The holidays can be tough for anyone who’s got extra difficulties, due to chronic illness. And with TBI / concussion, sometimes the worst thing is being around people who don’t understand what it’s like to have your life turned upside-down by a “mild” blow to the head.
As I’ve said many times, there’s nothing “mild” about a concussion or a traumatic brain injury. That momentary alteration of consciousness means that something “in there” got injured. And no amount of positive thinking or motivation or … consequences… is going to change the functional ability, unless you have adequate time to recover and rebuild your wiring.
You have to keep the stress down, to do that effectively. It takes time and practice and sometimes a bit of luck, to rebuild what you once had. And being pushed and prodded by people who don’t understand TBI or “get” why concussion can turn your life upside-down, doesn’t help with that.
The holidays can be stressful, to begin with. Then you add all the people, the expectations, the increased pace (a lot of us are racing to finish year-end goals at work, at the same time we’re shopping and figuring out holiday party logistics), and money pressures… and it just gets worse. Cognitive reserves that were already in short supply, get even less… and meanwhile, everybody expects you to KEEP UP! KEEP UP! WHAT’S THE HOLD-UP?!
Some of my own challenges have been:
Remembering what I’m supposed to do at work. I’ve forgotten a bunch of stuff I was supposed to do – and I even forget to write it down.
Dealing with depression. It comes and goes with me. This year, it seems to be coming more than it’s going.
Keeping cool with my spouse, when tensions get high.
Staying on my exercise routine.
Eating sensibly, and not “stuffing my face” with all kinds of candies and cookies. I’ve done well in terms of candy, because I can’t have chocolate (sets off migraines with me), but I’ve eaten more bread and cookies than I should.
Getting enough rest, and keeping on my regular sleep schedule. A tired brain is an irritable brain, and boy, do I get irritable when I get tired. I’ve had a hard time keeping on my sleep schedule, these past weeks, and I really have to concentrate on getting that sorted out when I’m off work next week.
Not pushing myself too hard. It’s easy for me to push. I know how to do that. But while it used to work okay when I was in my 30s, now that I’m past 50, it’s just not the same. I need to remember where I am… and act accordingly.
Basically, keeping myself together during the holidays is like an extra part-time job. It helps that I haven’t spent a lot of time socializing with friends and family. That takes the pressure off. But for many, many other people, they don’t have that option. And my heart goes out to them.
Still and all, it will be over soon enough. Just a few more days till Christmas, then another week till New Years (which isn’t much of a holiday for me, anyway). Then I can get back to my regular life.
Sometimes you just need to step away to get some clarity on your priorities in life, what you want to do with yourself, how you want to do it… and perhaps most importantly, how badly you want to do it. There are some things that I’ve been meaning to spend more time on — projects that actually do look like they have good potential to widen my employment prospects, as well as bring in some money on the side. And it’s given me more motivation to really work on them.
It’s also important to figure out what you don’t want to do, and this trip made that abundantly clear. It was a pain in the neck, dealing with all the prejudice and pressure — the prejudice that came out when people started drinking and stopped being on their best behavior, the stifling biases against women and gay people, the “jokes” about so-and-so having romantic relations with someone of their own sex, when they’re not even gay – har-har-har (not funny for gay or straight people)… as well as the constant pressure from my boss to stay up late with everyone and party, even though they know I don’t drink… and them joking about getting me drunk (I wouldn’t put it past them), which is not only stupid, it’s dangerous.
I don’t know which would be worse for me – to lose too much sleep, or to get drunk. In both cases, I can fall, which could be catastrophic. In both cases, I can get in trouble with other people, including the police. And it’s not the sort of trouble that I can just get out of easily.
When I get in trouble — I get in trouble. As in, get combative towards law enforcement and other authority figures. And at the conference, I was not shielded by local folks knowing who I am.
I was also not shielded from sensory overload — all the crowds, the noise, the lights, the big open expo hall where I was working, and the constant movement and hustle. I felt like a zombie, much of the time, and it was miserable at moments, but then I got to step away to the restroom, or to get something to eat, or walk to a quieter part of the expo hall. There was music pumping, lights flashing, constant streams of people walking by who I had to engage and hopefully bring into our booth, and it was cold in that hall. I felt like I was going to lose it, a couple of times, but I regrouped and chilled myself out by focusing on something specific – like checking my email on my smartphone.
The area that the conference was in, was crazy, too — all the lights and motion and crowds and music everywhere. It’s perfect for sensation-seeking people, but for me it was just too much. At the concert they had on the last night, I thought I was going to flip out and hit someone. I was pressed up against the very front of the cordoned-off area, with people pushing in close behind me, whistling and clapping right beside my ears, and all of them wearing some sort of perfume. I’m not terribly sensitive to scents, but when I’m tired and overwhelmed, I get that way — and yeah, I got that way. I had to leave early, when I realized that I was on the verge of punching someone — anyone. That wouldn’t have been good. Plus, there were security guards about 10 feet away from me.
So, I skipped out and got in bed by 9:30 that night. Pretty good, I have to say. Considering that I had to fly out, first thing in the morning, it was ideal.
The main thing is, I managed to make it through the week without A) drinking, B) losing too much sleep, or C) getting in trouble. I held my tongue and didn’t respond, when intoxicated people were running their mouths about stupid things. They probably don’t remember saying it, anyway. I also didn’t let it get to me personally too much. All the “frat boy” shenanigans, which I have never related to, anyway, didn’t throw me. Mercifully, “frat boy” types have usually ignored me, instead of singling me out and beating me up. So, I just kept clear of the grown-up versions of “nuggie”-giving football players, and stuck with a few other like-minded folks.
Most important of all, I made it home in one piece.
And that’s a huge accomplishment for me. Not only did I navigate all the alcohol-soaked dinners and social events without so much as a sip of booze, but I also got in bed by 9:00 p.m. on two nights… at 10:00 on one night… and not long after 11:00 on another night. All in all, I think I lost maybe four or five hours of sleep over the whole five days, which is pretty amazing, considering that my boss was telling me I had to stay out with the team till 3 a.m., and then stumble back to get a few hours rest before morning.
Yeah, it was amazing that I got out of all that B.S. in one piece.
I just wish it didn’t have to be so amazing.
Overall, though, I’m feeling pretty good about my progress and everything I accomplished. Unlike other similar conferences in the past, this time I did not freak out, I did not lose it back in my hotel room, I did not space out or check out. In other years, at these big user conferences, I was fried by the end of the first day, and I was isolated and alienated for the rest of the trips. But this time, I was all there, I was just “riding” the situation, and I got some good things out of it, as well.
My big discovery at this event is that I am actually really, really good at engaging with strangers and getting them to open up to me. I have a ton of experience and a lot of “war stories”, and when I share them with others, they open up about their own experiences.
It’s funny, because I never really thought of myself as that kind of person – outgoing and engaging – because I am such an introvert. But even introverts can be engaging and outgoing, when we are in the right situations. And in fact, I was interacting with a lot of introverts, myself — one of whom was pretty drunk at 11:30 in the morning on the last day of the conference… probably completely overwhelmed like I was, and using the mini-bar in their room to ease the pain.
Yeah, it was overwhelming. But I made it through.
I realized some new (and important) things about myself and the kind of work I want to do. I also realized the kinds of things I can do, that I never thought I was good at, before.
So, that’s helpful. Despite the challenges, I still got a lot out of the experience.
Merry Christmas, everyone. Happy Christmas. Frohe Weinachten. Feliz Navidad. And many more wishes in languages I do not know.
I hope it is a good day for you, and that you find peace and a measure of happiness before the day is through.
Christmas is a tricky time for a lot of people, including those who have some sort of limitation or particular need. One of the most poignant things about it, is actually the spirit of it, which so often gets lost in the shuffle. The original story (whether you’re a believer or not) is about people under duress making the best of a bad situation.
A whole country is uprooted by a tyrant (of sorts) and hauled away from their homes, so they can be taxed in the town of their family’s origin. One couple in the midst is a man and his very pregnant wife, who have to make the trek, regardless of her condition. Nazareth, where Joseph and Mary were from, was a kind of crappy area — economically depressed and not the sort of place “nice” people lived. So, Joseph probably wasn’t all that well-off to begin with, and dragging him away from his work as a tradesman to tax him, was just heaping one injury on another. It wasn’t like he made that much money, to begin with — but he gets taxed and he loses however many days or weeks of work. That’s rough.
And when Mary and Joseph get where they’re going, there’s literally no room for them in habitable lodging. So, they end up in a stable. In a strange city. Anyone who’s spent time around farm animals, knows this is about the last place you want to deliver a baby, but apparently that’s where it happened, and the child ended up laid in a feeding trough for his first night on earth.
Now, I’m not a hugely religious person, these days. Once upon a time, I was, though. I was raised in an evangelical, fundamentalist Christian household and I was “raised in the church.” It was my primary social network. My parents are still very involved in their church community, as are some of my siblings. I’ve always been pretty spiritual (even after I stopped believing the way my family did), and that endured through the years with a strong tendency to feelings of mysticism and spiritual connection with something higher.
My TBI in 2004, however, pretty much erased my religious feeling. Suddenly, it just wasn’t there, anymore, and I could not for the life of me figure out why anyone would have any interest in religion or spirituality. My spouse has always been very spiritual, and I can assure you, the times when I did not pray along with them were not the best moments in our marriage. I rolled my eyes and tapped my foot impatiently, waiting for them to finish, which really hurt their feelings.
My lack of spiritual feeling has persisted somewhat, but in the past few years, that’s started to change. Just goes to show you how the brain continues to alter and develop along different lines, over time. And I’ve gotten some of my spiritual feeling back — though I have probably gotten back more willingness to play along so I don’t hurt others’ feelings, than I’ve gotten back my old religious fervor.
But religious belief aside, the story behind Christmas is one that really resonates with a lot of people. It’s all about being forced into a less-than-ideal situation, and making do. It’s about modest, humble circumstances setting the stage for later greatness. And to me it’s about dealing up-front with the indignities of life and recognizing that beneath the limitations of your circumstances, there lies a potential for rising above it all. The indignities of not having enough, of being pushed aside, being just another face in the crowd, aren’t the whole truth about who we are and what we’re capable of. We may not all be divine (though some believe we are), but we can surely rise above our circumstances, like that little baby who spent his first night in a feed trough.
Making do… that’s pretty much what this season has been about for me. I have been working overtime for months, keeping my emotions from getting the best of me, and that’s taken a toll on my system. It takes a lot of energy to keep yourself on an even keel, when everything around you feels like it’s going nuts, and I have really felt it, this holiday season. Not having a doctor I trust and can rely on… that’s a subtle source of pressure. Being told my neuropsych is retiring in the spring… that’s more pressure. Being threatened with a layoff in the immediate term… that’s a direct and intense source of pressure. Having everyone around me at work be in rotten spirits because of the impending job changes… that’s an indirect but distracting source of pressure. Expensive car repairs and drama while traveling over Thanksgiving wasn’t easy. Being sick has been a disruptive challenge. And having my spouse being sick, too — and increasingly disabled — has been hard to get my head around.
Most of this I’ve had to deal with on my own, but I don’t mind. It’s actually easier for me to handle things alone, so I don’t have to verbalize with people. Talking out loud is yet another source of pressure, and I’ve been doing it pretty poorly, this holiday season. Seriously — I haven’t been able to describe things I’m looking for, and people in stores don’t take kindly to it. It’s been kind of funny, actually, when I’ve tried to describe caulk… or a little bracelet with colorful beads… and failed to do so.
I’ve kept it together, more or less, but it’s taken a toll.
The energy that I’ve been using to keep myself on an even keel had to come from somewhere, and my thought processing has not been the sharpest. I’ve been forgetful, scattered, emotional, foggy, and that all makes it even worse. It’s really been a challenge to do the kinds of things that used to come easy to me, and that’s hard to take. I can’t believe I have to deal with all of this — and take things so much more slowly, plan so much more carefully, and resort to what feel like remedial measures.
And through it all… I am so tired.
But then I come back to the Christmas story. And I can relate. I have a pretty good idea how it must feel to be uprooted from your home and dragged somewhere else to pay someone money that you probably don’t have. I don’t know how it feels to have a baby on the way, but I know about long journeys and having more asked of you than you feel you can spare. And I know the feeling of despair and overwhelm, when everything around you seems to conspire against you, and you can’t catch a break.
I also know what it’s like to make do with what little I have. This year, we don’t have a tree indoors, because the artificial tree we’ve had for years has gotten old and smells terrible. It’s musty and dusty and the materials are starting to degrade and off-gas, so after a couple of tries, we ended up just putting the tree out on the back porch and arranging our presents on a beautiful golden cloth we have, surrounded by colored lights.
It’s modest, but it’s beautiful, and later I’ll roast the turkey for our Christmas dinner. We’ll have a quiet day, today, and just enjoy the quiet in our own merry way.
We’re better off now than we’ve been in quite some time, and for that I am grateful. We have our issues, but we also have our ways of dealing with them. It’s Christmas. Time to focus less on what we don’t have, and more on what we do.
I’ve been in a kind of a funk, for the past few days. I just haven’t felt very energized.
I had a very busy weekend, with a lot going on, and I know I’m a bit behind on my sleep. But even when I do get some rest, I feel blah and slightly disconnected from my life.
I’m settling into my job, and that feels good. I’m settling into my routine, and that feels good, too. I’m working out or going for a swim, 3-4 times a week, and I feel pretty good, other than the aches and pains that come with the changing barometric pressure. My bank account is not at $0 anymore, and that feels great. I’m working through changing over my insurance, with a couple of different hoops to jump through, thanks to various insurance plans I’ve had over the years that I can now let go of. I’m fitting right in at the office, connecting with people and learning the lay of the land.
I just haven’t had the energy or felt the same engagement that I felt in the past.
Everything now is kind of “flat”. It’s solid and it’s stable, and it’s all wide open with a lot of possibilities. And it’s disorienting. A little disconcerting. Like I’m walking across a prairie with long rolling hills,as far as the eye can see. Off in the distance, I can see proverbial mountains, but they never seem to get any closer. I just keep walking and walking and walking… hoping that eventually I’ll reach whatever destination I’m supposed to be at.
This is how it feels when I’m not going a million miles an hour in damage-control mode. When I’m not constantly reacting to problems and not on a perpetual hamster wheel of crisis, everything feels flat and featureless. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Going from constant stress to having almost no stress at all, is a biochemical let-down, and the prompts that kept me alert, when everything was sh*ttier than sh*t, just aren’t there anymore to keep me charged up.
I know that life is good, the problems I thought would never disappear have faded into the background, and I am hugely grateful for it.
But I feel like I’ve got no gas in my tank, and everything just feels gray and bleary.
And that makes me feel even stranger. Like I’m a blank.
I know where this comes from. It’s a by-product of PTSD. I had a lot of trauma growing up, and I spent the first half of my childhood in a pretty dangerous environment, so my system has been wired for stress from the start. I was bullied as a kid on a number of occasions — all through 5th grade and 7th grade (I got a “year off” in between), bunches of kids ganged up on me and really punished me for being “weird”. And all the TBIs certainly didn’t help. That’s all the more trauma to add to the mix. Not much fun.
My adult life has been spent living pretty much on the edge. I have no idea what it’s like to be able to plan for retirement, because I’ve never had enough money in the bank for long enough to ever think that would be possible. The most I have hoped for, is not ending up crazy, on the streets, eating dog food.
It sounds a little nuts to me, as I sit here in my nice house (not palatial, but nice enough), with a good job, two cars in the driveway, and a respectable resume. But beneath the surface of this respectable life, there is no financial safety net, a declining spouse with encroaching cognitive impairment, parents who are also declining and expect me to care for them, and an uncertain job market that could take yet another hit from stock market fluctuations.
So, it would be fair and accurate to say my life has its share of stress — especially if I dwell on all of the above, which I choose not to.
I’m coming out of a number of years of intense pressure and trauma and post-traumatic stress. Workplace changes, health changes, my spouse getting more marginal by the month, and watching people around me make genuinely unhelpful choices with their lives… it all takes a toll. Add to that a lack of job stability and the ongoing feeling that I’m hung out on a limb and being played for a fool by the overlords at work, and it adds to the challenge.
The intensity gave me energy for the fight. It kept me going. It felt like it kept me sharp. Over time, existential stress wears you down and wrecks your system, but when it’s at full-speed, it makes you feel like you’re really alive. Traumatic stress is tricky like that – it promises you one thing, but delivers another… and ultimately, that lie can kill. I had a level of intensity that put people off for as long as I can remember. Only my bosses, who knew how to harness it, didn’t have a problem with it — unless, of course, I directed it against them. Then they weren’t so pleased.
Now that things aren’t intense like that anymore, that source of “energy” is gone, and I’m feeling deflated and a little depressed. It’s taking my system time to get used to it, and all the while it is disorienting — and a little stressful in its own right.
So, what to do? I can’t go back to that old level of traumatic stress. Not only is it not good for me, but I’m hip to its lies — it’s not the source of energy my system thinks it is. It’s making me more stupid with each passing day, not smarter, like it tells me. I’m onto it. It can’t fool me, anymore.
What are my options?
Mainly… Focus. Keep my focus trained on the little things around me, and keep myself engaged and active in some way or another.
My patience is short with people who fritter their time away on whatever-ness and get overly busy and overly riled about every little thing, so I need to keep from even thinking about them. There are so many of them, and I don’t share the love of drama. Not anymore.
This kind of focus and letting go of all the imaginary recreational drama can be lonely. Social media is full of people who are “in it for the fight”, while my chief objective is to back off the whole fight thing and give my system a chance to right itself. When you aren’t all caught up in the push-pull, what can you talk about with people? If you don’t want to fight, and you don’t want to constantly promote your “personal brand” and take a stand on this, that, or the other thing… what can you do in the everyday world?
There’s not much draw for me, frankly. And I feel myself pulling away from a lot of the discussions and interactions from before. I understand it, and I know it’s important to people, but I just can’t be bothered with it, any longer.
I have what I need. I am what I need. There’s no need to fight, because I understand how things work around me, and it’s no longer necessary to constantly push and pull and drive and strive, to get where I’m going.
And stepping away from that drama, that boiling cauldron… it takes practice. It can be lonely.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. I’m sure there are others I can connect with who are experiencing the same thing. I’m getting away from the old milieu I’ve worked and lived in for so many, many years… just part of maturing and growing up and out, perhaps? And I’m sure I’m not the only one.
I guess it’s just going to take some time for me to find another “ecosystem” to blend in with. Because the old one isn’t doing it for me.
Time is something I have. Time to start looking around — up, down, left, right, out, in — for what’s next…
Or should it be “In A Mood”…? I am in such a terrible mood, these days, it’s not even funny.
Fortunately, I know it, so I’ll spare you my emotional ups and downs.They’re artificial, really. Not based on anything substantive, other than that I’m extremely tired and over-taxed, and there is a lot of change going on at work.
Very little of which seems to be managed well. By others, or by me.
No, scratch that. I am handling it all pretty well — all things considered.
I’m just very, very tired and wading through unknown territory as best I can. I have to be careful that I don’t let my physical state trick my mind into believing that I’m worse off than I am. That happens to me all the time, and for years it really messed me up, because I interpreted feeling bad as beingbad. Not the same thing. Not even close.
I might as well get used to this, because the way things are going for me, it’s not going to get easier or simpler, anytime soon. The people in charge are seeing what I can do under really challenging circumstances, which will only bode well for me, job-wise. So, in that respect, things are good. At the same time, if nobody else is stepping up except for me… well, you get the picture.
Getting ahead of myself, though. Way ahead of myself.
The wild thing is, things are actually going really, really well for me. When I step back and take a look from 30,000 feet up, and I can disengage from all my internal angst — not to mention the pain and confusion and frustration I’m in — things are looking great. But my biochemistry is completely out of whack, and I’ve been running on adrenaline for a bit too long.
So, screw it. Just keep going. I’m sure everything will brighten up, on down the line. It just feels like I’m not making headway, my spouse is perpetually under the weather, I have too much on my plate, the new car is having issues, and I’m feeling pressured all over again in a multitude of ways.
Okay, I’ll stop now. That’s enough for one morning. Time to just get moving and do something about this.
I didn’t get much sleep last night. Things have “blown up” at work, and a project I was managing and thought was fine, is NOT fine. It’s crashed (not quite burned), and now I have to get it put back together and back on track.
I’ve done this before at this job, but on a much smaller scale. This one is very big and very high-profile. And the (over)reaction to the date slipping is making me reconsider taking a permanent job there. I had been thinking seriously about going permanent with these folks — they had hinted at it a number of times — and everything was looking good.
Then things went wrong, and the reactions of people outside my group have caused me to reconsider my plans. It’s one thing for me to screw up this badly — which I may or may not have done. There are some things I could have done very differently, which would have helped. But I honestly didn’t realize I needed to do them, and even though people were around to help me, I wasn’t aware I needed to ask for help.
Now I know.
But the folks outside my group, who are the ones making up the unrealistic deadlines, are having little hissy fits and flipping out. So, the whole grand progressive business world ideal of “failing fast” and “learning from mistakes” is just a bunch of B.S. — what matters is that you meet your dates — and ONLY that you meet your dates.
Yeah, that works out really well, for sure. Talk about sucking the life out of your work.
So, now I’m back to considering myself a contractor who’s just there to do a job. In a couple of weeks, we’re moving to a new office much closer to home, and that’s what I’m focused on — being close to home. I’ll be able to go home for lunch and take a nap. I’ll be able to just roll out of bed and go to work. I will be closer to everything that makes up my everyday life, and that’s what matters.
The simple fact is, I need to not get attached to my visions of how I think things will eventually turn out. I had been thinking that I would just sail through this first set of challenges, and all would be well. Untrue. I’ve had a number of things blow up in my face, and I’ve had to scramble a number of times. As my boss said, “It wouldn’t be a real project, if there weren’t a fire.” Everybody else I work with has been through this to some degree or another, so now it’s my turn. But what this means for the long term, who can say?
Anyway, I’ll get what I can out of the situation. I’ve been on a roller coaster for the past two days — no, the past two weeks — and my world pretty much turned to sh*t in an instant. All the miscalculations, all the drama. Who needs it?
Then again, just because everyone else is all worked up about things — or my boss is saying they will be, in order to motivate me and get me moving with a kind of panic-anxiety booster fuel… I don’t need to lose my cool over it. Their stuff is their stuff. I’ll just keep going, to get it all done, and keep steady at work.
If nothing else, people are impressed by how calm and composed I am in the midst of it all. This calm, composed demeanor is genuine, and it comes from years of managing outright panic in the face of very real crises. It comes from all my years of living in a sea of confusion and overwhelm, and figuring out how to function, anyway. It comes from years of walking around in a fog and doing a damn’ good impression of someone who’s mellow and chill.
And the good news is, I’ve got it all together. This is the first time I’ve been able to hold my sh*t in the face of very real problems, since I fell in 2004. I’m not melting down, I’m not losing it at work. I’m not flying off the handle, and I’m not flipping out, throwing things and slamming shit around on my desk. It’s cool. I’m cool — on the outside. Inside, I feel like I’m dying — like the Allman Brothers song:
Sometimes I feel… Sometimes I feeeeeeel
Like I’ve been tied to the whipping post… tiiiiiied to the whipping post… tiiiiiiied to the whipping post
Oh, Lord I feel like I’m dyyyying…
But I’m not dying. I know I’m not. It just feels that way. And in another couple of weeks, I won’t feel this way anymore. So, I’m dealing with it, walking through the pain and agony. Every breath pains me, and I don’t know whether I’m coming or going. My demons are flailing around — overtime — and while I can see my way through, who knows what will pop up along the way?
Whatever does, I’ll deal with it. I can do that. That’s how I am. It’s who I am. I used to be like this — in the most trying of circumstances, I would remain calm and prevail. I’m doing that again, and although it feels excruciating… f*ck it. I’m here. And in the midst of this all, I feel like my old self again.
Which hasn’t happened in a very long time. And I thought it would never happen again.
But surprise — there I am again. That side of me is back. It’s partial, and it’s struggling, but it’s there. And that’s good enough for me.
I’m up at 2:30 a.m., decompressing. Things at work are mighty tense, with multiple deadlines coming, and a lot of details to cover. I have done a great job, up till now, keeping things going, and now it’s coming down to the wire, and I’m realizing that there are certain things I let slip — either through oversight or just plain laziness.
Hm. Houston, we have a problem. People are freaking out, sending emails with partial (or wrong) information, getting all worked up over this, that, and the other thing. Rather than focusing on the problems, they’re focused on their reactions to the problems, which just makes things worse. I’m not helping my situation any, either, by focusing on the lack of cooperation I’m getting from key members of my teams. I’m getting way too worked up over it — and it’s costing me time. And now sleep.
Rather than lie in bed and stew about things, I’m up and blogging. I know I shouldn’t be on my computer, because the light from the screen wakes me up, but it’s the only thing that’s getting my mind off things. I’m reading a piece in the New Yorker about “Soccer’s Concussion Crisis” and how heading the ball isn’t particularly good for you. And I think back to my youth, when I was playing soccer a lot, remembering how heading the ball used to make me feel sick to my stomach, dizzy, wobbly… and more. I didn’t head the ball that much precisely because of that. It didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel right. And in retrospect, it probably saved me from serious damage from a lot of subconcussive impacts. If it hadn’t felt wrong and if it hadn’t thrown me for a loop and made me feel like crap, every time I headed the ball, I might have continued to do it — a lot — and ended up even worse than I am now.
Not that where I am now is any picnic. In times like these, when there is a ton of stress, and it’s going to be weeks till I get any relief (because of additional deadlines I’m chasing), it helps to remember where I come from… how non-functional I was, once upon a time, and how hard I’ve worked to get to this point. The fact that I’m struggling now — with some fairly high-level challenges that are way more complicated than most people who have been in my situation have faced, four months into the job — makes me feel pretty good about things. Challenges like these are part of the job, and I just need to stick with it and tough it out, so I can come out on the other side. I just have to trust — not only myself, but my team as well, who are standing by, ready to pitch in and help me out if/when I need.
I suppose it’s a sign of progress, but I’m still bothered and a little depressed by the whole situation. I feel like I’m stuck in this limbo of stupidity — everyone at work is so tired and maxed out from the constant demands of all these projects, that poor decisions are being made all over the place, and poor behavior is following suit. I feel pretty bogged down in everybody’s “stuff” — including my own — and there’s a part of me that wants to quit and move on… do something less demanding, so I can get a full night’s sleep again.
But then, if it weren’t this that kept me up at night, it would be something else. So, leaving is no option.
I can, of course, “leave” in other ways — distract myself with thoughts of other things… projects, books I’m reading, experiences I’ve had in the past, plans for the holidays. But that kind of leaving would only make things worse.
Oh, hell. I’ll just see if I can go back to bed. I’m getting tired again, and I need to lie down. I should be able to get a few more hours worth of sleep, so I’ll give it a whirl.
So, I’ve started to begin my days with a new routine — getting up and doing some meridian exercises, to get my internal energy flowing better. I’ve also been lifting weights. I haven’t been doing so much riding of the exercise bike, because I get headaches when I really push it, and then I feel bad the rest of the day.
At the same time, I still need to get my energy going in the morning, and this new routine seems to be doing the trick.
I found a book of meridian exercises for self-healing, and I’ve been doing all-over-body patting, as well as stretching exercises to get my “chi” moving. Then I lift weights for a little bit… have my breakfast of a banana, toast, butter-coffee… and I’m ready to start the day.
With everything going on, what’s become very clear to me, is that I need to improve my energy, my stamina, my ability to hold up under stress and strain. It’s no good, if I buckle under the pressures that are around me. Life is going to do what it will, so I need to strengthen myself to face up to it.
We all have within us massive stores of energy, and we can also draw energy from the world around us – if we simply let it flow. We get blocked up and stop the energy from coming in and going out and moving freely through our systems. And then things start to fall down. They start to come apart. That’s where I was last week, when I had my crisis with my spouse. What became so very clear to me, was that I was missing the opportunity to access all the energy that’s around me. And I needed to find a way to get to it, to use it, and to make the most of every situation, no matter how hard it might appear.
It’s no good for me to be falling apart — and it’s no good for me to be wrecking my rare vacations by melting down. I can’t let it all get to me the way I did last week, and I’m determined to keep my act together better than ever.
I also realize how much pressure I put on myself to achieve. It’s like I still have the old Type-A personality, but my abilities are different now, than before. I still use stress and pressure to wake myself up, but I don’t have a balanced enough approach to it, and I get tired… and end up using more stress and pressure (and sugar and caffeine and junk food) to keep myself moving.
And I need to factor that in. Over the past few days, I’ve been longing for the “good old days” when I could still do programming and learn new languages easily. That’s not the case anymore. None of it makes sense to me the way it used to, and it’s depressing as sh*t. So, I need to get that out of my head and focus on things that matter to me now. And that I can do now. And that give me good quality energy, not the adrenaline-rush of stress and pressure, which ultimately bogs me down.
The days are getting shorter, and fall is definitely on the way. I do feel more energy these days than I have in a long time, and I credit the exercises for that. I’m also taking the pressure of myself for the projects I’ve got going — somehow, they ballooned into massive undertakings that “had the potential to be huge”. For some reason, I’m always thinking BIG, which is fine — except when it involves every single aspect of my life, making my existence into a total slog through mud.
I invent the pressure for myself — I think to keep myself actively engaged in my life. But it tends to get blown way out of proportion, in many, many aspects. And my quality of life goes to hell. And for what?
Well, anyway, I’ve gotten a head-start on the day, checking in with work early, so I can get some questions answered by colleagues over in Europe. It’s been about four months, since I had regular dealings with colleagues in Europe — in my last job, it was most of what I did, but in this new job, there hasn’t been much of that. Now I’m getting more integrated with the European crowd — and also folks in Asia. So, that old routine is coming back — but this time with more sanity, and more of a collegial sense. In my last job, there was a lot of antagonism between the US and everyone else, and it wasn’t helpful. In this job, there’s a very collegial feel, although there is some naturally occurring cross-cultural tension. Different ways of doing things… But I’m very comfortable with the European ways of working and structuring things, so that’s a big help.
Who knows? I may even get to do some international travel. This time it will be very different, though, because I have past experience under very trying circumstances. So, the second time around promises to be better. At least, that’s what I’m hoping.
Anyway, as the seasons change, I am more focused on really strengthening myself from within, to handle whatever comes my way. I now feel at peace with my surroundings, for the most part, and that’s because I’m putting the focus on taking care of myself, strengthening my system, keeping stable and firm under challenging circumstances. Everything I do in my life, I consider a training for something else to come later, so really bringing focus to it and doing my best, no matter what, is my #1 Priority.
That being said, it’s time to get ready for work and head into my next stage of the day. I’ve had a productive morning, already, and this job is turning out to be pretty darned cool. Instead of being pressed to produce-produce-produce, racing the clock on limited resources and never enough time… I’m getting paid to manage projects at a higher level and motivate my team members. And so far, it’s working out well.
Even when things are very tough, it’s still good. It’s very good, indeed.
I’m feeling considerably better today… getting some sleep makes all the difference in the world. I have been pretty exhausted by the end of each day, and two nights ago, I got about 8 hours of sleep, which is always welcome. Last night I got about 7 hours, which is good, too.
Sure beats 5-1/2 hours, that’s for sure.
So, I have the day ahead of me. I just finished my workout with weights, and my arms and back are tired. That’s good. I need to push myself, physically. I haven’t done that for quite some time, for some reason. Just up on my head a lot, I guess.
But now that’s changed, and I’m on the good foot. Does this mean, though, that I will never have a down day, or I will never get sucked into a dark place?
Oh, no. The dark and the light go together. It’s just when one gets the upper hand and takes over the show, that things become a problem. If I can just let myself be, and let the feelings come and then pass, so much the better.
I’m still feeling pretty positive about my job. I am treating it like a form of rehab — no, not exactly rehab… more like a stepping stone to something greater. What that “greater” is, I will eventually find out, but I’m on a trajectory UP — with a few downs thrown in for good measure.
The project management work I’m doing now really suits me, and it’s the kind of work I realize I should have been doing for quite some time. I’ve long been frustrated by the way others managed projects, but for some reason, it never occurred to me to take on that role, myself. Of course, being a project manager is a little difficult if you don’t feel comfortable dealing with people or managing situations. It’s taken me a number of years to get past the conviction that I couldn’t talk to people, and I wasn’t any good at connecting with others. That’s not true at all, I see now (thanks to working with a neuropsych on a regular basis for the past 5 years). And now I can do my work.
The beauty part is, that old dread about my skills becoming obsolete is a complete non-issue now. Looking back, I realize that I was under constant pressure to keep up… keep up… keep up. Back in the day, that anxiety and pressure fueled me, but it took a toll. It felt like it was making me smarter and sharper, but the long-term effects of that kind of pressure were not good for my brain.
Looking back on my life, considering all the head injuries I’ve had, I’ve spent an awful lot of time in stressful jobs — because they were stressful. That fueled me — or so I thought. It was a constant source of adrenaline and pump. The thing is, ultimately, your brain pays the price for constant stress, and even though you feel sharper in the moment, you’re actually impairing your brain’s ability to learn new things and reason through more complicated issues.
Not many people know that — they think that the pump is all they need. But while we’re sorting through new situations and adapting to them, we also need to step back and let our brains and bodies integrate all the new information — your brain and body literally need to digest it all, just like you would a really big meal. If you’re running around in a state of mental indigestion, it doesn’t feel very good. And your life can’t change as positively and as effectively as it otherwise could.
It has taken me years for this reality to sink in. I’ve known it — intellectually — for a long time, but in practice, I haven’t been able to put it into action. I’ve stayed with the high-stress, high-pressure situations that made me feel sharper and kept a steady stream of stress hormones in my system. While I was in the midst of it, it felt normal. It felt natural. But now that I’m out of all that, I realize just how big a toll it took on me. It literally dulled me, made me feel worse, and dragged me down. And all the while I thought I was so alive…
This is a huge issue with me, and I feel like I need to recover from that long haul of stress and strain, so I can move into the next phase of my life. I just had a birthday, and in less than a year, I’ll be 50. It feels like there’s this imaginary line in the sand that I’ve moved across, and I need to gear up for the next half of my life — with all my faculties as intact as can be.
And I’ve been worried about the job situation, thinking that I wasn’t going to be able to hang in there. Justifiably so. Technology and programming and all sorts of esoteric details about how code works, are the kinds of things you need to constantly keep up with. But that doesn’t need to worry me, because I’m now in project management — which is the kind of work that draws on the skills of many people, not just you. It’s also the kind of work where you can actually get better as you get older and more experienced. It’s not like the frantic rush of being a programmer, where you have to constantly keep your technical chops up to snuff, with the pressure to do your one specific job in a way that will never fail. What hell thatwas… I can see that now.
At this point in my life, I’m on a path that offers me some real long-term employment security. Good project managers are in very high demand, and the work really suits me, thanks to my background in design and authoring and programming. I can speak the language of just about everyone I talk to, and I enjoy working with them as much as they enjoy working with me.
Of course, I’ve been on the job about six weeks, so it’s early, yet. But I’ve known within weeks, in the past, if a job situation wasn’t going to be that great… and I have none of that sense right now. People at work are moving on, and there’s some turnover (because we’re going to be moving offices in the fall — closer to my home, actually). But the people who are moving on are folks I don’t actually “click” with, so it’s no biggie for me. I haven’t worked with them long enough for it to matter to me personally that they’re leaving.
So, it’s another day. Each day is a new opportunity to find out something new about myself and the world I’m in. I’ll have my ups and I’ll have my downs, but ultimately I’ll still have me.
An interesting thing has happened with me, since I changed jobs and have more time to myself at home now. I seem to have turned into a bit of a hermit.
Actually I’ve always been a hermit, only now I have the time to go back to it more than ever. I’ve been keeping to myself for the past three days, not doing more than I absolutely have to, and not going on social media much — other than finding WordPress blogs about TBI and concussion.
And it’s really, really nice.
I had struggled for years with feeling like there was too much hustle and bustle in my life, with my day job being the biggest time sink of my life, not leaving me much time to relax and take it easy. Since around the time of my mild TBI in 2004, when I was working just 20 minutes down the road from my place, most of my jobs had long commutes. I did have a contract position for a little over a year, in 2006-2007, and I had another job close to home in 2010-2011, but for most of the past ten years, I’ve had long commutes — an hour (plus) each way.
I had not realized, till lately, how much that has taken out of me. It wasn’t just the commuting that sucked, it was the fatigue. The constant fatigue and exhaustion. And it took such a toll on me.
The biggest casualty of that weariness and time sink, was my peace of mind. My seclusion. My quiet. Looking back on my life, I realize that until fairly recently, I just took for granted that it was going to take me at least an hour to get to work. Sometimes two. It was the price I paid for a good job.
The fact that I don’t feel that way is yet more evidence that my recovery is commencing — and that I’m in better cognitive condition now than ever before. I no longer rely on stress and strain to wake myself up and make myself more alert. I no longer just assume that having a good job comes with a high price tag. I’m not in the “no pain no gain” mentality, anymore, and that’s huge. Absolutely huge.
And it gives me hope. Because doing away with the habit of using stress-and-strain to wake myself up and make me more alert, means I’m inherently safer in the way I live my life. I cannot tell you how many times I have either gotten hurt… I have nearly gotten seriously hurt… or I made choices that could have put me in an early grave… because I needed the rush to wake myself up. Just on a very basic level, on a day-to-day basis, I used stress to numb my physical pain, to heighten my senses, to make me more alert, and to get myself going when I was feeling sluggish.
And I didn’t worry too much about not having a lot of time to myself. Because going-going-going and getting a ton of things done was so important just to my basic sense of well-being. Yeah, I valued my time alone, and I have gone for years being pretty much of a hermit in my own time. But there wasn’t this powerful devotion to seclusion.
Nor was there good discipline around using it well.
I had a lot of plans, I had a lot of hopes and dreams. I had a lot of ambitions. But none of them truly amounted to anything, because I did not apply myself on a regular basis. I did not use the time I had to make progress. I flitted from one idea to the next, thinking I was just being “free”. And now here I am, years — decades — on down the line, without much to show for all those dreams and ambitions.
I’ve been down on myself for having gotten to this point in my life without a whole lot to show for what I really want to be doing with myself. But that’s not going to change anything. It’s not a good use of time. Now I feel 1000% more focused on what I want to do with myself, what I want to do with my time and my energy. And the fact that I am no longer on constant edge, looking for the next adrenaline “bump” to get me past the pain and confusion I feel… well, that makes a huge difference.
I would not be here without my TBI recovery, and I am so grateful to everyone who has helped me along the way to get here.
It’s turned out to be an amazing day. And I have been taking time to chill out and relax. This is my third day “off” and I am enjoying it like nothing else. I have a few things I still need to take care of, but an overall sense of calm and “chill” has come over me, and I finally, finally, finally feel like I can truly relax.
I’m doing what I want to do — which is reading and writing and working on concepts and mental “constructs” that explain significant parts of the world to me. You might call it “thought experiments”. Or philosophy. But I haven’t been formally trained in philosophy, and when I read “the philosophers,” it just sounds like Woodstock jabbering away in a Peanuts cartoon.
What I’m doing is a more basic, fundamental approach to understanding the world, and it makes sense to me. It doesn’t rely on jargon and specialized terminology or catch-phrases to make its point. It’s just my breakdown of understanding about how things are put together, why they are the way they are, and what it means for me and others I know.
And it’s good. It feels like an actual vocation — a calling. And since I’m not getting any younger, I guess I consider this my legacy for future generations. Keeping things simple, and understanding the world in a clear and collected way. In a way, it’s the next logical extension for my recovery — challenging my mind to be calm, clear, and collected… and to eventually share what I have garnered. I still haven’t figured out how I’m going to share it, or with whom. For me, the main thing is the exercise, the work of it. The discipline. It feels good.
And I know it is helping my brain.
Speaking of helping my brain, I’ve started juggling again. I took a break from it for a few weeks, then I picked it up again, and I am actually better at it than I was before. I was afraid I might lose my ability, but my brain’s new wiring seems to have settled in and solidified, and it feels good.
It’s all part of my recovery. It’s all related. I’m at a place now where I am actually — really, truly — enjoying my life, and my efforts now are focused on deepening my ability to do that. I have been struggling for so long, battling so much, getting hurt and having to recover… getting hurt and having to recover… dealing with my and others’ health issues… dealing with the upheavals of life… and always feeling like I was playing catch-up.
I don’t feel that way anymore. If anything, I feel like I actually know how to handle things — and that I WILLbe able to handle them, come what may. It’s a far cry from how I have felt for many, many years — probably ever. And I am enjoying myself immensely.
So, it’s back to my solitude. I am working on some ideas that have been on my mind, lately. They emerged out of conversations I’ve had with people over years and years and years, so who can say what my influences have been? Everything, I guess.
But anyway, enough talk. I hope you can find some time to enjoy yourself today.