little bothersome, worrying about this, but I don’t want to make light of it, while at the same time not blowing it out of proportion. I had thought about calling my doctor, but for what — falling out of bed? How lame.

One of the things that makes it more difficult is this thought that I don’t really have the ability to self-assess. That my brain is going to tell me the wrong things about what’s going on, and I may either over-do the vigilance, or overlook something that’s important.

I don’t want to go to either extreme. So, I’m taking the middle ground, and I’m doing my utmost to just use common sense about things and not get all bent over stuff that happens.

I have been a little clumsier since my fall. But I think that can be chalked up to having been shaken up. I am also a little more off balance because I jammed my shoulder and my neck is sore and stiff in ways it isn’t usually sore and stiff. So, my balance is a little off. I’m also a little stressed – not only because of the fall, but because of work, as well. I’m coming down to the wire on this project, and there are a million little details to keep track of, some of which come up at the last minute and take everyone by surprise.

On top of that, my company is relocating 30 minutes farther from home in a new building with (possibly) new organizational structure. There’s lots of change going on, and I need to keep up.

I really need to keep up.

In a way, it’s helpful that so much is going on. I can’t imagine having a lot of time on my hands to sit around and fret about falling. I have to stay focused and steady, which is keeping my head from running away with me. It keeps me from thinking that my jangled nerves are a sign of neurological damage, that my balance issues are about my head, instead of my shoulders and indeed the whole muscular off-balance of my upper body. It keeps me from getting carried away and telling myself it’s all downhill from here.

Good thing… I just need to get on with it.

Sometimes it helps to make a bit of a mess

I spilled water yesterday morning, while I was making my coffee. Twice. Oh, well. It was easily cleaned up. And when I did wipe it up, I also cleaned the counter, which had the odd spot and speck on it.

After the small pond had been sopped up, the whole counter was cleaner, and so was that corner of the kitchen.

I worked most of the day yesterday. Catching up with things I’d fallen behind on. I got an early start and worked through the evening, till late. I took a nap around 4 pm and then got up and go at it again.

It may sound like a lot to do, but it’s actually really relaxing. I actually got to sort out all the things I couldn’t get to during the week, for sheer lack of time.

I love my job. I really do. And it loves me — so much, that I’ve got this never-ending stream of things I love to do… that I need to do. It’s kind of a drag, having so much to do, that you can’t enjoy the things you’re taking care of, but that’s kind of where I’m at. Not much time to relax and recoup. Management has some odd (and fairly uninformed) ideas about what makes people effective. They seem to think that constant change and shifting priorities are exciting.

If you consider adrenal exhaustion exciting, then I suppose it is.

Anyway, I did get a lot done, and I got to do it at my own pace — thoughtfully, mindfully, with an eye on the larger picture. Good stuff. When all was said and done, I didn’t feel like I’d been working — just doing my thing and enjoying it.

I’ve got a new sleeping approach that’s working pretty well for me — not worrying about getting a full 8 hours (and stressing about it, if I don’t), but taking intermittent naps, and pacing myself with time-outs that let me deeply relax. I’ve also found some stretches and pressure points in my neck and lower back that seem to be like “switches” that put me into an incredible state of full-body relaxation when I do them. It’s pretty amazing. I do progressive relaxation at times, working from my toes to my head… but these stretches and points are like an instant shot of relaxation.

Amazing.

Another amazing thing is that I’ve realized that it’s not so much the lack of sleep that wrecks me, as it is stressing about lack of sleep. Getting all tense and uptight just wears me out even more. Of course, it’s not optimal to be running around on 6 hours of sleep each day — and running at a pretty fast pace, too, I might add. But I find that if I don’t stress over it, and I incorporate things like regular stretches throughout the day, as well as naps when I can get them, I can stay in a pretty good space.

When I tense up and get all tight, it actually drains more energy from me. Even with 8 hours of sleep, if I’m stressed and tight, I feel/do worse, than if I have 6 hours and relax into the day.

Mindfulness, too — I have to stay mindful and present and pay attention to what I’m doing. If I get 9 hours of sleep but am just driving myself mindlessly through the day, things have a way of getting completely screwed up. In fact, there’s something challenging about being fully rested. I get so amped up, I tend to overdo it.

Well, it’s all an adventure and an experiment. I got a lot done over the weekend, which makes me really happy. And I found some techniques for instant relaxation, which makes me even happier. I never thought it was possible to feel this good about such mundane things. But I do.

🙂

Because rust never sleeps

 

Tea catastrophe averted

 

I got a good lesson this morning. I managed to sleep in  till 8:15, with my earplugs firmly wedged in my ears and extra curtains pulled across the windows to block out the light. Even the birds that fill the trees around my house, clamoring for attention from each other and battling for position at the bird feeder first thing in the morning didn’t wake me up, as they often do, ’round about 6 a.m.

I’ve been feeling progressively more under the weather over the past few days, with my balance getting worse and worse and the headache starting up again. Work has been really good – very rewarding and satisfying. But it’s taken a toll, and when I got up this morning — without doing my usual breathing exercise (I did that at 4 a.m. when I was trying to get back to sleep) — I was feeling wobbly and out of it. I had to lean against the walls as I walked to the bathroom, and while I brushed my teeth, I had to prop myself up with one hand firmly on the sink counter.

I managed to get downstairs in one piece, and I made my breakfast slowly, deliberately. I took my time with it, taking care to not move too quickly and put myself off balance. In the past, when I was still dealing with the early years after my last injury, being off balance would send me into a panic and it would throw me off for the whole day, even before the day began. But since I’ve been making important changes in my daily life — including regular exercise — the panic has subsided considerably, and I’ve learned how to handle the sense of teetering on the edge of collapse without having my psyche collapse, too.

And that’s important.

So, anyway, after I had my breakfast, I decided to spend my day reading and writing and checking in with myself. The weather has been pretty wet, lately, and I can’t do much outdoor work. Plus, I’m not feeling well, and I would love to just spend the day reading, studying, and writing. Taking it easy, instead of taking care of everybody else’s business. I put some water in the electric kettle and fixed myself some fruit with crackers and goat cheese and went up to my study to settle in.

After a little bit, I realized I’d forgotten my trusty writing cardigan, and I went back downstairs to get it from the kitchen. While standing in the kitchen, looking around to see if there was anything else I’d forgotten, I heard an odd hissing sound. I went over to the kitchen counter and found my tea mug with a dry tea bag in it, and beside it was the electric kettle, hissing away, nearly all the water boiled out of it.

Now, the way the kettle has always worked in the past, is that when it gets low on water or reaches a certain temperature, it shuts off. This time, it did not shut off. So, I did. And when I looked closely at the heating element, it was showing signs of rust — perhaps from the intense oxidation from the coils evaporating off the water?

I kind of went into a tailspin about this. Yes, I know my alarm was disproportionate to the situation, but I got seriously upset by this and I started to beat myself up over having put water on and then walked away. I won’t write all the things that went through my head, because they are not the kinds of things I care to archive for posterity. Suffice it to say, for a few minutes this morning, I was not my best friend.

But then I realized I was pretty off the charts with my distress — how much would a replacement kettle cost? not very much, really — and it was more about me being absentminded and not paying close enough attention … no to mention feeling ill and “off” this morning. So I was wasting a lot of precious time getting bent out of shape over this. It’s turned out to be a beautiful fall day, and I have given myself permission to take time off to take care of myself. Why should I waste my time and energy beating myself up over a simple case of absent-mindedness that really anybody could have done, too?

Okay, so I established that it wasn’t worth wrecking myself over this oversight. And I realized that this electric kettle is not going to automatically turn off whenever it’s low on water, as I assumed. I would just get in the habit of A) putting more water in the kettle and B) not leaving the kitchen till it’s done heating the water, which takes all of maybe 30-60 seconds. Simple solution, right?

Well, what came up next was the burning question (and yes, I realize this sounds a bit neurotic, but I am not feeling well this morning) about what to do with the “extra” water that I wasn’t using for my tea? See, when I pour water in, I pour exactly as much as I need, so when it’s hot, I don’t have to check the level of liquid in my mug. I just know that I have exactly as much water as I need. If I heat more than I need, what will I do with the extra?

This was the hotly burning question in my fuzzy brain this morning (in the moment it seemed extremely important). I was all up in my head about the evils of waste and getting frantic about not having the exact amount of water I needed in the kettle, and having to gauge how much I was pouring in… and so on.

Ugh.

Then it occurred to me that having the extra water would come in handy for clearing the drain. I’ve been having some problems with the kitchen sink drain getting sluggish. My fix for it is to pour boiling hot water down, and that often works. So, this “problem” is actually no problem at all — in fact, it solves some problems, namely:

  • I need to slow down more in the morning, and this will help me do it.
  • I need to heat more water in the kettle, so it doesn’t fry the coils, and this will let me do that.
  • I need to periodically clear the drain with boiling water, and this will let me clear it daily, so the buildup doesn’t accumulate and become a bigger problem down the line.

So, there’s really no problem at all. Not anymore. But this morning, for about 15 minutes, I was going into a tailspin that threatened to wreck my entire day and set me down a spiraling path of upset — at the innocent electric kettle and at myself for getting so bent out of shape.

The electric kettle is forgiven, and so am I. I know full well that I am off balance, not feeling well, and I am spending an awful lot of cognitive energy just trying to keep myself vertical and not get hurt. I can cut myself a break, and just get on with my day and my recovery from the past week+ of hectic activity.

I’d better cut myself a break. Because rust never sleeps.

Neil Young reminds me of that constantly, while I’m driving to and from work. For some reason, radio stations in my area keep playing his music, and “rust never sleeps” is often what I hear him singing about. My, my,  hey, hey… It’s better to burn out, than to fade away… And this gets me thinking. Especially in the autumn, when the effusive growth of summer is giving way to frosts and withering and deadening, and the cycle of life turns to a cycle of death, my thoughts become, well, a little maudlin. The change of the season gets me to wondering “what’s it all about?” and “is this all there is?” and all manner of existentially angst-y ruminations. And my brain starts to perseverate and lock onto misperceptions and misconceptions and any number of irregular reasons to doubt my ability to live effectively in the world.

Some days, I suspect it’s due to the way my life turned in the course of my concussion-punctuated years. Each injury left a mark on me — a “ding” or two or three in the fuselage of my vehicle that didn’t exactly ground me, but kept me from achieving the heights I might otherwise have reached. I don’t want to blame the brain injuries for my ills — certainly, they have played a part, but they’re not the only reason I’ve had difficulties.

More than the traumatic brain injuries, in fact, I believe that the aftermath, the reactions, the later reactions of others and myself (which were based largely on ignorance about what brain injury does to the personality) and the meanings I gave to those reactions, had the biggest impact. And the time when I was actually recovering from the physical effects, I was sinking into a psychological morass of confusion, dread, insecurity, and the conviction that this temporary situation was permanent, totally screwed me up. After my injuries, my neuroplastic, adaptable brain was on the mend and finding new ways of doing the things I wanted to do, but because those new ways were different from the old ways — and therefore threatening and alarming to me — I discounted them and told myself they were WRONG and I should not be doing things the way I was doing them.

I had it in my head that the roundabout way I learned was Wrong.

I had it in my head that the way I communicated with people was Wrong.

I had it in my head that the way I structured my daily life — much more downtime than most people I knew — was Wrong.

I had it in my head that the choices I made about my social life — who I would and would not interact with — were Wrong.

I had it in my head that the choices I made about my domestic life — not having children and not officially getting married until 15 years into the settled, intricately entwined relationship — were Wrong.

Now, to be fair, there was an awful lot of social pressure to adhere to certain ways of doing things, so I had plenty of reinforcement for judging myself and my choices. And the rigidity of my upbringing didn’t help. But I suspect that the rigidity of my parents and wider social circles wasn’t the only reason I was so locked in, and so quick to judge myself. Indeed, I believe that the head injuries I sustained as a young kid (when I was about 4, then again when I was 7 and 8 ) predisposed me to an intense rigidity that locked out any alternatives to routines or “standard issue” behaviors.

The Brain Injury Association of New York State has a great little tutorial on Flexibility Versus Rigidity In Thinking And Behavior that I really like. (They’ve got a bunch of great material there, especially for teachers and parents of brain-injured kids.)

Here’s a snippet from the tutorial:

WHY IS RIGIDITY/INFLEXIBILITY IMPORTANT FOR SOME STUDENTS AFTER TBI?

Students with TBI or other neurological conditions sometimes demonstrate extreme forms of rigidity or inflexibility. Rigidity/inflexibility is often associated with damage to the frontal lobes, the most common site of injury in TBI. Therefore, some degree of inflexibility is common in students with TBI. This may manifest itself as difficulty (1) making transitions during the school day (e.g., from lunch or gym back to classroom work), (2) tolerating changes in schedules or everyday routines, (3) adjusting to changes in staff, (4) ending an intense emotional feeling, and the like. In extreme cases, a transition as apparently simple as from sitting to standing may be difficult and cause stress.

Related but not identical to inflexibility is the phenomenon of perseveration. Perseveration is a possible result of neurologic impairment and is characterized by continuation of the same behavior or thought or words or emotions after the reason for the behavior, thought, word, or emotion has passed or the thought or behavior is no longer appropriate to the situation. . For example, a student may remain focused on a given emotional behavior state long after the reason for that state has been forgotten.

This pretty much describes me when I was a kid, though today I’d have to say that emotional rigidity and perseveration is much more of an issue than cognitive. Cognitively, I can move on. But emotionally, I’m still stuck. I think that getting out in the world and holding down jobs and having gotten positive reinforcement in work environments has helped me cognitively. I’ve been able to really reap great rewards from using my head, and that’s encouraged flexibility and creativity. Emotionally, though, I get jammed up and stuck. That’s where I get rusty — stuck in place and wedged into an old pattern that doesn’t serve me or the people around me.

No, rust never sleeps. So, what do I do? Do I drive myself onward-onward-onward, in hopes of burning out before I fade away? Do I race at top speed through life and damn the torpedoes?

Um… No. Racing around and pushing myself are the very things that encourage rust. Like the super-heated coils in electric kettle caused the metal to rust, so does my super-heated life cause my system to lock up and show signs of wear. Maybe not in Neil Young’s case, but in my case, pushing for burnout is a sure route to rust. And I don’t have all the time in the world — I’m not getting any younger, and my window of non-fatigued time is significantly less than most people’s I know — so I just don’t have a lot of time to spare, cleaning up after myself when I crash and burn.

That’s no way to live.

What to do?

This is the eternal question, and it keeps coming around with me, no matter how much time I put between myself and my injuries. My first TBI probably happened when I was about 4 years old. And there were two more when I was 7 and 8 years old. More came over the years, including sports concussions and car accident mTBIs, for a total of at least nine separate instances of head injuries that involved some level of disruption of consciousness, followed by cognitive, behavioral, and physical problems.  I never got help for any of them, until about 3 years ago — just a lot of headaches (literally and figuratively) — and only in the past 3 years have I started to systematically and mindfully approach my issues with a focused desire to overcome them.

I’ve learned a lot about how to deal with the basic things — get my exercise regularly, eat right, get enough sleep, and check in with my neuropsych on a regular basis. But as the basic issues get resolved, the “higher level” questions emerge — as in, how to make the most of what life I have left, so that I can have the best life possible, whenever possible?

Ironically, the answer to this question has gone hand-in-hand with the answers to my most basic human needs. The answer is to just slow down and pay attention. For someone who is as driven as I am, it’s a tall order, and not that easy to do. But you know what? When I not only slow down but also pay very close attention to what I’m doing with myself and my life and my choices, many of my TBI related issues resolve.

When I slow down and pay attention to my physical fitness, my joint pain and headaches subside considerably.

When I slow down and pay attention to what people are saying to me, the problems I have with understanding and following clear up considerably.

When I quit going 150 miles per hour through every single day and pay attention to what I eat and how rested I am, my need to pump myself full of adrenaline and push past all sensible limits becomes far less pronounced.

Now, slowing down and paying attention is the sort of thing I’ve had to learn from scratch. A big driver behind my rushing is a constant low-level panic that simmers in my gut, day in and day out. It’s that constant restlessness, the constant agitation that comes with TBI. It’s my brain working overtime trying to find its way through the tangled networks that have developed over the years. It’s my body’s reaction to the intense energy needs of my very-active brain, and the low fatigue threshold I have.

Slowing down and paying attention has been closely connected with my exercise routine, taking the edge off my stress, finding outlets for the nervous energy, and clearing out the biochemical sludge that builds up after countless experiences of surprise/shock/dismay/confusion that come at me in the course of each day, when the things I expect to happen … just don’t… and I need to immediately adjust and move in a different direction to get where I’m going.

That surprise/shock/dismay/confusion is an ongoing situation for me, and it may never change. I may find myself spending the rest of my life realizing I was all wrong about something and needing to find another way to think/act/be. But at least I have my exercise to help me clear out the chemistry of those micro-traumas. And I have an understanding of that bio-cognitive action that lets me cut myself a break and not get all bent out of shape — for extended periods of time — over things that are either directly attributable to my brain having gotten a bit banged up over the years… or are long since over and done.

But even if I do spend the rest of my born days troubleshooting these kinds of cycles of pseudo-drama, I always have my fall-back, my comfort in the midst of the storms — the knowledge that slowing down and paying close attention to what’s going on around me, with heightened awareness and intense curiosity, can and will pull me out of my funks, can and will restore me to some sense of myself, can and will connect me to my life once more, in ways that running around at top speed never can and never will.

Rust may never sleep, but I don’t need to run from it. Ultimately, it’s not the quantity of life that staves off the debilitating freeze, the rust. It’s the quality. Cooling the hot elements, adding more water than I “need”, and just sticking with my life in all its aspects till I find some peace, some resolution, and I can make my tea… that’s what does it for me.

Now, what can I pay attention to next?

Be very, very careful

 

Warning Will Robinson!

 

Not long ago, one of my readers posted a comment about how important it is to be careful, so you don’t sustain a brain injury. Those words (at least, the gist of them, as I’ve since forgotten exactly how they said it) have stayed with me over the past day or so.

I have been working overtime a lot, having taken on a lot more responsibility that is a pretty big deal. And I have not been eating quite as well as I should be. I’ve been hitting the vending machines regularly — not insanely, chowing down on Skittles and Pop Tarts and Swedish Fish and all manner of sugar and chocolate. But I have been eating a chocolate bar a day, along with my beloved peanut M&Ms that keep me going (I need the protein).

At the time when I’ve been needing more sleep, I’ve been getting less. The Headache is back — not headaches but Headache — the long-lasting, perpetual one that doesn’t have any breaks and just keeps going to the point where I barely even notice it anymore. Except when I do. I’ve started to get the tactile sensitivity —  my clothes are hurting me — and light sensitivity and noise sensitivity. I’m kind of wired, as I’m sure you can tell. And in fact, it doesn’t take a whole lot to get me wired, so I’m feeling the burn, right about now.

On the bright side, I am functional. I’m able to do my work and get things done and interact with people at work. But that’s a downside, too. Because when I get like this, I tend to push myself and go faster than I should. And when that happens, I can get hurt. I’ve fallen down stairs a number of times in the past six months, because I was in a hurry. Nothing bad enough to injure me, but enough to rattle me.

I must be very, very careful. Especially because the BIGGEST symptom I’m having, which I neglected to mention above, is the vertigo. Dizziness. Crazy spinning head and the inability to turn quickly in any one direction, without my head going haywire. I am so dizzy,  I have to keep my back absolutely ramrod straight, or I start to lose my balance. Standing at the tops of stairs is interesting, too. And I have to hold onto walls as I walk along, or I tend to wobble and stagger like I’m drunk.

This sucks.

I can’t even close my eyes without the room spinning, and I have felt like I was going to throw up for three days running. Fortunately, I’m able to keep it together reasonably well with a discretion that masks my issues. Nobody needs to know that I’m as badly off as I am. Nobody needs to know that I’m about to heave all over my office. Nice for them. Not so nice for me.

Yes, this sucks.

But you know what? It’s all in the line of duty, and it’s all for a good cause, and I get to lay low this weekend. I don’t have any pressing activities I must do. I can lay low and be ill and take care of myself at my own pace. My spouse has a bunch of commitments over the weekend, so again I’ll have the place to myself for most of the coming two days. So I can roll myself up in my blankets, pull the blinds, and just hibernate in my cave.  Drink hot tea — the nasty cold season tea I can’t drink with anyone around, it smells so awful — and read a book. I never did finish The Bourne Identity. I got it it out of the library again a week ago, so I can spend my time catching up (and seeing how much I remember from before).

All in all, I feel physically awful, but I’m still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I’m so tired I’m literally falling over, but it’s a good tired that comes from having spent so many, many hours doing work I love in an environment where I’m actually able to do it.

Yeah, baby.

But I have to be careful. Seriously. I need to watch myself, make sure I don’t fall, make sure I take care of myself better this weekend, and get some recovery under my belt. I can’t continue on at this pace — must take some downtime. And be very, very careful, as I’m moving about.

Times like this, I’m reminded of how head-injured folks — especially athletes — so often re-injure themselves.

We tend to have have crappy risk assessment skills after we get hurt.

We also tend to over-estimate our ability to navigate challenging situations.

And all too often we feel like we have something to prove, so we push ourselves even harder than most — even with diminished co-ordination and balance.

These things I know. These things I know about myself. As euphoric as I am about this new job and all the great potential for it, I still know that I am running a risk every time I push myself, and I am running a risk every time I don’t take it easier than I am. I know that I am in danger of being injured — as anyone is who’s overtired and tremendously off-balance and walking up and down stairs, driving in heavy traffic, and generally going about their business in environments where you can slip and fall and get hurt.

I must be very, very careful. And so I shall.

%d bloggers like this: