The things we do to our heads – and our lives

losing-the-raceI pretty much took the weekend off. I had been planning to make some progress on one of my projects, but it turned out to be a better use of time to just relax — and let my mind go where it will.

All week long, I have to keep myself on point. And that gets old. By Saturday morning, I know better than to continue with the compulsiveness of the past five days.

Funny how, on Fridays, I am always so convinced that the weekend is going to be filled with productivity… as soon as I get away from the time suck of my day job. But in fact, there are two things that play into that internal dynamic, which both send the wrong signals.

First, I am tired. And when I am tired, my mind gets rigid. I get locked into very narrow ways of thinking, and I lose sight of anything else.

Second, by Friday, I have forgotten what freedom feels like. My routine has taken over and is propelling me forward. I’m no longer thinking clearly. I’m no longer bothering to think, period. Rote repetition has taken over — it kicks in around Wednesday night — and it feels like salvation to me, because my brain is no longer working the way I want it to.

The last two days of each week find me “in a groove”, which is to say, I’ve abandoned creative, inventive thought, and I’m just chugging and plugging along in my rut. Something tells me that I’m quite happy there, but if truth be told, I’m exhausted and I have since stopped really processing much of anything. My reaction times are slowed. And I’m not thinking clearly enough to realize just how big of a hit it’s taking.

I’m also so low on energy, that I’m not paying attention to how this is making me feel. It’s incredibly upsetting to me, that my processing speed is slower than I’d like it to be. It’s noticeably slower than it used to feel, and it’s so frustrating to be forever two split-second “beats” behind everyone else. It’s like I’m that kid running behind the rest of the gang, calling, “Hey! Wait for me!”

And it’s crushing. Because it never felt like this before.

Though, when I think about it, it never felt like this before I started my neuropsych rehab, because I never really engaged with others directly, like I do now. It could be that I’ve been out of synch with everyone and everything for most of my TBI-riddled life, but it only really started to have an impact when I started engaging with the rest of the world. For so, so long, I kept to myself and simply played along. I chose friends and partners who were really good at interacting with the outside world — extroverts extraordinaire — who could do the social work for both of us.

But  now that I’m getting better about engaging with the rest of the world, it feels terrible. Because I really sense just how out of synch I am. Conversations are tough. They take a lot of work. I can do it, but it’s work. And since I’m involved with people every day of the workweek, by Friday, I am Wiped Out. Full stop.

Which makes my Friday plans to be ultra-productive over the weekend quite amusing.

But that’s not what I started out wanting to write about, today.

It’s Monday. Supposedly we’re going to get an announcement about layoffs in our division this week. I’m told that in the past, if people were getting laid off on Friday, they were told on Monday. So, if that is happening again, there will be some very unhappy people at work today.

I really don’t know where I fit in all of this. I know that I’m much more technical than anyone in my group (my boss told me so on Friday, as though feeding me a little spoonful of hope), and I have a wide variety of skills that make me versatile and easy to plug into different situations. I’m resilient and resourceful, and I get the job done.

But that might not mean anything.

You just never know.

The thing is, my head has been going crazy, coming up with all sorts of different scenarios. I’ve updated my resume and my LinkedIn status is current. I’ve been going through all the different scenarios in my head, figuring out what I’ll do, so I’m prepared.  And I really do feel prepared. The thing is, nobody knows how things will shake out, just yet, and like most people, my thinking can be very “creative” in the face of uncertainty.

It’s easy to make myself crazy. It’s easy to feel nuts, when there’s not enough information. And it’s so, so easy to fill in the blanks with past experiences, when the present situation is really nothing like the past.

It’s all part of our minds work, of course. We desperately need to feel we can predict things. Predictions make us feel secure, like we know what’s going on — when in fact, we know nothing of the kind. Astrology makes us feel more confident. Expert opinions and pontifications make us feel like we’re “in the know”. Basically, anybody who offers us a plausible prediction for what will be, is our friend. Even if those predictions are dire and wretched, they still make us feel safer — perhaps even safer than people who predict good things.

And when others don’t provide predictions and indicators, we make up our own. We’re really, really good at that. We’re experts at making ourselves mentally ill about it, too.

So, all these mental gymnastics have been keeping me busy for the past four days. Which gets tiring.

But at least I got rest over the weekend, which did wonders for my head. Just taking time out, getting things off my plate, finishing up chores early, so I wasn’t rushed late in the day, yesterday… an napping. Sleeping.Getting some rest. That’s exactly what I needed.

Not more productivity.

Oh, God — not more productivity.

Onward.

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It really does matter how you look at things — and yes, you can choose

Your brain is more powerful than you think!

So, after posting about working on my perspective, I took a quick look at my Twitter feed, and I found a mention of a new study that’s been published:

Neurophysiological correlates of various mental perspectives.

From the Abstract:
A common view of consciousness is that our mind presents emotions, experiences, and images in an internal mental (re-)presentation space which in a state of wakefulness is triggered by the world outside. Consciousness can be defined as the observation of this inner mental space. We propose a new model, in which the state of the conscious observer is defined by the observer’s mental position and focus of attention. The mental position of the observer can either be within the mental self (intrapersonal space), in the mental outer world (extrapersonal space) or in an empathic connection, i.e., within the intrapersonal space of another person (perspective taking). The focus of attention can be directed toward the self or toward the outside world. This mental space model can help us to understand the patterns of relationships and interactions with other persons as they occur in social life. To investigate the neurophysiological correlates and discriminability of the different mental states, we conducted an EEG experiment measuring the brain activity of 16 subjects via 64 electrodes while they engaged in different mental positions (intrapersonal, extrapersonal, perspective taking) with different attentional foci (self, object). Compared to external mental locations, internal ones showed significantly increased alpha2 power, especially when the observer was focusing on an object. Alpha2 and beta2 were increased in the empathic condition compared to the extrapersonal perspective. Delta power was significantly higher when the attentional focus was directed toward an object in comparison to the participant’s own self. This exploratory study demonstrates highly significant differences between various mental locations and foci, suggesting that the proposed categories of mental location and intra- and interpersonal attentional foci are not only helpful theoretical concepts but are also physiologically relevant and therefore may relate to basic brain processing mechanisms.

I downloaded the paper – you can get it here http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fnhum.2014.00637/pdf – but I haven’t had a chance to read it, yet. There are some pictures with color, which are probably going to be cool to look at, once I get my head on straight today. I’m still a bit foggy from this past week. But I’ll have some free time this afternoon to chill and relax and rest, and hopefully read this paper.

Basically, it sounds like they’re saying that your state – your experiences, emotions, and images in life – can be determined by internal focus, rather than external circumstances. That focus can be on others, or on yourself. But the important part is — it’s your focus, it’s your choice. And different parts of the brain “light up”, depending which choices you make about what to focus on.

Where you put your focus determines how your brain "lights up"
Where you put your focus determines how your brain “lights up” – downloaded the paper here http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fnhum.2014.00637/pdf

Or, more simply put – we don’t have to be victims of circumstance and pushed around at the mercy of the rest of the world. We can choose how we want to feel and think and experience our lives, regardless of external circumstances.

Of course, this is assuming that you have the energy to focus your attention on what you want to think and feel. If you’re in poor health and you feel like crap and you have no energy, it can be pretty tough to keep a positive outlook.

But it can be done.

Pick your perspective

It’s all in the eye of the beholder

My new project, these days, is working on my perspective. I have fallen prey to a lot of anger and bitterness and also resentment about things which are actually nobody’s fault. They just happen. And it doesn’t make a lot of sense for me to get all tweaked about them.

Things at work are very tense and stressful for a lot of folks. I know that they will be okay, and everything will turn out okay over time. But there is a lot of stress and strain going on, and a lot of people are very nervous about their team’s ability to do the job — and do it right.

It has been getting to me, too. That much has been clear, in the past several weeks. I’ve been having episodes where I suddenly get tunnel vision, and then I have a headache for days after that. I also feel foggy and dull – numb and dumb – and I’m very low, physically. I need to address this, because my physical health directly affects my point of view. My neuropsych focuses on my thinking and how it stresses me out. And that’s true — my crappy perspective doesn’t do me any favors, sometimes. At the same time, my physical health plays a huge part in it, and I have been feeling very low and dull and lethargic.

I seriously need to jump-start myself. I’m just so blahhhh… I’m in a new job that’s closer to home, which means I don’t have to work as hard to get there. But having things be easier that way has not translated to my energy improving. The thing is, all my energy used to come from adrenaline and extreme stress, and now that it’s not there anymore, I need to replace it with something else.

Like physical fitness. I worked out more this morning than I have in a while — lifting weights and focusing on my arms, which have become flabby and fat. I usually wear long sleeves, so I don’t see my arms as they are, but lately I’ve been noticing them.

I think things will turn around in another couple of months, when we have moved to a new building that has a gym I will be able to use. Also, the location is 10-15 minutes closer to my home, so I will have more time to exercise, in addition to the other things I do.

I also need to start doing something when I get home from work in the evenings. Last night, I was so exhausted when I got home, I had to lie down for an hour before I made supper. Fortunately, I got home early enough that I could do that. I was wiped out. Completely done. Feeling sick and stupid. And later I had an argument with my spouse that really bothered me, because their cognitive decline is starting to show more and more. They had trouble speaking, and they got really angry over something I was doing — and I just didn’t feel like taking the brunt of their anger after such a long day.

So, I really need to work on my outlook and my perspective in life. I need to find a way to make peace with things turning out as they do — and not fight it all the time and turn it into a tragedy in my head. Or maybe just let it be a tragedy and accept it as such. Shit happens. And it happens to all of us.

So it goes.

Not for me, though. I’m determined to not let myself go down that route. My spouse lives in a very different world than mine — very paranoid and suspicious and antagonistic. It’s like we live on different planets; yet theirs is every bit as real for them, as mine is for me.

There’s no point in arguing about whether or not it’s true — it’s true for them, it’s real for them, and that’s the experience they’re having. The real problem is that I can’t accept it, I feel really judgmental towards it, and it makes me so uncomfortable. And when I’m tired, I get very rigid and am quick to anger.

That doesn’t help.

Anyway, I’m feeling good that I got in that exercise, first thing this morning. My arms are tired — and that’s a really good sign. It means I’m making the point to do something right, that I’ve been neglecting for a long time.

Happy Saturday, everyone.

Onward.