For June: Do one positive thing a day for myself and my dreams

road leading into the distance with a flat horizon
Just keep steady, in a good way

Let’s just face it.

I’m stalled.

I’ve been stalled for months, even years. Even longer than that, actually. No matter how I’ve tried, I haven’t been able to break free of the rut I feel like I’m in. It’s just felt like one problem after another that I’ve handled… that is to say, other people’s problems. And in the process, I solve my own.

I get paid to solve other people’s problems. I get paid pretty well, too, so that solves a lot of problems in my life. I need money to survive. I need a certain amount of status and security to stay healthy and not die. I know people who treat money like an optional thing. They don’t want to get entangled in it. They have more important things to worry about.

And I’m happy for them. I really am. If they can make it — or survive the stresses of not having enough — that’s a quality I admire. But I can’t do it. The stress throws me off too much. It disrupts my sleep, and when that happens, I can’t function. Even worse, my behavior takes a nose-dive and I lash out. Yelling. Slamming things around. It’s not good, for me or the other people around me. I’m stronger than people realize, and I can do some damage, if I let it all loose.

So, I need to keep things well managed, in a steady state of balance. That means getting enough sleep. And that means not getting so stressed out that it starts to wreck my life.

I keep myself in a pretty regular routine. And it works for me. I manage to get enough sleep, most of the time. I eat regularly, exercise regularly, take care of my responsibilities, hold down a job.

But I’m in a rut.

So, I need to get myself out of it. I need to take action on my own behalf, to at least create the impression that I’m taking care of myself. I’m so busy taking care of everyone else, I get lost in the shuffle of my own life. And that needs to change.

So, I’ll do one positive thing a day for myself. Something that brings me happiness, not just maintains my steady state. And I need to prioritize it over everything else. Yes, I may need to do other things, first thing in the morning, to get myself going — exercise, eat breakfast, take care of my spouse — but then I need to just take a little time on something that contributes to me. And my future.

There’s a lot of stuff I can do for myself. I have a bunch of books I’d love to read. I’ve been wanting to read them for a while, and I will surely get around to them. And there are other undertakings — writing, designing, artwork — that I want to get back into. My legendary (in my own mind, anyway) projects take on a life of their own, and they bring me a lot of happiness. But I’m stalled between a number of choices. Each of them has benefits. Each of them has downsides. I might be able to do any of them and be happy about it. But I have to pick one. And move on. Get going with just one, so I can get out of my rut… make some progress.

So, that being said, I’m picking one project and doing something positive about it, each day in June. I may not blog about it, every single day, but I will have that focus. I’ve made the commitment to myself, and now I’ll carry through.

The main thing is to have a deliberate focus in my life. My job is… fine. But it’s not how I want to spend all my free time. My marriage is on good footing, although it seems to be getting more challenging each week. My health is pretty good (though I could stand to lose 15 pounds). Overall, my life is… fine. But I need a specific focus on something that is mine and mine only, so I don’t feel like I’m just evaporating into the mist of everyone else’s dreams and ambitions.

I can do that. I will do that. I am doing it.

Onward.

Advertisements

So what if it’s awful? That will change. No doubt.

The past couple of weeks have been pretty rough for me. Oh, hell, the past few months have been intense. Family issues, relationship issues, work issues. The whole gamut. And I’ve been feeling like crap, for the most part.

Pretty awful.

So what? It will change. I will change it. And that change starts with me actively amping up my responses to the events of my life in ways that I choose, and that suit me best.

One of the life-changing developments of my life, in the past while, has been using my 90-second clearing to take the edge off my anxiety, anger, fear, adrenaline rush. I learned about how stopping and breathing slowly will stop the downward slide and it gives me a chance to let the stress biochemicals in my system clear out – replaced by ones that are better suited to thinking things through in a rational and adult manner, instead of like the crazy person I can quickly become when I’m pushed too far.

I’ve been doing this 90-second activity for a couple of weeks, now, and it’s pretty amazing. And it shows me — up close and personal — how even in my most frantic state, I can get myself back to some balance. I don’t have to teeter on the brink of madness. I can take a bunch of slow breaths, step back, and turn around and head in a completely different direction.

Which is good.

It puts things in a whole new light. Because now, not only do I know that I can get myself back to feeling human again, but that generalizes to other parts of my life, and I can see how things can change so quickly. For the better. Or, even if they don’t get better, at least I can feel better, and when I feel better, I think better, and things can be improved.

Maybe not overnight, but I can at least make a start…. or, to be more accurate, make another start.

Some days it feels like I’m starting from scratch every single day. It’s weird — and a little wonderful at the same time. I believe it has to do with my working memory issues. I just don’t retain things really close to the surface of my memory — I have to revisit over an extended period of time, preferably with someone in the room. That’s where my neuropsych has come in, for the past four years or so — they’re someone I have checked in with regularly, once a week, to review my progress and keep me on track.

Well, money is short these days, and my copay went up, so I can no longer afford to see them every single week. I’ve switched to every other week. This is — again — weird and wonderful. On the one hand, I feel like an important support for my life has been removed; on the other, I feel like this is an important step for me, to be able to be more independent and draw on my own resources. I cleared out a bunch of old papers from my bookshelves this morning, and I found a lot of notes from my past sessions, and it’s remarkable how much progress I have made. Seriously, I have come a very long way, and I need to give myself credit for that.

Reading those notes is a little disconcerting — I can see how diminished I was, how limited I was letting myself be. But it’s also encouraging, because I’m not that person anymore. Not by a long shot. I think about how hard things were for me, once upon a time, and how awful they were, and I can see how much things have changed. So that is good. And it is encouraging.

The tough times I’m having right now are partly “withdrawal” from my weekly sessions, which have been safety valve for me. I’m adjusting and adapting and coming up with my own ways of releasing pressure and getting my bearings. It’s not easy. It’s very painful and confusing and fear-inducing. But so what? This will change. With practice and concerted effort, it will change. The tough times are also due to some real difficulties I’m having with my environment — and I know it’s not just me. I know it’s not just my attitude. The situations I’m in really do suck — by design by forces driving towards short-term maximum profitability, with long-term detriment to everyone involved. I have been stuck in this short-term frantic hell-hole of a workplace for almost three years, now, and it’s time to go. It just sucks so awfully, and I am simply accepting that as how things are — with a view towards changing it in just a few months.

These are all adjustments. Difficult adjustments. Problems with integration and assimilation — which should be problems, because when sh*t is f*cked up, well… sh*t truly is f*cked up. And there is no logical reason a person should stay in that situation, try to adapt to it, make it feel better, etc. I’m invoking Kasimierz Dabrowski now, who was a Polish psychiatrist who survived the Nazi and Stalinist eras and developed his Theory of Positive Dis-Integration (the “-” is mine in “Dis-Integration” because without it, the word to me means “dissolution” or “falling apart” in an internal sense, which doesn’t mean anything good to me). This theory states that people with high personal development potential, who are able to develop their own identities independent of the crowd, will necessarily go through some dark nights of the soul, as they develop and realize that they really don’t fit in with the crowd, and indeed they should not.

This dark night that people experience is often diagnoses as a form of depression which should be treated – or it’s seen as a disease that has to be cured. Our standard-issue popular response to people who don’t fit in and don’t cotton to the pressures of the “normal” world, is to pathologize and/or medicate and/or institutionalize this state of mind, rather than working through it and seeing it as a sign that there is something more this person can — and should — be experiencing in their life.

That’s kind of where I’ve been for the past while — being keenly aware of how effed up things are around me, seeing the part that I’ve played in making all that possible — how I’ve enabled people to screw me over… how I’ve undercut myself with poor habits and lack of discipline… and most of all how I’ve numbed myself to the raw facts of things not being as they could be, simply by “changing my perspective” and looking at things from an angle that allowed me to make them all right, while ignoring the angles that showed that things were anything but right… and of course seeing how not managing my TBI symptoms and after-effects has made me a lot less effective and with-it than I could have been all along.

Probably the hardest thing to stomach has been realizing how I’ve made things harder for myself, by zoning out in a state of bliss that blocks out any pain or discomfort. I’ve been able to put myself in a state of bliss — total physical, mental, spiritual ecstasy — for many years, now, and I’ve been using that to dull the pain that comes from my everyday life. I also know how to direct my focus to one thing — and one thing only — effectively blinding myself to the troubles at hand. Because I’ve been able to do this — total focus and ecstasy without drugs — I’ve been able to keep myself from falling apart. But I’ve also been keeping myself from coming in full contact with my life and seeing clearly what needs to change.

I’ve been in a lot of pain for a long time, and I’ve managed to find a way to get my own relief. At the same time, that ability to cut the pain and block it all out has held me back from making the kind of progress I really need to make.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do think that things have been so intense and potentially overwhelming that I have HAD to block them out and dull them. I fall apart over little things way to easily, and I have to stay functional. It’s been useful. And I do think that after the years of teetering on the brink of collapse, post-TBI, I needed to normalize and get to stable footing, which is where I am now.

So, in a way, this pain and discomfort is a good thing. It’s a sign that I’m ready to head to the next level and do some more great work, refashion my life, and do away with the things that keep me from living the life of my design. When I can sense the pain, I can take action and move away from it, thus living up to my potential. But when I cannot sense pain, well, I’m destined to be stuck with it for as long as I can tolerate it. Intolerance is a good thing, no matter how awful it feels.

Yeah, I’m intensely discontent and I’m in pain. Good on me. It’s a positive sign that I’m alive and ready to do something different with my life. Do doubt.

Onward.

The gateway of despair

I’ve been in a really up-and-down place, lately. I’m dealing with the residue of various traumas, I’m dealing with the day-to-day crap from various head injuries, and I’m winding down one job to move on to another. In the midst of my cognitive and emotional floundering, I’m hanging in there and falling back on my old coping mechanisms of smiling stoicism and shutting down those parts of me that are prone to freak out over every little thing.

I would rather not use repression as a coping mechanism, but I really need to make this job transition, so I’m just clamping down on the heartache and emotional upheaval… until I’m settled into my new job.

It’s a bit of a gamble, really. I have to remind myself that in another few weeks, I’m going to need to decompress and do some serious “autotherapy” — using guided imagery, time alone to break down, and lots of long walks down country roads… and city streets as well.

I wish I were less nervous about this, but my pattern in the past, when I was moving on from one situation to another, has been to burn bridges behind me, so I had to move forward. Poor person’s motivation. As a result, I have a lot of bad blood in my past that I’m not proud of. I just don’t want to go there, this time. I don’t want to alienate the people I’m leaving behind, so I don’t feel so badly about leaving them.

Fact of the matter is, I do feel badly about it. I have to leave to take this new job. But I don’t want to leave the old one. It’s a wonderful problem to have, in this economy, but I’m still struggling with it on some level.

One of the things that’s helped me a great deal, over the past week has been reading about “Positive Disintegration” — or positive mal-adjustment and separation from “norms” that no longer work for you. The concept was developed by Polish psychiatrist Kazimierz Dabrowski, who (as I understand it) rejected the widespread practice of labelling “maladjustments” as forms of mental illness. His premise, as I understand it, is that as people develop and mature, they inevitably encounter things about the world that don’t sit right with them and that cause them considerable distress.

In fact, the more capable of maturing you are, the more distress you’re going to be in, because no culture is perfect, and there are a lot of things that could — and should — be done differently. When you positively dis-integrate (that is, you un-integrate from the norms of society based on your own evolving and advancing understanding of your own values and concept of right and wrong), you basically differentiate yourself from the status quo and break out to form your own identiy, with your own moral compass.

Unfortunately, standard-issue cultural norms can consider such separation and differentiation as a form of mental illness or psychosis, and plenty of psychology and counseling is geared towards “helping” people adjust to life and be “well-adjusted”. But that’s not always good. Because (for the sake of “peace of mind”) you could become well-adjusted to widespread cultural acceptance of genocidal atrocities… domestic violence…  the gutting of the Constitution… accepting (and promoting) inaccurate military intelligence that warns of WMD… and buying more house than you can afford.

All cultures are a work in progress, and according to Dabrowski (who passed away in 1980 and whose name is — I think — pronounced da-BROV-ski), it’s the mal-adjusted, individually guided, conscience-driven individuals who move the culture forward to a more advanced state.

He treated “dis-ease” and “disorders” as potentials for growth and change, encouraging his patients (and others) to examine their difficulties to see what potential for growth they revealed. If you think about it, this is a pretty revolutionary approach to mental health. And it’s inclusive in ways that excite and intrigue me… and which I’ve long agreed with, though I could never articulate it as well as he does/did.

Where I am now is really in a state of positive dis-integration. I’m un-integrating from the workplace I’ve been in, for nearly a year… de-coupling from people I’ve learned to really like and work with (tho’ with varying degrees of success)… dis-connecting from the “security” of  a permanent job offer that wouldn’t pay me enough to actually live on or give me the skills that will keep me fully employable over the coming years, in exchange for a really great-paying gig that’s a contract with no guarantees but will make me more employable than ever in my chosen field.

I’m dis-integrating in favor of something better, something bigger, something with great potential. And while it’s very exciting on some levels, it’s also terrifying on others. I’m fearful that my brain will fail me, that I’ll become over-tired, that I’ll lose my ability to cope, that I’ll end up where I was way back when, when I was in high-pressure situations and melted down. I’m very concerned about my resilience, if I’ll bring too much stress home from work, if I’ll be able to maintain my effectiveness and productivity. And in moments when I’m especially tired and lonely and afraid, I despair.

That despair, however, can be a good thing. Fortunately, I know myself well enough to realize that in the morning things will quite literally be better. After I get a full night’s sleep, I write a little bit, I read a little bit, and I get on with my life, I’ll not feel so desperate, so alone and afraid. I know myself well enough to realize that the despair is there because something is missing… and once I figure out what that something is, and take steps to address it,  I’ll be able to get on with my life.

Despair is also a good reminder to me that I’m not perfect — and I know it. Someone who had no clue about their impairments and had no clue about how much better off they could be, wouldn’t bother being this down. But I know about my deficits, and I have a very keen hunger for the ideal. So, of course I’m going to feel this way, now and then.

For me, the degree of my despair is the measure of distance between my perceived real and my imagined ideal. It tells me where I’m at and it reminds me that I can’t afford to get cocky. Fortunately, my personality is sufficiently fickle — and bores easily — so I don’t stay stuck for long in that desperate state. But when I’m there, as frightening as it can be, as dark as it can be, as agonizing as it can be, there are lessons to learn. And my life would be far less bright and light-filled, if I paid no attention to them.

When it comes to head injury, chronic illness, PTSD, or any other intractable physical or mental condition that won’t respond immediately to therapy, but takes seemingly forever to get better — if it does at all — despair can be a recurring theme. I can’t speak for anyone else, and not being a trained psychotherapist, I certainly shouldn’t dispense mental health advice (if you feel you’re in mortal danger, please seek qualified psychological help!). But in my case, when despair comes to visit — as it so often does — I find I can use it as a classroom of sorts. It has plenty of things to teach me, in the moments or hours or even days it spends with me. And I ignore/suppress it at my own peril.

Despair doesn’t have to be a bad thing — unless it’s a permanent state that requires medication or other intervention to avoid suicide. It can actually be a valuable part of maturation and personal growth.

After all, it’s easier to find a little glimmer of light, when you’re in a pitch-black room.