Over the past few days, I had an interesting thing happen with my water heater. I have the temp set to just below “normal”, because I don’t want to scald anyone who runs the water. But since last weekend, the water has been HOT(!) for no apparent reason.
It happened on and off for a few days, then it was always HOT.
I finally went downstairs on Sunday night to see what was up. I thought maybe the dial had gotten bumped. But when I got down there, the dial was in the right place — while the air vent was incredibly corroded, there was water pooling on the top, and there was a line of water going down the side and pooling on my basement floor.
I mopped up the water and turned on the dehumidifier (I turned it off, because it was making strange noises, and we probably need a new one, anyway), and then wrote myself a note to call the company that had installed it in the morning. I wrote the note on a bright pink stickie note and put it up on the kitchen door, where I couldn’t miss seeing it. That’s my go-to for things I have to remember — notes written on garishly colored stickie notes and put at eye level in a place where I always look — out the back door to the yard, to see how the day is going.
That was Sunday night. Why didn’t I call sooner? Because it was Christmas, and I frankly didn’t want to have to deal with it — or call the repair guy out on the holiday. And it actually didn’t occur to me to check on the hot water heater until Sunday night — might sound strange, but if something doesn’t have my full attention, it tends to not exist in my mind.
Anyway, Monday morning, the note worked — it caught my attention — and I called the repair company. They sent someone out later that day, and by mid-afternoon, it was fixed. At first, the repair guy thought I needed a new tank, full stop, but then he found out he could just replace the top well and the temperature sensor (the old one was fused, because it was sitting in water and rusted out), and I should be good as new. He left the top mechanicals unattached, so they wouldn’t get damaged by a possible leak in the tank. Then I’d have to get everything replaced all over again.
I’m to keep an eye on the top well for the next few days, and if it stays dry, I’ll call them and have them come out to replace the top mechanicals, and we can all get on with our lives.
So, that was yesterday. I worked from home, as nobody is at the office, anyway, and I had no meetings. Same thing today. No meetings, nobody is there. It’s practically a vacation week for everyone who’s officially working, because nothing — but nothing — is happening.
It’s time to review the past year, do our year-end assessments, account for our actions, report in on what we got right, where we need to improve, etc.
It’s weird, because our company is getting acquired, so there’s a general sense of “what’s the point?” to all of this. Even if we do great work, we could get let go, because we don’t fit with the new vision of the company. Or if we do good work and we get kept on, the direction could change, so our accomplishments won’t mean anything. And it’s all just an exercise.
Well, it’s actually a good exercise. It’s not just about justifying my existence with my employer. It’s also good for me to look back on the year, see where I got things right, really appreciate the progress I’ve made, and look forward to what’s next. Seems like the usual for year-end, whether it’s for work, or it’s for me.
So, it’s all good — and I’m actually enjoying the process. It’s great to have the leeway to just breathe and think my way through everything, instead of rushing around like a crazy person. I have a few classes I need to take before the year is out — I have all of three days to do it, which is more than enough time — but I’m still cutting it close. I’m using the pressure to get myself to focus, as I often do.
So, after thinking I was going to go into the office this week — it’s quiet, after all — I realize that I really don’t feel like it. I can get everything done (and more) at home, and I get a break from the bad air and the deodorizer in the restrooms that covers me in an obnoxious layer of scent. The chemicals set off my spouse’s allergies, so I have to keep away from them until I take a shower, and it’s a huge pain in the ass. Of course, it’s a bit of a challenge for us to be in shared space all the time, for days on end (we’re old fashioned – we get on each other’s nerves). But we’re making do this week.
The weather is rotten, and I haven’t been feeling well — migraine again, for the past several days — so it’s safer for me to stay home, we both figure.
So, here I am. Again. Warm and happy and with plenty of discretionary time to use as I please.
I’m really looking forward to 2015. Last year was a doozie in a number of ways, and I’m looking forward to getting on firmer footing this year.
I made a lot of good progress — mainly by clearing out the last of a year’s take-home pay’s worth of debt (over the course of three years, that is), and changing jobs. Two very important things I had been needing to do for some time… and finally got ’em done.
This next year, I think, is going to be about getting my health together and recovering from the extreme stresses of 2014. And before that. I think I need to clear out, going back to about 2010 or so. That was kind of a crappy year, with a cancer scare and drama at work. Of course, 2010 was a far sight better than the year before it… which was actually better than the year before IT… and so forth. So, all in all, I have some catching up to do.
No worries, though. I’m in a good space. I have good support, and I have a year ahead of me to get a good foundation going on.
I’m having a pretty excellent time off. It’s absolutely luxurious, to have “off” from Christmas till the Monday after New Year’s. I don’t have to go anywhere, I have no external obligations, and I can just be at home, living life the way I want to, not having to answer to anyone except my best judgment.
Not that I’ve been idle. I’ve had time to take care of a lot of things that have been languishing in the background for some time. I’ve had the chance to really think things through more deeply than ever, and get my priorities in order. I realize that I’ve spent a whole lot of time churning and being busy for its own sake, rather than being strategic and focusing my efforts on the things that would really produce something useful.
Case in point: Research projects.
I have had a number of research projects in the works over the years, and I’ve always approached them as “one-off” endeavors. I would research something, write something up about it, and then move on to the next thing. Sometimes it was a completely different field — like the time I researched and wrote up something about the mythology of OId England, then started researching archaeological digs of the Russian steppes and wrote something up about that. I researched language and thought… then moved on to quantum mechanics… then transferred my attention to personal training and physiology.
I’ve written different things along the way, and while some of them had some good in them, none of them is anything I’d really want to put out there. The thought processes are disjointed and disconnected, and none of it is rigorous enough to be taken seriously.
All these projects were geared towards different audiences — sometimes at the other end of the spectrum. And none of them were really deep enough to deserve anyone’s attention.
I’ve been flitting from one interest to another for a long, long time, building on my knowledge in new and interesting ways, but never treating anything like it had real substance.
And small wonder. Because all those years, I was dealing with a number of issues with attention and memory, that I never knew were there. I had no idea how much fatigue affected me, and I had no idea how crappy my short-term working memory was. I mis-remembered things all the time, and I had no idea I was doing so. Even when I wrote it down and looked at it later, I didn’t realize just how off-base I was.
Having that neuropsychological assessment to give me feedback and measurements of what my real skills were, was life-changing. It transformed everything, and I’ve been piecing back together my hopes and dreams, once shred at a time. Seriously, I had all but given up hope, years ago. But there was still something in me that pushed me forward, that urged me to keep going, to keep trying, to keep on with everything. I just couldn’t quit. Just couldn’t.
I had to keep trying. Keep looking. Keep searching. Till I found the missing pieces I needed.
Now I have those missing pieces — the most important being the knowledge that I’ve sustained a number of TBIs over the course of my life, and they can and do have an impact on my thought process and how well (or poorly) my body works. When I’m having trouble with my temper because of fatigue, or I’m anxious because of light and sound sensitivity and being in pain, or I am having trouble understanding what people are saying to me, I am much more keenly aware of the reasons for all the blocks and hurdles that crop up — which means I’m much better able to deal with them.
And I do deal with them. In ways I never could before.
After all, you can’t fix things if you don’t know they’re broken. And there was a lot of broken stuff about me that needed fixing.
That broken-ness was more about process and systems, than it was about me and my essential self. It was about how I did things, not who I was. And fixing the broken stuff has made all the difference in the world.
Some people say that finding out what’s wrong, can be defeating and debilitating. I find it very freeing. Because it gives me something to work towards. I am always confident that I can find a way, one way or another. Why not? Plenty of other people do, and they’re not that much smarter than I am.
So, bit by bit, I am pulling things together, and it feels great. Spending more time thinking and strategizing, and less time on busy-work, is just the ticket for me. It’s a great way to finish up the year and start fresh with the new one.
This has been a weird New Year’s period. The holidays seemed all “out of whack” with some happening sooner than usual, and others happening later, and Christmas and New Years happening in the middle of the week.
I have been taking advantage of this time by stepping outside my normal routine and doing things that I usually don’t have time for — sleeping and reading and spending a lot of time outside in the woods. I had a list of things I planned to get done, while I had time off from work, but as it turns out, I’m not really interested in doing them, when I have a choice. I have been doing a lot of soul-searching for the past several weeks, and it’s been good to just give myself time to decompress and see what else is going on in my head, that I don’t normally get to “indulge”.
So now it’s Back to Work. I have a list of things I need to accomplish, and I’m back in everyday mode. Things seem to have slowed down somewhat, compared to last year — at least, that’s how it feels with me. It feels less frantic. And although my list is long, I have a more measured attitude about it, and I’m feeling pretty good about being able to get everything done, that I need to do.
In the past, I have pushed myself intensely to get where I felt I needed to go – like a machine… a robot… I had my list and I stuck to it, and there wasn’t really much reward that went along with having gotten things done. Because no sooner did I get one thing done, than another thing would come up. That’s a pretty draining way to life, actually. There’s not much reward in it, so I need to modify my approach so I can get the dopamine and other neurotransmitters I need from my life experience. I’ve had my egg for breakfast, and now I’ll have a banana with my cup of coffee.
Recipe for happiness. 🙂
It’s all learning. It’s all building.
Now, it’s time to go learn and build something. Onward.
Yesterday was the first day of my week-long vacation. I had a great Christmas – and I hope everyone else out there had a very merry time, too, whatever you may celebrate. It’s been a while, since I’ve had this much time free — with no added excitement, no outside obligations, no drama planned.
My last week-long vacation was a total bust, because of visitors and guests who overstayed their welcome and needed to be managed. Now I have a week at home with a whole lot of time to do the things I would like to do — as well as some things I need and have been wanting to do, but haven’t had the time to focus on, lately.
I also have some time to rest up and gather my strength for the New Year. There are big organizational changes happening at work, and I may be in an excellent position to actually do some real work, this coming year. After more than three years of not being recognized and not being well utilized in my job, I finally have gotten the attention of people who know where I come from and appreciate my experience and abilities.
And that’s a far cry from where I’ve been. It changes everything. It puts everything in a new light, and it really ups the ante for me getting my act together. I’ve really struggled in a lot of ways, over the past years, trying to get myself back on track and re-integrated into work that suits me. In the job I had before this, I overstepped my bounds a great deal, and I pushed too hard before I was ready to do the job I was given. I floundered and fumbled and stumbled a lot, and that took a toll on my self-esteem.
Over the past 3-1/2 years, I’ve led a sort of dumbed-down existence that I’ve really struggled with. I knew I was better, I knew I had done much better and much more complex work before. The thing was — and I can see that, looking back now — I wasn’t ready to get back to it. I just wasn’t. I had a lot of patching up to do, yet, with my brain and my attention issues and my ability to read and write, along with my moods and my behavior control.
Now things are actually very different with me. I have improved by leaps and bounds, and I have really made substantial progress in keeping my sh*t together… and now I’m ready to move forward again — to get back to where I was, professionally, before my last TBI. I have a much better grasp on my behavior and moods, and I have more supporting pieces of my life in place now, than I have in many years. I have friends I can talk to about things. I have a couple of “independent ear” types of folks I see regularly for counseling of one sort or another. And I have a much better understanding of my inner emotional landscape and how to manage it, than I have in many, many years — maybe ever.
Plus, the logistical hardships of my life have really worked themselves out — the past three years have been sheer hell, when it comes to just keeping my head above water. But now that I’ve sorted out a hell of a lot of debt, and I’ve corrected errors in my tax filings, things are loosening up, and I can see a light ahead — and it’s not an oncoming train ;).
So, things are freeing up. And for the next week, I’ve got a ton of free time. I can go for those long walks in the woods I’ve been wanting to take. I can sleep as much as I like, whenever I like. I can experiment with some new recipes. And I can take time to reflect on the past year, to see how far I’ve come, and where I hope to go next. I have time. Time to visit libraries. Time to research. Time to cook. Time to do things at a leisurely pace, and just let it all sink in. There’s no need to rush — unless I want to pick up the pace. There’s no hurry, there’s no strain. It feels like it’s all coming together, and this week is a precious, precious opportunity to spend some time just catching up with myself without the specter of constant fatigue dragging me down.
I think the food piece is what excites me the most. More and more, I’m really getting into cooking. It does wonders for my sequencing and time management skills, and it gives me a reward at the end of it all. It’s also doing wonders for my health, as I try new things with new foods, and tweak my diet a bit to include more dopamine-producing foods. I’ve been making small changes in my diet, in order to boost my dopamine levels, and already I’m feeling better.
After only a few days. Pretty amazing, actually.
Maybe it’s the excitement that comes from learning that I actually can improve my neurotransmitter levels with different types of foods (most of which I love and can eat). Maybe it’s the energy I get from learning new things and putting them into action in ways that show results very quickly. It’s probably all of the above. In any case, it feeds me on so many levels, and I’m sure that does wonders for my dopamine levels.
Which is where I’m really focusing, these days. Watching The Crash Reel and learning that Kevin Pearce is snowboarding again (after a snowboarding accident nearly killed him and gave him a pretty intense brain injury), has got me thinking a whole lot about what drives us to continue to do the kinds of dangerous things that get us into trouble in the first place. What’s our motivation? What’s that driving need all about?
And when I think about it, I come to a number of conclusions:
that doing the kinds of things that nearly get us killed can be an important part of our identity and self-image… and without them, who are we?
that we really really need that rush, that push, that fix, in order to feel like ourselves again
that there’s a built-in mechanism for producing that rush, that’s a critical part of who we are
that it’s possible to recreate that rush, in one way, shape or form, so that we don’t have to put our lives in danger to feel like ourselves again
These conclusions didn’t come overnight — they’ve been years in the making. And I’ve never been able to fully get away from thinking about them. Because I know that my behavior tends to the risky side. I know that my life sometimes hangs in the balance, based on how I’m feeling on any given day. And I don’t want to die or end up in jail. I’m not arrogant or unseasoned enough to believe that “it can’t happen to me” — I know it can. I know it has. Almost. And I don’t want to go there again.
So, I need to find a better way to get back to feeling like my old self again. I need to find a new way to live.
And having the next week off is going to give me time to experiment with some approaches in a quiet, uninterrupted way, that lets me think clearly and not be constantly distracted by a lot of spurious stimuli.
It’s going to be interesting, of course, because the last few times I had time off to “just relax”, I cycled through a series of blow-ups and melt-downs that took a pretty intense toll on my spouse and me. But things are different this time. Because I’m being much more deliberate about managing my “inner state” — and I’m doing concrete things to improve my state, like eating foods to boost my dopamine, working on projects I really enjoy, and planning regular exercise and rest times, each day.
Speaking of exercise, it’s time for a long walk. I don’t have to be anywhere, I don’t have to go anywhere in particular. The point is just to go… come back… and relax into my day.
I’m off to a good start, today. I woke up early and tried to get back to sleep, then realized after a while that I was pretty much *up* so it would make more sense for me to just get moving and get ahead of my day. I caught a nasty head cold over the holiday trip, and I wasn’t going to get much more sleep, thanks to my running nose and watering eyes.
So, I got up and did some mindful sitting, first thing. I started out with the intention of just going to 10 breaths. Then I went past that and went to 13… and beyond. I wasn’t feeling very settled at the start. My heart started racing, and my breathing was very tight. But after about 15 breaths, things started to settle in, and by the time I had counted to 25, I was feeling more settled, more stabilized. So, I breathed and counted to 47, a prime number that has more associated with it than most people would guess. I felt really good, by the time I got to 47, and I was tempted to keep going, but I had more plans that I wanted to follow up with, and I didn’t want to ruin a good thing by overdoing it.
So I got up, came downstairs, and got on my exercise bike for a15-minute ride. I listened to music as I rode, trying to keep my mind on the actual bicycling and not chafe too much at it. In past months, I have gotten away from riding the bike, first thing, because it started feeling forced and boring and same-old-same-old. This morning, however, I had motivation to ride, because I am sick with this cold, and I need to move the lymph through my system to help clear out this infection. The sludge won’t move itself out of my system, so I need to give it a little boost, which is what riding the bike will do for me. Plus, it warmed me up — it’s cold — winter, after all — and I hate feeling cold, first thing in the morning. So, having a brisk bike ride not only got me moving in a healthier direction, but it also got me warmed up. And that was great.
After my ride, I put the coffee water on to boil and did some stretching and moving. Then I poured my coffee and put the water on for my soft-boiled egg. While that was heating up, I did my old familiar free weights routine, where I go through a whole circuit of lifting for my legs and upper body. It actually felt really good to do it again, and I had to wonder why I haven’t done much of that at all, in the past several months. I guess I just got bored with it. Lost my motivation, for some reason. Just lost it… Probably due to all the anxiety over the changes at work and my fight-flight instincts getting tweaked all over the spectrum.
By the time the water had boiled and my egg was ready, I got in my quick free weights workout, as well as my balance work. The balance stuff is really important, because my ears are quite stopped up, and I’m off-kilter, these days. But doing the leg lifts without anything to stabilize me, got my balance “tuned up” a bit, and by the time my breakfast was ready, I’d gotten a full morning workout in.
Now, I’ve been pretty hard on myself, lately, about having slacked off on my exercise routine. I guess I just got sick and tired of it, doing the same thing every morning. I also lost sight of how important it is to do it regularly. I guess I started taking it for granted, and I started taking my physical well-being for granted. I did need a change of pace, actually, but thinking back, I think it was really a motivation void that sucker-punched me. The changes at work, which have all happened on a pretty extreme scale, got me thinking that I’m a helpless victim and I can’t do anything to help myself. The home office is overseas, and the people making the rules are far from any of us who are doing the everyday work. So, it’s a very different and much less invested sort of arrangement than before. And with all this going on, I guess I just felt, “What’s the use?” I succumbed to the feeling of being a victim, of being helpless, of being the subject/target of someone else’s ambitions, and unable to change any of it. And when I went out looking for other jobs, that helplessness came through, I’m not proud to say.
Now I’m back, though, and I’ve got a different perspective on things. I know what I need to do, to move on to the next level, and I’m setting about doing that — on my own terms and in my own way. My employer can do what they like, I’ve got my own agenda, and I fully intend to stick with it.
I also fully intend to stick with my exercise routine. Because I got a good look at what happens to people in my family when they don’t take care of themselves, and they just give in to the “inevitable” march of time. I got a close-up look at what happens when you don’t exercise, or when you don’t eat properly, or when you are in total denial about your state of mind and body. I got a good look, too, at what can happen when you take care of yourself — one of my relatives just turned 100 years old, this past year, and the contrast of their quality of life with the rest of my family is truly remarkable. That’s what I want — the 100+ years of decent self-maintenance and care — NOT the however-many-years of “inevitable” decline that has everyone wondering about how you’re going to take care of yourself when you get so badly off that you can’t even move or think or function.
Yeah, I’ll take a pass on the latter. The former — whole health for a long, long time — is what I want for my life.
And because of that, I did manage to get up this morning and do my sitting/breathing exercises. Because doing that balances out my nervous system, it calms my mind and it restores my ability to not only discern what is going on inside my head and heart, but it also restores my ability make independent choices about what to do with those things. When I sit and breathe and watch my thoughts and emotions come up without reacting to them, I become better at seeing what the hell is going on with me, as well as not letting it get the betrer of me.
I had actually started doing my sitting/breathing while I was on my trip. I started it again the day after Christmas, I think, and it really helped me keep calm and cool in the face of some pretty drastic upheavals and revelations. There were a couple of times that tempers got hot, and it could have boiled up and spilled over and gotten messy — and my meltdowns can get messy. But it didn’t. Things didn’t boil over. I was able to see and identify what was going on, and I was able to call attention to what was really going on, so we could have a bit of a laugh about it, and dispel the drama before it even got started.
And that’s a good thing.
It’s a really, really good thing.
And I’ve been thinking… a lot… about how much this breathing/sitting practice helps me with post-concussion issues… helps me with mTBI issues… helps me with life issues. It’s a bit uncanny, but at the same time, it makes perfect sense. And now that I understand the mechanics of it, it’s more valuable and sensible to me than ever before.
Sitting and breathing balances out my autonomic nervous system — the part of me that runs the fight-flight scene, and can send me downhill into a raging meltdown… or chase me into a fog of flight that has me avoiding any and all human contact or activities… ultimately wearing me out physically and making me feel like crap about myself. Just sitting still and counting my breaths gets my body back in balance, with my heart rate regulating and my attention focused on relaxing, which is key for me.
Sitting and breathing also strengthens my attention and focus. I’m far from perfect, of course, but just practicing regularly makes me better at sustained focus and resisting distraction. That’s so very important to my daily functioning – my levels of distractability can go way off the charts, so strengthening this ability has a direct and significant impact on my ability to be effective and capable in my daily life. And the fact that the sitting and breathing takes place in the privacy of my own home, makes it that much more comfortable for me. Sure, I can try to practice sitting quietly and breathing at work — either stepping away from my desk, or taking a moment at my desk. But there’s nothing like doing it in my own home, where the focus is on me and my well-being, rather in what needs to get done next.
And it occurs to me that I’m not the only person in my situation who could benefit from this. It occurs to me that plenty of other people who are struggling with TBI/concussion issues could do this, as well… Particularly in the days after a concussion or TBI. After a brain injury, they tell you you’re supposed to rest and do nothing. Well, how about doing the kind of “nothing” that actually helps your nervous system balance itself out, and also helps you regulate your moods, heart rate, and racing mind?
It’s an idea. And who knows? It might just be a missing piece in the puzzle that is concussion management and TBI recovery that helps people get back to their everyday lives — in whatever form — with greater presence of mind as well as a well-toned autonomic nervous system.
But speaking of management and recovery and action, it’s time I got myself in gear and started getting ready for work. I’m back from my week away, and I have one day left in 2011 to gather up some of the loose pieces of the past months and set the stage for next year.
I’ve already managed to get up at a pro-active time of day, get my much-needed exercise in, and figure some stuff out.
Not a bad way to start the day. Not a bad way to close out the year.