Woke up in a funk, then I decided to do things a little differently

It’s a choice

So, I woke up at 6, after getting, oh, about 6-1/2 hours of sleep. Not great. I’m still thrown off by the overnight work on Fri/Sat night. Ugh.

And I had to get some things done, that I had neglected for … oh, months.

And I was in a funk about my spouse always snapping at my heels about every little thing. It’s like living with a bee constantly buzzing around my head, sometimes. You know, how you’re sitting there, relaxing and enjoying a sandwich, and then this bee shows up and starts buzzing around you, trying to get a bite of your sandwich, and you don’t want to get stung, but you can’t get rid of the bee… and you try to ignore it, and you try to make space for it, and you try to not be bothered… but it’s still there, buzzing around… buzzing… buzzing…

That’s how it was, pretty much all weekend with my spouse. Aside from a few times when we were able to just sit and be and enjoy each other’s company, it was pretty much of a drain. Constant complaining. Constant worrying. Constant coming up with more things that need to be done — that I need to do.

Holy crap, was it tiresome. And all I wanted to do, was get away. Just leave. Put all this behind me. The constant complaining, the moaning, the worrying, the fretting. Oh my God, when will it ever end?

And it occurs to me that I really don’t want to live this way. I can’t spend the next 25 years of my life marinating in someone else’s misery. No way, no how. Every time my spouse starts to complain and bitch and get all dramatic, it has the same effect on me that someone lighting up a cigarette does. I used to smoke, 25 years ago. I know and hang out with smokers. But I can’t stand the smell of cigarettes, when I can’t get away from them. And that’s what it’s like, every time my spouse starts to complain and find fault and pick at every little thing.

Like they’re chain-smoking. And I’m getting a lung full of 2nd-hand smoke.

I think I’ll buy a pack of cigarettes, and every time they start up, I’ll just light one. They hate cigarette smoke — about as much as I hate their constant complaining and whining and blaming. So, to give them a taste of what it’s like for me, I’ll step outside and light up a cigarette whenever they start to complain and find fault and vent — basically throwing up emotionally all over me.

There’s a reason I have a constant headache. And it generally gets worse, whenever my spouse is around.

I think I need a shield. Or full body armor.

So, this morning as I was trying to get things done — and my spouse was yelling at me for being to loud and waking them up (I get clumsy when I’m tired and out of it, and I bump around a lot), the thought occurred to me that I could just walk away. I don’t have to stay in this situation. I could carry on elsewhere, on my own, and I could be very happy alone. I’m the one who does most of the work in this relationship; they’re pretty much freeloading on me. So, stepping away and just living my life without someone draining the life force from me would be a welcome change.

It would be so nice to just have some peace. It really would. And I’m at the point now, with my birthday just around the corner, where I can’t figure out why I stay around, to get dished the same helping of neediness and negativity, every waking hour.

I’m not staying because I have to. I’ve stayed for 24 years because I’ve wanted to. But I want to less and less, with each passing day.

I do all the work, and they sit back and enjoy the ride.

Am I missing out on all the good that’s possible for me, because of some misguided loyalty to a person who just uses me, day in and day out, and then tries to make up for it by setting up a nice birthday for me? It doesn’t make sense.

So, what do I do?

I don’t really want to leave. It crosses my mind. I don’t have a spouse. I have a dependent. A ward. And I’m sick and tired of it.

Then again, this is a terrible time to make any decisions. My birthday is right around the corner, and that’s messing with my head. I also want to keep things stable for the next while and enjoy my time away, next weekend. My work projects are coming together, and that’s feeling good. I’ve also realized that I really don’t want to leave my current job. If the people I’m talking to actually offer me a buttload of money and benefits that make it all worth it, of course I’ll consider it. I might even do it. But I don’t have to leave. I’m good where I am, and I can stay here for the duration of my contract till the end of next March and be good with it.

The main thing is, I need to adjust my own attitude and how I relate to the rest of the world. If my spouse is miserable, that’s their business, not mine. I don’t have to get dragged down by it, and I don’t have to let myself be tainted by their negativity. I can live in a completely different world and leave them to theirs, without needing to turn our lives upside-down. If I did go, where would I go? What would I do? I like where I live, and unless I moved out of the country, I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather live.

So, enough of the burden that I take on, myself. Enough of that. I have a choice about how I will live my life and think about things. And I choose to be happy and stay the course. If my spouse chooses to join me, then fine. But I’m not choosing to join them in their abject misery. I know what it’s about — it’s because of their upbringing. I did not have that degree of abuse and neglect in my life as a child, so why should I experience life the same way they do? We both know how to deal with panic/anxiety — why should I suffer because I’m the only one who’s making the effort to use the tools?

I work hard to keep positive andΒ  productive, but they can’t seem to be bothered.

It’s not fair to me. And it’s not realistic at all.

Happiness is a choice, and today it’s my choice. My spouse can do what they please, and they can live as they choose. It’s literally killing them in front of me, which is incredibly painful to watch. (And it’s probably a big driver behind me wanting to leave – so I don’t have to watch them in the final stages of their mental/physical breakdown/demise.)

As for me… I’m going to live.

End of subject.

Onward.

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Oh, Lordy…

It will be alright in the end.

Yesterday turned into one big long exercise in pulling out every skill I’ve developed over the years and putting it into action in very subtle ways.

It stood me in good stead, and this little drama is going on my resume for sure.

More later — still putting water on the smoking coals from the conflagration yesterday.

Gotta run.

Onward.

Making the most of… everything

Focusing on the good… trying, anyway

Well, my time off is winding down. It’s Friday, and it’s my last day off work for quite some time. It’s been a good week, although being off my usual schedule has proven to be both a blessing and a real challenge.

It’s been so great to get things done that I’ve been thinking about for quite some time. It’s also been great, getting some time in, just thinking things through, focusing in on what I want to do with myself this coming year, and getting clear on what I do NOT want to do.

The challenge has been spending a lot of time with my spouse. I’ve mentioned their anxiety a lot of times, so I don’t want to belabor the point. Suffice it to say, it’s not easy living in close quarters with someone who is afraid of their own shadow and has anxiety about every little thing, and spends countless hours stewing about their anxieties to justify them — and amplify them.

It’s pretty taxing for me to deal with their constant anxiety. It’s a total drain, and I end up fatigued — and incredibly cranky. It’s not much fun for either of us. I just need to remember that they’re not 100% like they used to be. They’re declining, and they need some extra help and assistance and patience. I just wish I didn’t get so exhausted by the whole thing.

Whew! In that respect, it’s going to be good to get back to work. I’ve caught up on my sleep, somewhat, and I’ve gotten a lot of ducks in a row, so now I can move forward with steady steps and progress. The main thing is, I’ve had time to think… and walk around in the woods while I’m thinking. That’s gotten my head on straight and kept me from veering off in a bazillion different directions. And that, in itself, is a very positive step for 2015.

I’m a little irked that I have to go back to work on Monday. But I’m also glad. I’ve missed the company of my “work tribe” and also the daily routine. If I had my own business and a regular routine around my own endeavors, it would be one thing, but this past week has been a bit of a mad dash to get in as much “extra-curricular” stuff as I can, while I can. Having a regular schedule, with a regular sleeping pattern is also very important, and I’ve had a few late nights, this past week, which have thrown me off. Including New Year’s.

That’s one of the reasons I really hate New Year’s. My spouse wants me to stay up, but I just want to go to bed at 10:00. One year, I got to do that, and it was heaven. But with my spouse… different story.

Anyway, in a few more days I can go back to my regular schedule, and it’s not all that bad. I’ve gotten my head screwed on straight about my priorities, and I’ve broken down a bunch of larger undertakings into smaller bite-size pieces, so I’m not so overwhelmed with all the details. I have places to start, and I’m starting. Heck, I’ve more than started. I’m well on my way. And I’ve made a good beginning already. I’ve been geared up for 2015 for a couple of months, now.

So, onward! I’m doing a road trip with my spouse today. We’ll see how that goes. The two of us are pretty tired of each other, right about now, but this is our last day to spend the whole day together. So, we might as well make the most of it, put our differences aside, and just enjoy each other’s company when we have it.

Today I don’t have to DO anything. I can just be. We’ll see how that goes πŸ˜‰

Back from vacation, and doing things differently

Rowing through the fifth circle of hell – anger

So, my “vacation” was quite different from expected. My spouse got really sick, so I spent the bulk of the time taking care of them, running errands, and making sure they stayed fed and were headed in the right direction – towards recovery.

I did almost nothing that I had planned. I had thought I’d have time to do some writing, but to be honest, when I was there, I didn’t want to do anything other than just roam around, take long walks, and explore parts of the nearby national park I hadn’t seen in years.

One thing became very, very clear to me, while I was away — I have let myself get too complacent, too lax, too mellow. The net result of my chilling out, has been putting on some pounds and also losing my stamina. Keeping up with everything when my spouse is “holding invalid court” — as a sick person who needs to be waited on like some sort of royalty — is NOT easy work. It’s pretty draining, if I don’t stay on top of things.

So, it was pretty rough. But that’s not because of all the demands. The fact is, I am not in as good shape as I need to be, and all the running and juggling (figuratively speaking) showed me where I need to improve. I used to do all this — and a whole lot more — as a matter of course, each and every day. But over the past number of years, as I’ve focused more on taking care of myself and making sure I didn’t get overrun by the craziness of my employer(s), spouse, and TBI recovery, I’ve lost my edge.

And I need it back.

I’ve gotten way too lax about things, and I’ve “let myself go”, for the sake of just enjoying myself and taking things as they come. But you know what? That’s not me. I am by nature a very “on” person, who needs some “off” time on a regular basis to recharge. I’m not meant to be an “off” person who occasionally “turns on” to kick into gear. I need to stay active and involved in my life — to live my life to the fullest, and really keep my energy high. If I don’t, the feeling seems to backfire, and I end up having a whole lot of energy “double back” on itself… it eats me alive.

So, I need to live. And live fully. Not with panic, not with anxiety, but fully alive.

Just kicking back has become a way of life for me, which is not good at all. I’ve gotten into that habit in part because of my past job that had me commuting so much every day. It’s tough to stay active and engaged, when you start and end your day with an hour’s worth of driving. What a horrible life-suck that was.

All that sitting got me tightened up — my muscles, my fascia, my mind — and I was so full of resentment and anger that I had to continually manage, to keep it from wrecking my life — that I got sucked into a downward spiral that shot me straight into the doldrums, where I languished. Hoping against hope that something would change. Eventually it did, but what a miserable time that was.

It was like renting a room in Dante’s Fifth Circle of Hell — Anger — and not being able to get the money together to move out to a better place, and having to make the best of it by getting to know my neighbors, have some barbecues, hang out… you know, make the best of it, all the while wishing to God something would give.

It didn’t give. For three long years. And it really was hell.

Now I’ve been out of that world for three months, and I’m starting to normalize… get my balance back… remember what is important to me. I don’t have to put all my energy into dealing with the emotional flack of a horrible workplace, barely being able to function on the weekends, just spending all my free time languishing like a glorious lump.

I can start putting my energy into the healthy things again. And I can get back to my practice — my martial arts of living.

Over the week when I was balancing work and vacation and my spouse’s illness, it became clear to me that I needed a better way of handling their mental illness. They have suffered from panic/anxiety and depression for almost 20 years, and it has wreaked havoc with their life. All the while, they have been unable to admit that they had a real problem, and that it was hurting them. They have treated it like it was protective for them — living less of a life was keeping them safe from untold dangers. I know where that comes from — their childhood, and also their family story, which is all about unseen threats which must be managed.

Over the years, I have dealt more or less effectively with their mental illness, seeing to various degrees, the depth of their dysfunction. I actually dealt with it pretty well, from the start, even when they were absolutely nuts with anger and rage and fear and a seething cauldron of hyper-fight-flight reactions to everything, including their own shadow. I could keep my own attention trained on my own activities and issues, and I could steer myself (and sometimes them) in a better direction.

Over the years, I’ve had my own issues to deal with, and many of them have been really hard for my spouse to deal with. The old anger, the rigidity in my own mindsets, my outbursts and unpredictability… I was a real piece of work, I can tell you. I’ve been brain-injured a number of times, which made me incredibly difficult to deal with, when I was tired or overwhelmed (which was a lot of the time).

But we had a kind of balance going on, that worked for both of us.

Then I fell in 2004, and everything came to a head. Everything really fell apart, and we were on the verge of breaking apart after 14 years. I didn’t even realize it, at the time. I was really out of it, had no idea what was going on with me.

Anyway, what I realize now is that things have often sucked with us, from day one. But the things that have been good, have been well worth all the suckiness. It’s like the suckfulness didn’t even matter, because the good was more than enough to offset everything. Plus, no marriage is perfect, so was I going to just ditch the love of my life because not everything was idyllic all the time? Nope. I dealt with it.

And now I need to deal with it again. I need to deal with my spouse’s demons, their mental illness, their panic and anxiety and encroaching dementia, with a form of martial art. Keep calm, keep centered, and be ready to deal with the demons that threaten to attack. They are very real demons, and making light of them doesn’t serve me at all. Denying that they exist doesn’t help. And avoiding confronting them is the worst thing I can do.

I need to deal with this. Because try as they might, my spouse has limits, and there are things they just refuse to do for themself that will make things better. They’re trying, yes. They’re really trying. But the demons are always there in the background, with an eye out to get hold of me, too.

They’re greedy demons — panic, anxiety, fear, aggression. They feed on the energy of others, and how they love to feed. They are insatiable, and they will stop at nothing, till they get what they need. I can’t forget that they exist. I’m not saying I have to live in fear. Far from it. I just need to live with awareness, and figure out how to keep my own essence safe and protected, while the demons swirl around, seeking madness.

It can be done. And I’ve been working out, first thing in the morning, for the past four days, strengthening myself and doing exercises to stir up my stagnant “chi” and get good energy flowing in me. It’s helping. And I need to stay with it, not get bored and go do something else, when it all feels too familiar and boring.

Life is waiting. Get strong. Be smart.

Onward.

Good gone bad in a hurry

Bummer… and things were going so well

So, last night I was fixing supper, and I messed something up. My spouse was in the kitchen with me, and they started saying things that sounded critical to me, like they can do better than me. I got really agitated and frustrated, and I had a bit of a blow-up at them. I was really angry over them finding fault with what I was doing and comparing their own performance to mine. It was a double put-down. 1) I screwed up, 2) they can do so much better than me.

It really pissed me off, and I got so angry, and then they went into their usual behavioral “repertoire” of acting like I was a bad person for getting angry and yelling — like I was threatening them and being abusive. Oh Lord, oh Lord, oh Lord… I was upset and trying to express myself, and all they could do was make me look like I was the one at fault, and my anger was a threat to them.

I got pretty angry — not over the top, throwing-things angry, but so frustrated and agitated that I almost couldn’t see. And then POP, something in my head felt like it snapped, and I had this sensation of my brain locking up and slowing down to a crawl. It was like someone cracked open a smelling salts capsule — but it had the exact opposite effect. I instantly felt dull and numb, with my face numb and tingling, and my hands tingling. I could physically feel it in my head. I turned into an instant idiot — it was hard for me to understand what was being said, and I couldn’t put words together. My head felt like it had filled up with cotton, and I was suddenly so dull.

I didn’t think it was a stroke, because I haven’t been impaired on one side of my body or the other — and I stuck out my tongue to see if it bent from one side or the other, and it didn’t.

Then again, according to the National Stroke Association, here are the signs of stroke:

Stroke symptoms include:
  • SUDDEN numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg – especially on one side of the body.
  • SUDDEN confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
  • SUDDEN trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • SUDDEN trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
  • SUDDEN severe headache with no known cause.

So, maybe it was one. I don’t know. One side of my body wasn’t weaker than the other, which is what I usually associate with stroke. I have a meeting with my neuropsych this afternoon, so I’ll check with them. I’m hesitant, because I don’t want trouble from all this. Plus, it has happened to me before — about 3 weeks ago after a meeting when I got really upset with the behavior of some of the folks in the meeting. It was very similar to that time — I felt something “pop” in my head, and I turned into an instant idiot — couldn’t put words together, had trouble speaking, felt slow, and had a low-grade headache.

This time I didn’t get nearly as angry. But the feeling was the same, and now I’m dense and dull and I’m having trouble putting words together. Three weeks ago, it passed. And it didn’t seem like a big enough deal to investigate. It was not much worse than other “episodes” I’ve had in the past, and when I tried to investigate them before, nobody seemed to think they were that big of a deal, and I felt like an idiot for even bringing them up.

I know I’m supposed to go to the ER as soon as I suspect I’m having a stroke, but how would that work, exactly? I can’t miss work, because then I don’t get paid. And my mortgage won’t wait. I’m the only one who’s supporting my household, and if I’m out of work, we’re all pretty much screwed.

I started to get a headache after a while, last night, and I took some Advil, but it didn’t really help. I still have that headache in the front and top of my head, and also towards the back where I hit my head on Saturday.

Seizure? Stroke? Whatever. I’m sounding a little nonchalant about this, I guess, but my feeling is that this kind of stuff has happened with me so often over the years, it’s just one more thing. And even if I did have a stroke, I know how to fix my brain, and manage my issues, so I’m not all that worried. Hell, even if I do become really hampered by my brain, I know how to live my life in a way that brings me happiness and joy. I know how to bounce back and keep going, so I’ll just keep doing what I’ve been doing.

I am reminded of a number of things I need to do is stay vigilant about:

  1. Remember that my spouse is actually mentally ill. Their panic/anxiety disorder has wreaked havoc, and it is a genuine mental illness. They seem to believe that their anxiety is keeping them “safe” from whatever dangers may be out there, and the “help” they are getting from friends and their therapist seems to only reinforce their fears and their devotion to their “precautions”. They are so absolutely imprisoned by their fear about every conceivable thing on the planet, that anyone around them has to abide by their brittle rules or bear the brunt of their wrath. They feel safe when everything is going their way, but it’s absolutely smothering and restrictive for anyone who does not share their view.
  2. Underlying all this anxiety is a handful of neurological issues which are screwing with their thought process. It’s not something I can take personally, when they go off on me. I love and adore my spouse and would love to spend more time with them. Still, it’s really hard to be around them. The other thing that makes it all hard, is that I’m just about the only one who can spend any extended time around them — they’ve chased off just about everyone else with their anxious control. And they don’t understand why that is. Explaining won’t make any difference, because to them, their fears all make perfect sense — and it’s neurological. So there’s only so much explaining I can do.
  3. I need to take care of myself and get what I need for myself to stay strong. I was tired, last night, and I pushed myself too hard. I need to back off and take some time to myself, especially when I spend extended periods with my spouse. My spouse and I had gone for a drive earlier, yesterday before my outburst, and they are so anxiety-ridden about just about everything, that it’s very stressful to be around them. It’s like a never-ending drama — over huge dangers and threats which seem like they’re nothing to me. When I do the driving, they constantly boss me and yell at me about how I drive, where I should turn, what I should do. It’s a total friggin’ drain.
  4. I need to keep to a regularly active schedule. I was out of sorts already, last night before my outburst, because I was off my regular schedule. I also did not expend enough energy over the weekend and wear myself out physically. I need that. I need to keep active and tire myself out, so I don’t think too damn’ much.
  5. My spouses’ way of living is not healthy — for them or for anyone. They spend a lot of time sitting around thinking about shit that makes them crazy, and they end up pulling me into their undertow. When I am around them, they use me as a “sounding board” which just sucks me into their downward spiral. This is not good. I need to keep myself up and elevated and healthy and take regular breaks when I spend a lot of time around them.

Truthfully, I actually need to protect myself from the one person I love with all my heart. It’s kind of tough, but there it is. If I can think of it as protecting myself from the demons that are eating them alive, that’s a better way to look at it. But it’s still very painful to watch them on that downward spiral, and be helpless to do anything about it.

Having extra days off can be good, but they can be be bad, too.

I just have to keep all this in mind and take the best care of myself that I can.

My head hurts. I’m foggy and dull… and a little bit afraid of bringing up the episode last night with my neuropsych. I’m afraid of what might happen if they tell me to go to the hospital and get checked out. But at the same time, if I don’t get the help I need, then what?

On the bright side, I’ve got almost four months’ worth of pay stashed in the bank, so if I do have to take some time off, I can. My mortgage is taken care of for the next month, and I’ve got enough to at least keep going, if I need to take some time.

Ideally, it won’t come to that. But when I think it through, the fact is, I can afford to take a week (even a month) off work, if I have to. I could even go to part-time for the short term, and we’d be okay for at least three or four months.

Anyway, speaking of work, I’ve got to get going. My fingers aren’t typing very well, and I’m fortunate to work with folks who have never seen me at my peak, so they have no idea just how impaired I am, right now. I’ll just get through the day, talk to my neuropsych, and try to keep as clear as possible, so I can make the right decisions and do the right things.

Main thing is to keep chilled out and cool. I’m really bummed out that I couldn’t even make it through a weekend with my spouse without yelling and getting upset. We were doing so well… that is, I was doing so well. They were doing really shitty. But all I can control is myself. So, I have to take care of what I can control — myself — as much as humanly possible.

Screw it. Onward.

TBI Recovery: Getting used to the highs and lows – Part 2

For many, many years, I have swung from one extreme to the other — from euphoria to panic to depression — with intermittent periods of balanced moderation, where I caught my breath before going back into the fray. I’ve long sought out work situations which were crazy and stressful and stupidly health-endangering (which passed for “challenging” in the job-spin-speak of the tech world), because I needed that constant pump to keep myself going. TBI can slow down your processing speed and make you feel like you’re half asleep, so those stressful times passed for “wakefulness” and made me feel more alive.

In hindsight, I realize that I was pretty much a ticking time bomb and that it was only a matter of time before I hurt myself badly enough to be ejected from the “everyday world”. I have had multiple mild TBIs over the course of the years (at least 9 that I can recall — and there have probably been more that I can’t remember). So, the effects have been cumulative, and sure enough, back in 2004, I had another fall that eventually put me out of commission.

The past years have been about weaning myself off that need for drama and stupidity. I’ve become increasingly aware of how much damage it does to me, and I’ve been acclimating myself to the idea that I don’t actually need it all, like I used to think I did.

Now I feel like I’m in a good and centered space, where I don’t have to have it, but at the same time, I do need challenge. And even moreso, I need to be able to respond to challenging situations with a level head and a clear mind.

Looking back at my life when it was still dictated by after-effects of all those TBIs, I see how much my life was comprised of reactions. Just reactions. Not measured responses that were determined by me, according to what was best and right at the moment — but knee-jerk reactions dictated by fear, anxiety, panic, external circumstances, and others’ expectations. That’s no way to live. Surely, there must be a better way.

So, I’ve been headed down that road, of late, looking for ways to live better, live more fully, and to have the kind of life I want to have.Β  I think about the things that hold me back, the things that I have done that have held me back, and the habits of thought that have prevented me from moving forward. And it becomes more and more apparent to me, as I think about it, that no outside circumstances have been The Culprits in my limitations, rather it’s been my own reaction and my own experience and my own choices that have held me back.

Now, certainly, things like getting clunked on the head a bunch of times, being hounded and bullied in school, being mistreated by both my parents and teachers alike, and being raised without much money in a household turned upside-down by a drug addict sibling and their associates, certainly didn’t help. But those things didn’t keep me from doing the things I could have done to help myself. It was the patterns of thought in my mind that held me back — as well as the biochemical reactions to circumstances which short-circuited my choices and actions.

All those years, I certainly did take a beating. But plenty of people take beatings and get up and go back at it, like nothing ever happened. Not everyone interprets setbacks as signs of permanent disability. Granted, I wasn’t surrounded by people who were positive, pro-active thinkers who knew how to free their minds. But at any given point, I did indeed have the capacity to pick myself up and keep going, but the thoughts in my mind and the biochemical sludge in my system short-circuited a lot of the good that could have happened.

My constant biochemical state of intense fight-flight (which was made more intense by what I thought was happening — and never adequately questioned) made it all but impossible for me to imagine all that I was capable of doing, and over the years, and after all the injuries — especially the last one — my possible world became smaller and smaller and smaller, and I made myself less and less capable, in my own mind, of truly following my dreams.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Over the years I have done some Big Things, and I have had some big accomplishments that have gotten me awards and recognition. But these were all substitutes for what I really wanted to be doing. My One Big Dream that I had since I was seven years old, never “panned out”, and year after year, my resolution to do something about it drifted farther and farther from my reach.Β  Until I just about gave up on it.

These days, things are very different for me, and I realize just how much biochemistry has to do with what’s held me back. And at the same time, it both absolves me of prior blame, and it also offers me the opportunity to change things.

Because now I understand how those things work. I understand how TBI has prompted me to take risks over the years and keep myself in a constant state of stress. I also understand what a toll that has taken on my life over the years, and I’m now resolved to do something about it.

In order to do so, I need to get a grip on my autonomic fight-flight response, which is what I’ve been doing, slowly but surely. I am now moving into the next stage, where I am testing myself a bit, here and there, to get myself familiar with how it feels to be on the verge of panic, and then walk myself back from the edge with the tools I have. I’m stressing myself just a little bit, here and there, to inoculate myself against the stresses. Some call it “exposure therapy”, and maybe that’s what it is. Having read about exposure therapy, it strikes me as more intense than what I’m doing. I don’t want to force myself into a seemingly dangerous situation and then have to sweat it out. No thanks.

What I am doing is similar to doing interval weight training — I’m doing “stress intervals” — intentionally stressing myself for a short while, then backing off and taking a good break. I know I’m going to push myself hard — and I also know I’m going to let up. So, there’s not that impending sense of doom that comes when I can’t see an end in sight. I know there’s going to be an end, so I can push myself — sometimes pretty hard — and not get freaked out about it.

This gets me used to the highs and lows. And it helps me feel more comfortable with the sensation of those highs and lows.

See, that’s the thing – it’s not the highs and lows that get me. It’s my internal reaction to those highs and lows — the physical sensations of high energy or low energy trigger a dumb-ass (and extreme) reaction from me that sets certain behaviors in motion and put me into a certain mindset. Some examples:

  • I get back from a long and grueling trip to see both sides of my family, and I decide that I’m a worthless piece of crap who will never amount to anything. I’m physically and mentally and emotionally exhausted from a temporary situation, yet for some reason I’m convinced that I’m permanently damaged beyond repair. Accordingly, I slack off on my work and do nothing productive with myself for days, even weeks.
  • I work too hard and sleep too little, and I end up having a full-on blow-out/meltdown that fries my brain with a flood of raging emotions. Afterwards, I am exhausted, and it takes several days for the biochemical load to clear from my system. All during that time, I feel stupid and numb and dull and once again am convinced that I’m permanently damaged beyond repair.
  • I am incredibly excited about something that’s happening in my life. The sensation of all that adrenaline pumping through my system feels an awful lot like danger — it feels just like it used to feel when I was being hunted down by the kids who bullied me in grade school. Consequently, I stop doing what I need to do, to make progress with my goals. I also look for other things to work on that are less “stressful”, and my project falls behind.

All of the above are problematic, but it’s the last one that’s the burner. It’s the thing that’s kept me back, time and time again, and it’s the one I need to really focus on addressing.

So, to that end, I’m deliberately putting myself in exciting and tiring situations, getting used to how they feel while telling myself that this is just a feeling, not an indication of what’s really going on. And then I take a break. I have all but cut wheat and cheap carbs out of my diet to reduce the “junk load” from my system — which in itself is a little stressful, but has great benefits. I’m also doing things like taking cool showers to get my stress response jump-started for just a few minutes in the morning, and I’ve changed up my morning routine a little bit to heighten my attention.

And all the while, I’m using the techniques I’ve learned for balancing out my ANS and keeping the fight-flight response within a manageable, non-tyrannical range. I do it both — stress and relax. Intermittently. Not constantly, because that would be counter-productive, but at intervals.

I have to say it feels incredible. It’s tiring, at first, and taking cool showers instead of hot, is definitely an adjustment. But it’s really helping.

TBI Recovery: Getting used to the highs and lows – Part 1

One of the things I’ve been actively doing, over the past months, is getting use to the highs and the lows that are just outside my comfort zone. I’ve struggled a great deal with panic and anxiety over the decades, which I believe has been connected to a hefty dose of post-traumatic stress (or PTS). The classic symptoms of “disturbing recurring flashbacks, avoidance or numbing of memories of the event, and hyperarousal” have been a regular part of my life for as long as I can remember. The strange thing is, my flashbacks and numbness have been related to events that many others would not consider that stressful — making a fool of myself in front of other people, having bad choices of words, doing stupid things, making poor decisions that got me in hot water with authorities (including the police), and so on.

I’ve been flashing back on things that others would consider “just embarrassing” for a long, long time, and I’ve been intensely stressed out over it, avoiding situations, and on edge (that is, ON EDGE) for as long as I can remember.

Until, that is a couple of years ago, when I really started to come out of my TBI fog and things started to fit together for me, better and better, like they never had before. To be clear, I didn’t just magically come out of my fog for no apparent reason. I did the following, which all helped:

  • Got myself on a daily schedule of doing specific things at specific times in specific ways, so I didn’t spend a lot of mental energy figuring out how to do things. This allowed me to develop the objective, observable 100% certainty that I could get myself up and cleaned up and dressed and out the door each morning in a predictably good way. It took the pressure off my mornings and let me relax about the details — because I didn’t have to think about them. At all.
  • Exercised on a regular basis. For several years running, I got up and lifted weights and did some light cardio, the first thing in the morning before breakfast, each and every day. I never wavered from that. It was my morning routine, part of what I Just Did, and the jump start to my brain and body made me feel worlds better than I had in a long, long time.
  • Started cooking more complicated meals. I have been the main cook in my household ever since my spouse got very ill about six years ago, and it made a great deal of difference in both our health. I got into a bit of a rut, and ended up making the same things over and over. When I started cooking more complicated meals, it pushed me to work on my timing as well as my sequencing. And it make our diet more varied, which was good.
  • I learned to relax. This took some doing, but with some guided imagery tapes that I combined with rest/nap time, I have slowly but surely acquired the ability to relax. And for the first time, I know how good it feels to do that. Up until a few years ago, that was not the case.
  • I started sitting za-zen (my own version of it) and doing conscious breathing. My version of za-zen involves just sitting and breathing, sometimes a short while, sometimes longer. I have come across a number of pieces of scientific literature talking about how this helps to balance out the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and get you out of fight-flight. It helps stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and get you back to a place where you’re not tossed about by every wind that comes along.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve changed how I do things — some of the things, like regular exercise and za-zen, I stopped after a while. I guess I just got bored with them and felt like they were keeping me from doing other things I needed to do. I also let them get rote and boring, and they stopped being any kind of a challenge. I need to be challenged, or I can’t keep my interest piqued. It’s a shortcoming of mine, I know, but that’s how I am.

Currently, I’m back at the regular exercise. All I have to do is look at my skinny little forearms (typing isn’t nearly enough exercise for them) and look at myself in the mirror to realize that I need to do something about this sad state of affairs. Also, my endurance is way down for doing chores outside, which is not good, either.

I’m also taking a za-zen type of practice into my everyday life, using it in my 90-second clearing approach to really take the edge off my everyday experience. I haven’t completely abandoned it. I just needed a new way of using it in ways that got me going in my life, instead of taking me away from life — as sitting za-zen will do.

As for the exercise, after laying off for a long (too long) while, I’m doing more strengthening in actual movements that I do on a daily basis — not the isolated types of movements that focus on a specific muscle group and are useful for bodybuilders. I’m building overall strength, not just specific muscles.

I’m continuing to do my rest/relaxation thing, stepping away from work during my lunch hours to listen to guided imagery and relax — sometimes sleep, too.

And these several pieces are important for what I’m doing now, which is pushing myself a little beyond my routine to challenge myself and keep things interesting. I’m training myself to handle my highs and my lows, and not let them get to me.

To be continued…

Rested, exercised, cleaned… ready to go

Starting the day right

So, I got off to a good start today.

Got some decent sleep – almost 8 hours… got up and moved with my weights… and I cleaned my bedroom a little bit.

While my spouse is away this weekend, I’m sleeping downstairs in the living room where it’s cool. It’s been crazy hot, for the past week, and the A/C in my bedroom is on the fritz. On the one hand, it might not make that much of a difference, because I tend to overheat at night, anyway, and the heat might not even get to me. But it’s like a psychological thing with me, so I pulled out the sleeper sofa and made myself cozy in the living room A/C.

I woke up dizzy again, but less than yesterday, and definitely less than 2 days ago. I stumbled/wobbled around for a little bit, till I got my bearings, then I did some exercises to get my system back online. Doing the movement with the weights really seems to help me get my balance – pushing myself a little bit to stay upright with the added weight of the dumbells seems to kick my system into gear. I’m still dizzy, and I’ve got a sick throbbing headache, but I’m better than I was an hour ago. At least I can stay upright and I can see better than I have been, over the past few days.

Yesterday when I was running errands in the morning, I was having a hard time seeing. Nothing would stay in focus, and I couldn’t read very well. Crazy. I had to do a lot of driving around in the morning, so I had to stay 1000% focused on the road, on driving, talking to people, getting things done… all of that. I got some weird looks from people who maybe thought I was a little drunk, but so what. I had things to do, and I was going to get them done. It probably wasn’t the safest thing for me to do – driving around in such a state – but I had no choice. The stuff had to get done. Before noon. There was no waiting and there was no other option. I did manage to get it all done, with some minor snapping at my spouse — they were really pushing me, and I wasn’t in the mood to be pushed. But then I lay down for an hour and listened to my stress-hardiness tape, and I got a little sleep. So I woke up better than I was when I lay down.

Now my spouse is gone for a few days, and I have peace. No panic. No anxiety. No constant hounding about this, that, or the other thing… How do people live like that, with the non-stop worrying? I’ve got my own panic-anxiety issues, but it’s not this constant thing. At least, not anymore. Once upon a time, it was, so I know what that’s like.

The thing I don’t get is how someone can let themself stay in that state, year after year. It’s like my spouse isn’t happy if they’re not stressed out about something. Then again, I know what that’s like, too, so I need to have some damn’ compassion, already.

Yeah, okay. Point taken. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming about my own stuff and my own life and what I’m doing to take care of myself and keep myself out of trouble…

After I exercised, I went upstairs to grab some clean clothes, and I noticed how messy my bedroom is. I sleep in a separate room, because my spouse stays up late and then reads for hours, and it’s impossible for me to sleep through the night with them crawling in and out of bed and keeping the light on. They also need to have one of those salt lamps on at all times — apparently it cleans the air? If nothing else, it makes them feel safe – they cannot stand a totally dark room. It just terrifies them, I guess because of bad things that once happened in dark rooms when they were a kid?

I don’t have those issues. I like a completely dark room. The light of the salt lamp made me nuts, and they were not going to change, so I relocated to the guest bedroom some time ago. I have to say, it’s been really good to have control over my own sleeping space. I went out and got some light-blocking curtains, hung some new curtain rods, and now I’ve got a veritable cave that is pitch dark when I arrange the curtains correctly — even in daytime. It is amazing – what a huge relief it was, when I first started sleeping there. No more salt lamp light. No more being woken at 2 a.m. by someone getting into bed, no more sound of pages turning in bed beside me. And I could stretch out and toss and turn to my heart’s content and sweat like I was in a sauna, without someone pitching a fit.

People tend to think that sleeping apart means spouses are incompatible, or their relationship is on the rocks. In some ways, that is true for us. We have seen better days. However, sleeping apart has actually helped our relationship over the years. The biggest hurdle we’ve had to overcome with regard to sleeping apart, is the internal bias against it — getting ourselves used to the idea that this is a good thing and not a sign that we can’t be married anymore. Once that was overcome, things got a lot better, and now I’m feeling 100% fine with the sleeping arrangement.

So, back to the cleaning bit — I picked up around my bedroom a bit, which was overdue. It was starting to look like a — well, never mind what it was starting to look like. For some reason, I couldn’t get started with picking up — I would just drop clothing into an appropriate pile and move on. It wasn’t terrible — not like you see on “Hoarders” — but it was getting to be a bit much.

So, I took 15 minutes and got rid of the piles. Folded up t-shirts and jeans and put them in my closet. Sorted the socks and underwear and put them in their respective drawers. I could have done more, but that was enough for the moment. It made a noticeable difference, and that’s fine. I’ll get to the rest of it later.

Cleaning is something I really need to do better at. I keep pretty busy, and then I get distracted and don’t spend enough time cleaning up after myself. I don’t live in filth, by any stretch — the house is clean and functional and fairly well-organized. On the other hand, there are a bunch of piles of stuff — papers and miscellaneous items — around the house. I’m looking at a pile of papers right now. They will be easy to deal with, if I just take a few minutes to do so.Β  The trick is just spending a few minutes, which is hard for me to do.

I think part of the reason I don’t pick up more often is that I have a hard time stopping, once I start. I sort out one pile, then I’m in the swing of things, and I sort out another pile… and another… and another… until I’ve taken care of a bunch of things, and it’s all good, but I have lost track of time and I’m behind on other things. Later, when I think about cleaning, I have this association in my head that it will take me hours to do the work, and it will set me back on other things I’m supposed to be doing. It’s unconscious, and it’s pernicious, and I need to find a way around it.

So, here’s my new strategy for cleaning, which is very similar to other strategies I have set for myself lately — only give myself a short period to do it. Limit the period I’m going to do it, and then stop when the time is up. I’ve got a timer I bought a number of years ago for exactly this purpose, but after using it for about six months, I got bored with it. I also got sick of the ear-piercing beep, so I decided to not time myself anymore. But I can start using it again, and that will be fine. Heck, I can use the timer on the stove to time myself, since that’s a lot less obnoxious.

Sounds like a plan.

So, life is good. I got almost 8 hours of sleep last night, I woke up feeling pretty rested — albeit pretty dizzy and with a sick headache. I got my exercise in. And I cleaned a little bit, which is good.

I’ve got a lot of things I want to do today – I just need to get myself on a timed schedule for much of them, because I’m noticing that the same thing that keeps me from cleaning, keeps me from starting other things — I anticipate them being so big and taking so long, that they will consume me and I will get lost in them and not do the other things I need to do.

Breaking them all up in chunks will fix that. And sticking to that “deal” I’m making with myself, to ONLY do things for as long as I give myself, is essential.

Now, off to get some things done.

Onward.

Got the list…

And it’s a good one. I have a lot to do, this morning, but I sat down and mapped out everything I’m going to do, in the order they need to be done and the geographical areas I need to do them.

  • First I need to drive about half an hour to pick up an order at a store. Then I need to swing by an office supplies place to pick up some printer cartridges.
  • Then I need to pick up some food items I forgot while shopping yesterday.
  • Then I need to gas up the car and buy ice.
  • Then I need to swing by the local farm stand and stock up on some local foods.
  • Then I need to come home, get the car ready for my spouse’s trip, pack it, and get them ready for their departure around 1 p.m.
  • Then I’ll take a nap… and get on with the things I need to do tonight.

The timing is good for this trip — I need to do some repair work with power tools that my spouse hates the sound of. This way, I can make all the noise I need to, and not worry about disturbing anyone.

It will also be good to have a few days to myself. I need some down-time, to just chill and get clear in my head about where I’m going with my work in the future. I need silence and peace and no worries, which doesn’t often happen with a spouse who is in a chronic state of panic-anxiety. I’m generally the “rock” in the household – it will be nice to have a break from that and get to just be solid — and silent.

In the midst of all the preparations, having a list makes it super-simple to just handle things. I figure out where I’m going, when, what I need to do there, and then I’m done. None of this lollygagging or futzing around.Β  Just staying focused and on-target and moving from one thing to the next.

It’s a world of difference from the way things used to be, when I was still trying to keep everything straight in my head – and failing miserably at it. There was this idea in my mind that if I couldn’t keep everything in order in my head, I was a “failure”. Turns out, I was failing exactly because of that. When you think about it, we have so many distractions and so many interruptions, TBI / concussion or not, that it’s all but impossible to keep clear at every moment of every day.

Something’s gotta give. And anyway, having a list all made out ahead of time frees me up to think of everything else — more fun things, more interesting things. Other stuff. Yeah. Good stuff.

So, I’ve got my list, and now it’s time to get moving.

Onward.

How 90-second clearing helps

Here’s a picture of before and after I realized just how much 90-second clearing helps me:

This is what would happen before I could stop the crazy rush of panic chemicals:

gray-no-zone
Before – when my panic would get hold of me

Gray Zone

  • Stress response to the thought of change – adrenaline, etc.
  • Reduction in cognitive resources, narrowing, sense of danger, alert
  • Escalation of stress response, based on sense of narrowing options, bad past experiences
  • Fear / anxiety / dread mixture runs the show
  • Chase back to how things are – get content, stay stuck

Before, I would escalate really quickly, thinking that I couldn’t manage, or that I was trapped. The stress response would trigger a physical reaction with me that would make me feel like I was blocked in and didn’t have a way out, and I would begin to panic. It didn’t matter if the change was something as basic as fixing a curtain rod that had come loose from the wall, or starting a new job. I would still feel it coming on and have the same catastrophic reaction. And because my own personal catastrophic reaction often involves involuntary crying, and I cannot stand to cry in front of people for no apparent reason, I avoided a lot of situations that I feared would get hold of me.

But now, I have a different way of handling things, and so far it’s working pretty well — when I remember to do it, of course πŸ˜‰

This is what is possible now, when I stop the escalation of stress chemicals and use my breathing for a minute and a half to calm everything down:

yellow-yes-zone
After – When I spend a minute or so clearing out the stress response and stop things from escalating

Yellow Zone

  • Stress Inoculation Training, Stress Hardiness Optimization
  • Ability to shift the physical experience by breathing and other coping mechanisms
  • Clearing of stress response broadens options, opens thinking
  • From fear / anxiety / dread into anticipation / engagement / hope

Basically, the difference is like night and day. The old storms that would come up don’t have to anymore. I have a way to calm them down and think more clearly about what is in front of me. And most importantly, I don’t feel like I’m hemmed in, simply because of a physical response.

My nervous system is wired to be, well, wired. It’s automatic with me. I’ve been trained that way by life. Now I need to train myself to be another way.

And so I am.