Sometimes it helps to make a bit of a mess

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazing.

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

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

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

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

🙂

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Just get started

I’ve got a big week ahead of me. I’ve got a ton of work on my plate, most of it broken down into little bits and pieces that I can take, one at a time, and really make some good progress with.

I just need to make sure I do what I plan to do.

One of the recurring issues I have has to do with lack of initiative. I have a full life with lots of responsibilities, and I perform at a pretty decent level, as far as anyone else is concerned. Compared to most people, I’m doing okay. But what nobody knows is that I struggle intensely with getting anything at all done. My attention tends to wander and I get caught up in lots of side projects that go nowhere (and are actually more for the sake of soothing my agitation than actually accomplishing anything). I also have a heck of a time just initiating the things I have on my docket for the day.

For some reason, I just can’t get started.

After grappling with this mightily for the past 5-1/2 years (in particular since my fall in 2004), I’ve found a few tricks to get myself going.

  • While I’m thinking about what I need to do, I focus on my breath and take several deep breaths to get myself to relax. This is to keep me from spinning off into all sorts of other sidelines. A lot of times, when I start to get pumped up about something I need to do, I get so pumped up, I end up veering off into other directions and I don’t get started on what I’m supposed to be doing. Relaxing with some deep breathing helps take the edge off my agitation which tends to drive me way “off the reservation” and keeps me from focusing on what I’m supposed to be doing.
  • I also make sure the things I’m supposed to be doing are out on the desk beside me. I try to clear away all other distractions and input, and only have the stuff I’m supposed to be doing, right on hand. This is a very difficult thing for me to do, because my work space tends to be very… abundant. At the very least, I make a point of having my daily activities list in plain view, where I can check it regularly.
  • I turn off my email for the duration of my task. There’s nothing like a blip of an incoming message to distract me… for hours, sometimes. People sometimes get angry that I don’t answer them right away, but they’ll have to wait. If they aren’t properly managing their time, and they’re in a rush over some crisis that could have been avoided with proper planning, it’s not my battle to fight. I have to take care of my own work… first.
  • I limit the amount of time I plan to work on my tasks. This makes them less daunting and it also helps me schedule breaks at needed intervals. If I pick out something to do and “give” myself two hours to do it, the chances me starting it are much less than if I allot myself 30 minutes to it… and then spend the full two hours getting something done. Limiting the amount of time automatically gets me into “do it now” mode, which is helpful.
  • I make a point of taking breaks. I do love my work (most of the time), but I can so caught up  in what I’m doing that I wear myself out, so I need to limit the time  I spend focusing on my work. Fatigue, even if it’s because of an activity  I really enjoy, is still fatigue. And the more tuckered out I am, the less well my brain works. So, I stop myself — sometimes in mid-task — and just walk away. This is something relatively new for me and it doesn’t come naturally after a lifetime of being 200% immersed in my work for hours up on hours at a time, but I’m learning.
  • I do  try to “let myself off the leash” at regular intervals during the day. I’ll go for a walk outside. Or I’ll do a little reading about something that interests me. The challenge with doing this, is keeping myself in check and being able to come back to my work later. The point is to refresh myself and take a break… not fatigue myself even more by over-doing the walk outside or the time spent reading up on the central nervous system.
  • Last but not least, I make a point of reminding myself about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. If I don’t have a clear sense that what I’m doing is going to help me get where I’m going in life, all my motivation dissipates and evaporates. And that’s no good. But if I can keep my life goals in mind, and stay clear on my priorities and the things I want to accomplish in life, that goes a long way towards keeping me on track.

As I said, a lot of this does not come naturally to me, or it’s a real departure from how I’ve always done things. But I’m learning how to do it, and when it works well, it really works well. I’m actually able to get started… and get things done.

Speaking of keeping on track, it’s time to move on to my next activity.

Onward.

Building my cognitive-behavioral exoskeleton

MTBI can do a lot of damage, in terms of shredding your existing skills and long-accustomed habits. It can really undermine your thinking and judgment, so that you never even realize you need to do things differently than you did before. And it requires that you force your brain (and sometimes body) to push harder and harder, even when every indication around (and inside) you is saying, “Let up… let up…”

This can be very confounding. I encounter — all the time — people who are keen on “taking it easy” and doing things “with ease and grace”. They think this is a sign of superior evolution. They think this is a sign of superior character, as though it means they are more “plugged in with the Universe”. They don’t want to have to expend the effort to get things done. They want Spirit/YHWH/God/Creator to do it for them. They don’t want to take a chance and extend themselves, because they are convinced that a Higher Power is more capable than they, and they believe they should just “get out of the way” and let that Higher Power take charge of their lives.

That may be fine for them, but that mindset drives me nuts. First of all, it absolves them of any responsibility for their actions. If things mess up, they can say it was “God’s will” or part of a “higher plan”. If things get really messed up, they can say they just need to be more “in tune with Spirit”.  I have a bunch of friends who are convinced that they are “channels” for Divine Inspiration, and that’s how they should live… just floating along on a tide of holy impulse. And their lives are a shambles. Objectively speaking, they are constantly marinating in a brine of their individual dramas and traumas. It’s just one thing after another, and all the while, they keep expecting Spirit/YHWH/God/Creator to fix all the messes they’ve helped create.

It’s very frustrating to watch this willful disregard of basic cause and effect, but I suppose everybody’s got their stuff.

Now, it’s one thing, if these people (some of whom are very dear to me) are content to live their lives that way, but when they expect me to do the same — and they judge me as being less “evolved” if I do things differently — it’s a little too much to take, sometimes. I don’t do well with living my life from a distance. I don’t do well with telling myself that I’m just floating along on the divine breeze, waiting for some wonderful opportunity to arise to save me from my own creations. I need to be involved in my own life. I need to be invested. I need to put some effort into my life. I need the exertion. It’s good for my spirit. It’s good for my morale. And it bolsters my self-esteem, as well.

Anyway, even if I wanted to just float along, I couldn’t. I’d sink like a rock. I’m not being hard on myself — this is my observation from years of experience. I can’t just ramble about, taking things as they come. I need structure and discipline to keep on track, to keep out of trouble, to keep my head on straight. I can’t just be open to inspiration and follow whatever impulse comes to mind. My mind is full of countless impulses, every hour of every day, and if I followed each and every one, I’d be so far out in left field, I’d never find my way back. I have had sufficient damage done to the fragile connections in my cerebral matter, that the routes that neural information takes have been permanently re-routed into the darkest woods and jungles of my brain. All those injuries over the years didn’t just wash out a few bridges — they blew them up. And they slashed and burned the jungle all around, and dug huge trenches across the neural byways I “should” be able to access.

As my diagnostic neuropsych says, “I am not neurologically intact.”

So that kind of disqualifies me for just winging it in my life. I tried for years to “go with the flow”, and I ended up flit-flitting about like a dried oak leaf on the wild October wind. I got nowhere. I can’t live like that, and I know it for sure, now that I’m intentionally trying to get myself in some kind of order. My brain is different. It has been formed differently than others. It has been formed differently than it was supposed to.

I can’t change that. But I can change how I do things. I can change how I think about things. I can change by facing up to basic facts. As in:

  • My thinking process is not a fluid one, anymore. In fact, I’m not sure it ever was — for real, that is. I’ve consistently found that when I’ve been the most certain about things, was the time when I needed most to double-check.
  • If I don’t extend myself to get where I’m going, I can end up sidelining myself with one minor failure after another. One by one, the screw-ups add up, and I end up just giving up, out of exhaustion and/or ex-/implosion… and I can end up even farther behind than when I started.
  • It’s like nothing internal is working the way it’s supposed to, and the standard-issue ways of thinking and doing just don’t seem to hold up.
  • My brain is different from other folks. It just is. It doesn’t have to be a BAD thing. It just is.

On bad days, it’s pretty easy for me to get down on myself. I feel broken and damaged and useless, some days — usually when I’m overtired and haven’t been taking care of myself. But on good days, I can see past all that wretchedness and just get on with it.

Part of my getting on with it is thinking about how we MTBI survivors can compensate for our difficulties… how we create and use tools to get ourselves back on track — and stay there. There are lots of people who have this kind of injury, and some of them/us figure out what tools work best for us, and we make a point of using them. These exterior tools act as supports (or substitutes) for our weakened internal systems. We use planners and notebooks and stickie notes. We use self-assessment forms and how-to books and motivational materials. We use prayer and reflection ane meditation and journaling. We use exercise and brain games. We use crossword puzzles and little daily challenges we come up with by ourselves.

Some of us — and I’m one such person — use our lives as our rehab. Not all of us can afford rehab (in terms of time or money), and not all of us can even get access to it (seeing as our injuries tend to be subtle and the folks who actually know what to do about them are few and far between). But we have one thing we can use to learn and live and learn some more — life. The school of hard knocks.

I use everything I encounter to further my recovery. I have to. I don’t want to be homeless. I don’t want to be stuck in underemployment. I don’t want to fade away to nothing. And that’s what could easily happen, if I let up. My friends who are into “ease and grace” don’t get this. But then, they’re embroiled in their own dramas, so they don’t really see what’s going on with me. Even my therapist encourages me to “take it easy” a lot more than I’m comfortable doing. (They’ve only known me for about seven months, so they don’t have a full appreciation of all the crap I have to deal with, so I’ll cut them a break.)

It stands to reason that others can’t tell what difficulties I have. After all, I’ve made it my personal mission to not let my injuries A) show to others, B) impact my ability to function in the present, and C) hold me back from my dreams. I may be unrealistic, and I may be just dreaming, but I’m going to hold to that, no matter what. I can’t let this stop me. None of it – the series of falls, the car accidents, the sports concussions, the attack… None of it is going to stop me, if I have anything to say about it. I just have to keep at it, till I find a way to work through/past/around my issues.

And to do that, I use tools. I keep notes. I write in my journal. I blog. I have even been able to read with comprehension for extended periods, lately, which was beyond my reach for a number of years. I keep lists of things I need to do. I come up with ways of jogging my memory. I play games that improve my thinking. I focus on doing good work, and doing well at the good work I’m involved in. I bring a tremendous amount of mindfulness to the things I care about, and I’m constantly looking for ways to improve. To someone with less restlessness and less nervous energy, it would be an exhausting prospect to life this way. But I have a seemingly endless stream of energy that emanates from a simmering sense of panic, and a constantly restless mind, so  I have to do something with it.

Some might recommend medication to take the edge off. But that, dear reader, would probably land me in hot water. Without my edge, I fade away to a blob of ineffectual whatever-ness.

I build myself tools. I use spreadsheets to track my progress. I downloaded the (free and incredibly helpful) Getting Things Done Wiki and installed it on my laptop to track my projects and make sure I don’t forget what I’m supposed to be working on. I have even built myself a little daily activity tracking tool that I use to see if any of my issues are getting in my way. It not only lets me track my issues, but it also helps me learn the database technologies I need to know for my professional work.

I am constantly thinking about where I’m at, what I’m doing, why I’m doing it. I am rarely at rest, and when I am, it is for the express purpose of regaining my strength so I can go back at my issues with all my might and deal directly with them. I am at times not the most organized with my self-rehab, but I’m making progress. And I track what I’m doing, to make sure I’m not getting too far afield. And I check in with my neuropsychs on a weekly basis.

I also use external props to keep me in line. I build exercise and nutrition into my daily routine, so I have no choice but do do them — if I break my routine, I’m lost. The anxiety level is just too high. I commit myself to meetings that require me to be in a certain place at a certain time, so I have to keep on schedule. I work a 9-5 job that forces me to be on-time and deliver what I promise. I surround myself with people who have very high standards, and I hold myself to them. As I go about my daily activities, I do it with the orientation of recovery. Rehabilitation. Life is full of rehab opportunities, if you take the time — and make the point — to notice.

In many ways, my external tool-making and structure-seeking is like being a hermit crab finding and using shells cast off by other creatures for their survival. I don’t have the kind of inner resources I’d like to keep myself on track, and I don’t have the innate ability/desire to adhere to the kinds of standards I know are essential for regular adult functioning. I’ve been trying, since I was a little kid, to be the kind of person I want to be, and it’s rarely turned out well when I was running on my own steam.

So, I put myself in external situations and engage in the kinds of activities that require me to stay on track and adhere to the kinds of standards I aspire to. I seek out the company of people who are where I want to be — or are on the same track that I want to be on. And I “make like them” — I do my utmost to match them, their behaviors, their activities. And it works. I do a damned good impression of the person I want to be — even when deep down inside, I’m having a hell of a time adhering to my own standards.

The gap between who I want to be/what I want to do with my life, and how I actually am and what I actually accomplish is, at times, a vast chasm. I have so many weak spots that feel utterly intractable — and I need to do something about them. So, I use the outside world to provide the impetus and stimulation I require to be the person I know I can be, and to accomplish the things I long to do. I use the supports I can get, and I use whatever tools I have on hand. I fashion the world around me in a way that supports my vision of who I can be and what I can accomplish in my life. and I just keep going, layering on more and more experiential “shellack” that supports my hopes and dreams and vision.

Dear reader, if you only knew how different my fondest hopes and most brightly burning dreams have been from my actual reality throughout the course of my 4 decades-plus on this earth, you would weep for days, maybe weeks. But this is not the time to cry. Not when I have within my reach the means by which to put myself on the track I long for. Not when I have the resolve to take my life to the next level. Not when I have — at long last — the information I need to understand my limitations and my cognitive-behavioral makeup. Not when I have the drive and desire to live life to the fullest, to love and grow and learn and … and …

But enough — the day is waiting, and I have things I must get done.

Peace, out

BB