The last few weeks have been pretty quiet, all things considered. Since getting back from Thanksgiving travels, things at work have been fairly chilled out andsteady — the re-org notwithstanding. I’m getting ready for a nice week and a half off work with time to pursue some interests without the pressures of time crunches, deadlines, and the like.
I’ll also be pulling together some details on my physical condition — possibly — for a neurologist who I may be able to connect with in the new year. I have good hopes about this, as my neuropsych has finally come through with a recommendation, and I think they’re a good possibility. I did some Googling and checking out their record, and I like what I see.
Then again, I’ve been confident before about my choices, and I chose wrong, so… only time will tell. And if I end up screwing things up again, then I’m really no worse off than I am now, which isn’t all that shabby. It’s painful and confounding and frustrating at times, but I’m managing. And there we have it.
Anyway, I don’t want neurology to derail my holiday time off. I’d really like to get into a steady flow and do some reading and writing on some projects I’ve got in the works. Some of them have been “in the wings” for many months, now, and I haven’t had the time and energy to finish them up. Between family crises and interstate travel, well, it’s been a demanding fall. Now, though, everything feels chilled out and quite calm, which is nice.
Finally. A real Christmas holiday.
I’m looking forward to it.
For all the calm, though, I’ve been feeling sad. I think the idea of starting to track my physical symptoms again and working with another doctor, is kind of bugging me. I’d almost rather just get on with my life. But I’ve been having tremors and sick headaches, and if there’s a way to deal with it all, so much the better.
Anyway, I’m getting an early jump on supper tonight — eating about 3 hours earlier than I did last night. I haven’t been getting much sleep, being so wound up and off my usual schedule. I’ve been exercising, which has been really good for me. And I’m still adjusting to it.
Well, whatever happens… happens.
The main thing is to just relax and get some rest tonight. Tomorrow is the last day I’ll work for the next two weeks, and for that I am so very grateful.
I’m OFF this weekend. That is to say, I have an extra day off work, which I will value and use to the best of my ability:
I’ll read whatever I like, wandering the internet (especially the free text sites — the Internet Archive, and Project Gutenberg)
I’ll write whatever I like, typing up the handwritten notes and thoughts I’ve collected over the past week
I’ll sleep whenever I want, taking plenty of naps and resting up from the past week
I’ll eat whatever I want, whenever I want — and I’ll fast, too. For the record, eating whatever I want means I’ll make healthy choices of the foods I have in my refrigerator and cupboards. At work they have a good salad bar, but that’s about all I can really eat in their establishment. Everything else is “standard fare” that doesn’t do me (or the other overweight people around me) much good.
I’ll exercise however I want. I had extra time this morning to lift heavier weights and get my blood pumping. It feels really good, right now, after that workout. And I know I’m on the right path.
The great thing about having an extra day off — especially with it being the holiday — is that all my noisy neighbors are gone. They’ve all gone off to their families’ lake or beach cottages to gather with their own friends and family. That means the neighborhood is
. . . q u i e t . . .
Deliciously, restoratively quiet.
There isn’t all sorts of random racket from my over-achieving Type-A uber-adult peers who can’t seem to leave the power tools alone on the weekends. There isn’t all sorts of activity, with cars and pickups and minivans pulling in and out of their driveways. And there isn’t a lot of yelling and screaming and banging and clunking coming from kids who are just doing what kids do, and have every right to do it… but who drive me nuts with all their noisy activity.
It’s good for everyone. Everybody else gets to do what they want to do, and I get to do what I need to do — rest, relax, take plenty of time to unwind and let my mind off its leash… And nobody has to be held back or put down by what anyone else is doing.
That’s all I really want — the ability to be free to be myself and pursue my own interests without having to waste time on interacting with other people who seem mainly interested in proving what fine citizens they are. I don’t need to prove that. Before I fell and hit my head in 2004, I needed to do that more than anything. I was in competition with the rest of the world to show that I was worth something, that I could do anything I set my mind to, that I was worth noticing and taking seriously.
After I fell — and my world fell apart — I learned the hard way, how important it is to not let that drive me. Now my life and my priorities are very, very different.
One thing about TBI, is that it teaches you to stand on your own, regardless of what others think. It teaches you to stand up for yourself and not take things for granted. It teaches you to keep a level head and just be who you are and how you are, regardless. And it teaches you to value the simple things in life — a quiet long weekend, when the neighbors are all gone, the area is quiet, and you don’t have a million people clamoring for your attention and energy.
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. 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.
Well, I’m halfway into my second week without having Facebook on my smartphone, and I realize I’m really enjoying it. I’ve been having some real issues with irritability and anger and aggression over the past months, and I think that my Facebook activity was really fueling those issues and making things worse.
And when I say “worse”, I’m talking about road rage that has been flaring up more and more over the past few months… blow-ups at home over little things that escalate very quickly… things getting tougher at work between myself and others… and more. These are just a few of the things that have been getting worse over the past months. They are not things that I can afford to just let run rampant. I’ve lost jobs over less, and it’s not worth it. Especially for someone with my irritability and impulse control issues.
But how could Facebook have made things worse for me?
Well, first, there’s the sleep thing. When I don’t sleep properly or have enough rest, it feeds my irritability and aggression. With Facebook, I was spending an awful lot of time staying up longer than I should have, and waking up earlier than I should have – and instead of going back to sleep, checking FB and reading everything that was going on with people. I was literally losing sleep to Facebook, which is not something I should lose to anything – especially not a social network where people are either posting inane crap or fighting.
The other big (maybe bigger) thing was the level of conflict and aggression that seems to have taken over FB in general. Especially during the election… geez, what a bunch of loons we all turned into. And it’s still going on, as folks continue to argue and fuss and attack each other about politics and who’s to blame for what. The thing of it was, even though at first I was really turned off by all the aggression and arguing, and I managed to stay above it, after a while, I got sucked into it, and I found myself starting to act like other people there — which was NOT what I wanted.
I found myself actually posting things and responding to things that I never would have bothered with before. It wasn’t just disrupting my peace of mind – it was totally wrecking it. And over what? A few sentences that couldn’t be properly discussed or understood more deeply?
The other thing was the constant distraction. Having online media so readily available hasn’t exactly done wonders for me. And having Facebook on my smartphone at work, just gave me the opportunity to step away and lose myself in it for 15-20 minutes. Like smoking a cigarette… without the lung cancer. But even with milder doses of pointless distraction… still not the most productive use of time. In fact, it was breaking up the flow of my day — from morning till night. Not good.
The vacuousness of it just drove me nuts after a while. All those little snipes, back and forth, either for or against, for or against… just for the sake of sniping, like a martial arts match that’s just there for the competition’s sake, not actual self-defense. Social media, as entertaining and distracting as it can be, is not a place where I can really hone my own views and discuss with others to the degree I like. That just doesn’t happen online. And as a result, there is a lot of misunderstanding — and yet more resulting conflict. It just feeds on itself, like a wildfire. And what long-term good actually comes out of it? Sure, social media can fan the flames of revolution, but then what? Does anybody have a clue?
Who can say? I can’t answer that here in this forum. All I can say is, leaving Facebook behind has done a couple of things for me:
1. I am resting better now. I don’t waste as much time lying around looking at people’s blather/jokes/rants/truisms. And not only am I going to sleep when I go to bed (instead of lying there for half an hour reading FB), but I am actually giving myself time to wake up before I jump into the day.
2. I realized that the mindset I was getting into — combative, argumentative, aggressive — which was affecting my driving and personal relationships, is NOT what I want to have in my head. When I was on FB, my mindset was like a WWE match. All the time. And I thought that was okay. Because it’s how everyone was, and it was fun. Energizing. Entertaining. But after getting off FB, I realize that my mindset was pretty corrupted — wasted, really — and I need to change.
See, the thing that hurt me the most with FB, was getting used to the bad behavior, the fighting, the insults, the accusations, the protests, as “normal”. That is NOT how things have to be. It’s how some people are, but it’s not how Iwant to be. I don’t want to be that person who sits with an electronic device and praises those who share my opinions and snipes at people who don’t agree with me. I don’t want to be that person who posts wildly about all my pet causes and gets into shouting matches with people who don’t agree with me, or simply have a different perspective. I don’t want to be that person who thinks that just because I have very strong opinions, that makes me right and it gives me the right to go after others who disagree with me.
For a long time, I kept Facebook at bay and didn’t get involved. Then I gave in. Now I remember why I kept it at arms’ length. And I’m getting back to that old way of being. Seriously, I have so much going on in my life right now, the last thing I need is yet another leech on my time and energy and peace of mind.
I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about the info I read recently about how making breakfast can make you more creative, and I’ve realized that this approach has been helping me a great deal. I’ve been breaking up my established routines more, lately, and I think it’s been helping me learn better ways of dealing with my life in general, coming up with more creative solutions, and generally improving my performance at work.
I have to say, looking back at my job choices and performance in the years after my last TBI, I was nowhere near the level I should have been at. And my job choices showed it, too. I went from being a senior consultant type of person, to being a “plug and chug” person who could barely handle the most elemental of tasks. And a lot of them I didn’t handle. I just muddled through and hoped people wouldn’t notice that I was screwing up. And then I would take off when things got to be unsustainable and I was pretty sure everything was going to catch up with me, and they’d figure out that I was pretty impaired.
God, when I think back, I was just a WRECK at work. I just wasn’t doing a very good job at all. WTF?!
TBI, that’s WTF. One hell of a TBI.
It took me years to get back to a place where I was even capable of building myself back up. It took me years to stop screwing myself over and digging myself deeper and deeper holes I couldn’t climb out of.
But even after getting back on my feet again and “normalizing” to where I wasn’t shooting myself in the foot every other day… looking back at the last 18 months I’ve been at this job, there are so many things that I was tasked with doing that I just didn’t “get” how to do. It’s embarrassing to think about it now, looking back. Things like sending certain kinds of emails to people, performing certain tasks that I have been doing for years and years, and generally managing my workflow. It’s been a bit haphazard and chaotic, I’m embarrassed to say. And I’m not sure why they’ve tolerated that level of performance in me… unless they figured that I was still on a learning curve…
Wow. That’s a pretty long learning curve. And yet, they keep me around… I guess I must be doing something right.
Anyway, I’m really doing so much better than I have been before, and I think I know why that might be.
Basically, it’s because I have developed routines in my life. From the first moments that I wake up in the morning, to my preparation for going out into the day, to my schedule at work, to what I do in the evenings… and the weekends, too… I have a routine I follow. It probably sounds boring and uber-disciplined, but it has been my saving grace. By establishing what I’m going to do each day, and doing it the same way each day, I have “offloaded” the burden of having to re-think everything I do, and I have more time and energy to think about things that matter more to me — like better ways to do my job, better ways to live my life. I have more energy to repair the damage from before, because I’m not having to figure out what I’m going to have for breakfast each day… how to dress for work… what route to take to work… etc.
The time and energy I save on not having to re-think my breakfast each morning, is time and energy I have for thinking about my day and planning things I’m going to do. The time and energy I save on having a routine for my morning prep for work is time and energy I have for thinking through what I need to get accomplished and forming a picture in my mind of how to go about doing what I need to do.
Getting rid of all the hashing through minute details frees me up to actually have some depth of thought and consideration, so while I may look like I’m on autopilot, I’m actually able to think more in-depth about what I’m doing and experience it, not just “git ‘er done”.
So, my routines have helped me tremendously. They’ve also helped reduce the amount of stress in my life. Having to re-think everything constantly takes a lot of energy and it can become quite stressful, which put me into a constant fight-flight state of mind/body… and that was no good. I was always on and the adrenaline marinade from having my proverbial foot on the pedal-to-the-metal, day in and day out, was kicking the crap out of me, frying my system, making me way too jumpy — and not helping my thought processes at all.
Another the way my routines help me, is when I break up my routine a little bit, now and then, and do things differently — like in the article about how making breakfast differently can help you become more creative. With my stress level down, and my foot taken off the fight-flight pedal, my system has been able to balance itself out, and I’ve been able to relax a whole lot more… which also makes it possible for my brain to learn.
When you’re really stressed, your brain just doesn’t learn as well as it does when it’s relaxed. So, having a regular routine that gives me a sense of comfort and stability has been critical to my ability to improve and change. It’s like, you need a routine and some “boring” stability to get settled down. Then when you’re settled down and your brain is receptive to new ideas, then you can try new things and shake things up a little bit.
But having that routine in place first is critical. Because when you’re shaking things up, you need to have some sort of mental safety net you can fall back on, if things get too stressful. If things are too chaotic and confusing and unpredictable, it’s easy to go into a mindset of panic and anxiety, and you end up losing ground. But if — in the midst of your innovation — you have a safety net to fall back on, and you can just go back to your regular routine when you’re scared or stressed, then you have more freedom to experiment.
And you have more freedom to grow.
But you have to have a foundation first. You have to have stability and a sense of calm and comfort, in order to make real progress. At least, that’s my experience.
And it works for me.
Now, I know a lot of people think that routine is the opposite of creativity, but I have found that routine supports creativity. How can you be truly creative, unless you have freed your mind from the truly deadening burden of re-thinking even the most basic activities of your everyday? I know people who insist that they cannot stand routine, that they need to be “free” to go to bed whenever they like and get up whenever they like, spend their money however they feel “in the moment”, and drift in and out of relationships “as the spirit moves them.”
It may feel to them like they’re being creative, but I see a lot of them really suffering with problems and issues that never, ever go away. They get stuck in these cycles of personal problems that they never have time to really think deeply about, because all their energy is used up “being creative” about the smallest of details in their lives. And the result is chaos — personally and professionally. They go from one crisis to the next, over things that could be solved if they slowed down long enough to really look at what is going on with them, and if they gave some honest, extended consideration to how to fix those things.
But honesty scares them. And so does the idea of routine. So, they end up stuck. And they’re not nearly as creative as they’d like to be, because all their energy is used up performing low-level activities that can be put on auto-pilot.
And God forbid I suggest that they do things differently. It’s wild, seeing how intensely they defend their “creativity” when all it seems to be is a series of distractions that keep their minds off their troubles — troubles which never, ever go away.
Am I being harsh? I don’t think so. After all, I used to be like that. For real. I was so caught up in the low-level details of my everyday, that I never had any energy left over for the things that actually mattered or would let me get ahead. I was so stuck, and until I developed a routine for each day and stuck with it, I couldn’t get free.
Apparently, they have had a pretty prominent place in my life. Everything from the corporate environments I work in, which have conference rooms designated as “war rooms” and meetings called “triage” and where onetime National Guard members and former servicemen and -women interact with each other in a hierarchical way, using terminology that has a distinctly military feel to it… to the imagery I use in my everyday life… war is always there.
My neuropsych has taken issue with my referring to interactions as “push-backs” and my daily life as “barrage”, as being decidedly conflict-oriented. But the whole push-back thing is common vernacular in my job, and frankly, with the amount of work that gets thrown my way is pretty much of a barrage. And that’s my experience of it. Having people show up at my desk in an aggressive stance, pushing and threatening… it does tend to be a bit of a barrage. And there’s a lot of it.
My neuropsych is trying to train me to think about these conflicts and interactions in ways that are not battle-oriented. They’re trying to get me to think about my LIFE in ways that are not battle-oriented. I’m not sure how well it’s working out. Sure, I get that it can be more constructive to conceptualize solutions that are mutually beneficial. And that’s generally how I try to orient myself.
But sometimes, things get to be a battle. And there’s no way around it.
Interestingly, I’m finding a lot of comfort in reading military memoirs. Stories of Patton and Montgomery. Accounts of fighter pilots doing the impossible, and military campaigns that went well… or didn’t.
I’m not sure what the attraction is. I’ve never been a very militaristic person, and I do believe that conflict is often an unnecessary distraction from what really needs to get accomplished. I guess it just helps to read about people who have had to overcome serious odds in life-and-death situations, when I feel like I’m surrounded by spoiled, coddled co-workers and family members who can’t manage to do the most basic of things, like do a full day’s work and get out of bed at a reasonable hour.
It just feels like so many people around me are weak and unwilling to work. I tell myself that that’s on them — I get a great deal of satisfaction out of earning what I have and putting in a full day’s (and more) work. It works for me, and I feel a little sorry for people who can’t be bothered with experiencing a little discomfort for long-term gain.
But I rely on people to get my job done and live my life. So being surrounded by people who can’t handle any sort of stress or strain, and who buckle at the first sign of trouble… well, that is troubling.
It’s not like I’m a hard-ass. It’s just been my experience that life will throw a lot of crap at you, and you just have to soldier through and keep going. It’s worked for me over 25 years of being steadily employed, and I have yet to see any other strategy that actually works in the long-term. Sure, focusing on the positive and envisioning the world you want to create is all very well and good. But there’s an awful lot of boring old work involved, too.
And trying to avoid the discomfort of work with mental gymnastics and rationalizations that paint a boring, drab, uncomfortable experience in a positive light, ultimately will fail to produce the kinds of results that actual work will. Because any sort of prolonged success will necessarily demand a level of tolerance for discomfort and boredom and drudgery that sees you through all those hours of effort.
Peace is fine. Peace is nice. But being able to handle yourself in wartime conditions can also come in handy.