I’m incredibly distracted. I must be tired.

optical illusion interlocking cubes
I get so caught up in all my different things… it’s easy to get lost

I think the changes at work are getting to me a little bit. Uncertainty abounds. Fortunately, I’m not well-connected enough to get the juicy gossip. That would probably drive me nuts. My boss is very connected – and they are very guarded, as well. It’s impossible to tell, from talking to them, what the deal is.

I’ve been increasingly busy at work and at home. And more social, too, which has its own set of challenges. It’s hard for me to be social, when I’m tired… which is pretty much all the time.

What’s making it worse, is that I’m getting sucked into social media, chatting with people and also emailing them till late in the evening. I’m a night-owl by preference, but if I don’t get my sleep, fatigue sets in, and then I become impossible.

I’m not getting stuff done that I need to. I have several important projects around the house that I haven’t been successful at handling. It all needs to get done before winter arrives. It’s not a huge amount of work, but it takes focus.

So, I’m putting myself on a strict schedule. I sketched out a grid for what days I’ll spend doing what, and I got a visual of all the different things I’ve got going on. It’s easier for me to manage that way. I need to learn to tell myself NO, when I get distracted by things I’ve agreed not to do until the next day. And I need to be firm and decisive.

That’s hard, when I’m tired.

So, I need to get more sleep.

On the bright side, I’ve been steadily losing weight. I’ve lost nearly 20 pounds since the beginning of the year, which is a healthy rate for me. I need to lose another 5-10, to be where I want to be. I could even do with losing 15. But I don’t want to lose muscle, too. So, I just need to get a good sense of where I’m at, be healthy overall, and use my new energy wisely.

I do have much more energy than before — and actually, it’s one of the things that’s driving my distractions.

More Energy –> More Activity –> Fatigue –> Distractions –> Not getting things done –> Feeling bad about myself –> Distractions –> More activity that’s not productive –> Fatigue…

Anyway, you get the point.

Losing the extra pounds has been great. Now I need to learn to properly manage my new energy. Because it’s really, really good. And I don’t want to mess it up.

Onward…

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Yeah, this is why I left – and now I can come back

Thinking about my past and my family, and why I never hung around with them much, after I left home, and why I have not kept in close touch, this video reminds me… why

I have always known there was something greater for me, something bigger, something more powerful for my life. I did not know about TBI, or how it could — and did — mess me up, take my life in the wrong direction, and disguise itself as mental illness and character flaws.

I knew — and have always believed — in neuroplasticity, that learning and growing are normal parts of our lives. And since 1983, I have known beyond a shadow of a doubt that the brain can and does physically change in response to stimuli and challenges.

I knew something bigger was possible for me, beyond the confines of my family.

I knew something better was possible for me, beyond the restrictions of the traditions that raised me.

And I was bound and determined to step forward and reach those things — from the time that I was very young and struggling with so many issues, as well as the issues the rest of my family had.

I didn’t know why I had so many problems. But I was determined to live, in spite of them.

And when I found out why I had always struggled so terribly… that was the missing key that had eluded me so long.

It’s funny – I often feel guilty about having “left” my family behind me. Now I’m spending more time with them, and it’s very, very different from before. In the past, I had to keep myself somewhat insulated from their attitudes and prejudices and keep them at a distance. I couldn’t afford to spend too much time with them, because they just dragged me down so terribly.

I still keep my distance, because they have a bad habit of being extremely negative and acting like all the world is against them. That’s not my point of view. Once it was, but not anymore. Now I know there are ways I can change my situation — change my brain, change my life — and not be victimized by circumstances.

It’s my hope that I can be a good example for others — whatever their challenges. And that rather than just avoiding people who carry the weight of the world, I can offer them some other options.

Life is simply too good, to be thrown away on negativity and defeat.

Reset NOW

I just came across this video – pretty inspiring

No matter what people may offer you, if it means you have to sacrifice yourself or abandon your convictions, no way no how is it worth it.

Back from my trip to see my family, I am reminded yet again of why I left. The price of admission to the community my family is part of, is way too high. You have to abandon your individuality to be part of a larger group, and that doesn’t sit right with me. My siblings have all pretty much kept the continuity going, living their lives as my parents expected them to — with a few minor exceptions, here and there. I’m the black sheep. I have broken out. And looking at how things have developed, back there, I’m so thankful I stepped away when I did, and managed to keep my individuality intact.

My family and their community have specific ways of doing things that they believe are correct and right. Everything from how you tend your garden, to how you maintain your home, to how you walk and talk, and when you light the first wood fire of the year, are watched and commented upon by the neighbors. Almost every aspect of life is dictated by a combination of religion and tradition, and those who “buck the system” are not welcome. Tolerated, but not warmly welcomed.

And while that rigidity gives them a sense of continuity and comfort, it doesn’t leave a lot of room for growth and positive change — unless that growth and positive change is part of their world view.

If there is a problem in front of them that can’t be solved by the same old thinking, then that problem stays stuck.

Like the problem of the hoarder in the family that nobody ever talked about. And nobody could ever help.

Hoarding is a complex issue, and it has a lot of different aspects and causes. There’s the perfectionism, the personalization of objects, the inability to let things go, because of the emotional connection to them, the inability to see a problem (on the part of the hoarder), and the inability to creatively think about options and choices for how to live differently.

I never realized, till this last weekend, just how badly off “our hoarder” was. Nobody ever talked about it in depth, nobody ever took steps to address it directly. The standard response was through prayer and support and trying to talk sense into the hoarder — and to model a better way to be.

Nobody ever addressed the neurological issues they had — which are obvious and several — and nobody ever addressed this in a systematic, scientific way.

What a friggin’ waste of a life. “Our hoarder” is well into their 70’s, and they have lived in the midst of their own filth for some 30 years. And I never fully realized the extent of the issues. Had I known, I might have been able to do something. But now the past is done. The wrecked house has been cleaned out. And “our hoarder” is in a retirement home, where it is literally impossible for them to collect any more crap or allow their space to become trashed. Cleaning folks come in every week like clockwork. So, with any luck, the will get the help they needed all along.

30 years have gone by, leading up to this moment, and my relative has lived in their squalor all that time, unbeknownst to me. I have never been in a position to actually help them before, because I had so many issues of my own. And now that I am on my feet again with a much more robust set of tools and skills, I am in a position to help. But their situation has changed, and help with that part of their life isn’t necessarily needed anymore. At least from me.

There is literally only so much I can do for my own family. They are set in their ways, and I’m not sure they will be able to change. Outside my own family, however, I can do some things. Like living my life to the fullest, showing others how hope is possible, and keeping the faith each day in my own way.  I can reach out when and where it’s possible, and hope that I have a positive influence. I wish it were possible for my own family, but sometimes it’s just not possible.

So, I do what I can, where and when and how I can. And do my best to not take responsibility for others’ choices and actions.

You can’t save everyone.

But you can save yourself.

And it’s time for a little reset in my life — to take what I’ve learned from the past week, and put it into positive action in my present and coming weeks, months, and years. I need to sleep… and hope that my system will “integrate” the info from the past days into something useful in the future.

No sense in letting all the lessons go to waste, right?

Okay, time for a nap.

Practical training to fix TBI issues – processing speed, reaction time, memory

My n-back results today
My n-back results today – click to see a close-up

I’m doing my dual n-back training again this morning. It’s pretty awesome. I’ve already noticed an improvement in my memory and my reaction time, after just a few days of practicing.

If you suffer from TBI and have access to a computer, be it at your public library or at a friend’s house – it can even be your smart phone, if you have one – there’s no excuse not to do this. There are many, many free versions of this available. My favorite is Brain Workshop at http://brainworkshop.sourceforge.net/. It’s for Windows and Mac (and Linux, if you’re into it), and it works great – very customizable.

There really is no reason to not do this training. Especially if you are on disability and you are unable to work or do other things with yourself. That’s really the optimal situation for you, because this training will help you with the core issues from TBI — processing speed, reaction time, short-term working memory and recall — and the thing you need most to do this, is time.

I almost wish I were on disability, so I could do n-back training as much as I like.

Now, obviously, I don’t want to overdo it. The brain needs to have rest and also good nutrition and oxygenation to really make the most of this training. So, it’s good that I actually cannot spend a lot of time doing n-back all day. I tend to perseverate on things that interest me, and this fascinates me. So, the chances of me plopping down in front of computer all day and doing this training are pretty high.

That would be counter-productive, and my scores would likely decrease, which would frustrate me. I need to allow myself rest. And I also need to allow myself room to just play. I tend to make everything I do into a “career” and go over the top, trying to elevate it to an art form. That’s fine, for things I’m making a living doing, but I need some time to play and relax and just have fun with things, too.

I have been playing with the combinations of things to test. I started out with a triple 1-back, where I try to remember the position, color, and audio for the last element that appeared on the screen. I put myself at 4 second intervals — the computer shows me a square in a certain color at a certain position and says a certain letter… then it shows me another one that may be the same or different, and I have to remember if it was similar in any way to the last one.

To be honest, the hardest part of the training is remembering which key to press for each aspect — A is for position, F is for color, L is for audio. One of the things that slows me down, is checking to see which key I need to press. Bums me out, frankly. I feel like an idiot that I can’t remember which goes with which, but oh well. I guess it helps me speed up my processing and my reaction time, by forcing me to react within a set period of time AND have to check the keys for each piece on the screen.

I started out at 4 second intervals, till I made it to 100% accuracy. Then I speeded it up to 3.5 seconds, and made it to 100% accuracy. At 3 seconds, I’m faltering — I went from 100% to 93% to 84% in a few tries. It could be due to my brain just getting tired. So, I’m going to stop and try again tomorrow — triple 1-back with position (A key), color (F key), and audio (L key), at 3 second intervals… and see if I can’t speed things up even more.

I like working with the 1-back, because it’s something I have mastered at certain levels, and I can always go back to it. I got to 100% accuracy with dual (position – A key, and audio – L key) 2-back at 4 second intervals the other day, and I want to push myself to hold more pieces of information in my brain at any given point in time. More pieces of information… at faster speeds.

As I said, the biggest challenge for me is memorizing which key to press for each aspect. That is very frustrating, so I need to work on memorizing that. I can spend my time commuting, conditioning myself to remember those key positions. That’s the thing that slows me down… Argh!

I’ve been doing some reading online about benefits that n-back training is supposed to provide. There are individuals who say that since they started doing the training, they have been able to learn much better. Others say it has had no effect on them. One of the things that irritates me, is how so many people write about it “improving intelligence”. The whole concept of “intelligence” is broad and wide and way too general for my taste. There are specific things this kind of training can help you with. These may make you seem “more intelligent” to others, but fundamentally, it’s really about improving processing speed, reaction time, short-term working memory, and making selective choices. Improving those aspects in different combinations, will help anyone — TBI or not — navigate life more smoothly, regardless of how well they perform on an IQ test.

For myself, the change in my own memory and response time has been noticeable, even in a short period of time. I’m going to to keep on with this, because it is helping me in specific ways that have been a bane of my existence for as long as I can remember.

Those things are:

  • feeling slow, like I’m not really keeping up
  • struggling to follow conversations and instructions
  • faking my way through interpersonal interactions, because if I slow people down to repeat what they just said and process what they just told me, it disrupts the flow of the conversation — it just hijacks it
  • distractions interrupting my concentration
  • “losing” pieces of information in the course of conversations
  • not reacting quickly enough to handle social situations, discussions, arguments, debates… and so on

These have been real struggles for me — for many, many years. And they have held me back in life. That doesn’t have to be true anymore. I now have something I can do about it.

There are many ways to train your brain to handle these things. When you’re a kid, there are clubs at school, like debate club or chess club or sports or other activities. I was active in sports, and I joined the school newspaper so I could do some writing, but I secretly struggled with the social and task-oriented activities (like writing articles for the paper). And the activities which centered around games or debate situations… they were just torture for me, because I wasn’t handling them well, and I could never articulate my situation well enough to reach out for help. Even if I had been able to articulate my situation, people were not in a position to help me. It was over 30 years ago, and nobody knew anything about TBI where I lived.

I have recently joined a public speaking group at my workplace, so I can practice being put on-the-spot to talk about a topic I didn’t come up with. That has been helping, too. But there’s nothing like being able to sit down in the quiet and comfort of my own room at home, and practice n-back training, watching my scores improve.

It has made me more confident, it has noticeably improved my response time in certain situations, it’s improving my memory in ways I can already notice, and it’s providing me a new challenge and a new hope in my life that has been missing. I’m going to keep doing this on a regular basis, as well as get plenty of rest and good nutrition to keep myself “beefed up” and progressing. Considering all the different combinations you can do — up to four different pieces that change, and as many “back” as you can ask for, all at faster or slower speeds, there’s an almost infinite number of combinations I can use to train my brain.

 

Working my way through the day

Getting it done…

Yesterday was a great day. Despite starting to come down with a cold, I made some major progress on one of my projects, solving some very tough problems which have literally stopped me from moving forward. I came up with three different solutions for hurdles that have been stopping me — and keeping me guessing and recalculating for weeks, now — and they’re all good. I thought them through. I took my time. And I figured it all out.

All it took was getting started, and not giving up.

It sounds easy enough, but it’s the hardest thing. I tend to get up in my head and get stuck there, analyzing and over-analzying everything — analysis paralysis, to so say. I keep thinking that I’ve forgotten something or overlooked something, when what I need to do most is move forward. Pick up a pen or a tool, turn on the computer, pick up the phone… just do something. Don’t just sit around thinking about it.

I worked my way through the day, tackling each conundrum as it came up. I’m really very pleased with the progress I made, because this frees up a lot of energy these problems had been sucking up for quite some time. Now that they’re settled, I can move along.

And move along, I shall.

Unfortunately, I seem to be coming down with a cold, which is a bummer. But at least it’s not the flu, and I’m hoping that this little bout will boost my immune system to really withstand the coming holidays. Thanksgiving is a couple weeks away, and I’m going to be doing all my big holiday travels during this time. A lot of times, I get sick from these big family trips — seeing both sides of the family in several different states, traveling through several different regions and stopping at a lot of rest stops where there are tons of sick people.

I need to keep my immune system robust, so having this cold and getting through it before that holiday could help. We shall see. I’ve found some home remedies online that promise to shorten the duration and intensity — lemon-infused honey, ginger, oil of oregano, and more. Also, hot foods are said to help clean you out — with green chili concoctions burning everything up and also providing a good dose of Vitamin C.

Heck, I may make up a batch of hot chili  — I’ll have to look around online to see if I can find any good recipes. I made a big pot of chicken soup last night, and it was delicious. The second day tends to be even better, so I’m hopeful.

In any case, when it comes to this cold, I’m not going down without a fight. Food is my favorite way to fight it, by far. It works better than OTC meds I find, and it’s satisfying on many levels. Maybe I’ll get some hot peppers and mix up something spicy for myself later. I need to finish my chicken soup – or maybe I’ll freeze it, so it keeps – and get as much benefit from that as I can. Then again, maybe I’ll make up some chili and freeze it… so I have it later this week.

But I’m getting sidetracked by food. The great thing about yesterday was how active I was, and how involved I was in everything I did. I really did a lot of serious calculating and thinking, which turned out just right. And I laid the groundwork for future progress, by solving three significant issues that have been dogging me. Instead of getting blocked by uncertainty, I took a step back, rethought what I was doing, then I went back to my activity with a new eye for detail. And 12 hours after I started down the road to solving these questions, I had a full day’s work under my belt with a lot of satisfaction to go with it.

This was the much-needed boost I was missing. I’ve had so many setbacks in the past couple of months, in terms of plans, job search, being effective at work and in my life… I really needed a win, and yesterday I got three.

Which is a breath of fresh air.

And now, speaking of breathing and fresh air, it’s time for me to get up and move a little bit. I’ve got to run some errands, and if I can get a jump on the day, I’ll miss the Sunday crowds.

Onward.

 

Calming it down, one breath at a time

When it’s all coming at you…

Got 8 hours of sleep last night — actually, I ran out of steam about 9:30 and lay down on the couch while my spouse was watching t.v., and slept till about 10:45. Then I woke up and watched a little t.v. … and went to bed at 11:30. Woke up at 6:30, so that gives me 7 continuous hours (not bad, compared to how I’ve been doing lately) plus a little over an hour, for 8 hours total.

I know I’m supposed to get 8 hours of continuous, restful sleep, but please. Life is just not the sort of experience right now that lends itself to total relaxation and restful sleep. I’ll be happy with what I can get, and try to not sabotage myself this weekend. I’ve got some travel going on this afternoon and evening, so it may be tough to get enough sleep, but I can always nap in the afternoon, I suppose. Maybe…

Anyway, I got up this morning and did my breathing exercises. When I first started doing this regularly, several months back, I tried to focus only on my breath — put everything else out of my mind, and just focus my full attention on the in-breath and out-breath. Okay, that’s good, but eventually I found my mind wandering and flitting about wherever it chose. I kept the breathing steady, but my mind was all over the place.

I was feeling sort of bad about that, thinking I was failing at this, not being able to keep my mind focused… but then it occurred to me that it’s actually pretty useful for all this “stuff” to be coming to mind while I’m doing my breathing.

See, here’s the thing — this steady, deep breathing calms me down physically. It slows my heart rate and really helps tone down the stress that’s going on with me. It also fills me – when I get to the zone – with a sense of well-being and calm that I can’t get anywhere else in my life.

So, when all this “stuff” starts getting riled up in me, when I think about it, I can feel my breathing speed up and my heart rate too. But when that happens, I can consciously slow my breathing, and get my heart rate down, and I can change my stress level while I’m thinking about this stuff, to something that’s way less than it is, when I’m just thinking/spinning about it and not doing anything about the quality of my experience.

When I start to “spin” and get all riled, consciously changing my breathing and my feelings about it, actually helps me get it under control — well, not control, per se, but rather it helps me to have a different way of thinking about it and a different way of approaching the problems.

So it’s actually good that all that stuff comes up when I’m sitting and breathing. It’s my chance to turn it around, to change it, to make it into something other than something that just drives me, day in and day out.

Maybe that’s what people are doing when they sit za-zen for long periods of time. Or maybe it’s not what they are doing, but what they could be doing. I don’t know. I’ve always wondered what the attraction is for sitting still all day and all night… I guess it takes all kinds.

In my case, I think it makes more sense to sit for shorter periods of time to get a handle on my experience each day. I’ve done it at work, a few times, and it seems to have helped. But the times when I did step away, I wasn’t actually “working on” any particular experience or feeling. I was just sitting for the sake of sitting and breathing.

Hm. I’ll have to try that intermittent stopping-and-breathing when I have specific problems I need to address. I think that can help me. Logically, I know that reducing stress levels around problems helps with problem-solving activities. And I know that sitting and breathing reduces stress levels. And I know that sitting and breathing with specific problems helps me feel differently about them. So, sitting and breathing on a regular basis during the day — or whenever a real problem comes up that I am getting stuck on — can be a valuable practice and tool for me. Anytime, anywhere. If I can manage to take just 2 minutes between my tasks to slow down my breathing, to settle down and just sit… it can be incredibly helpful to me, I’m sure. (So long as I don’t end up getting stuck in that sitting and breathing, and end up never getting anything done – which is also a possibility with this brain.)

It’s simple. And it’s free. And all it takes is some awareness that I need to do it.

That awareness is the challenge, actually. Just realizing that my breathing is getting fast and I’m getting tense is often difficult, if not impossible. It’s like I get so absorbed in the problems that I can’t see past them. I can’t see myself. I can’t feel myself. I get lost in it all, and I lose my ability to cope really well.

But that doesn’t have to stay that way. On the contrary. I’ve just spent the last 20 minutes writing about how I can handle this, so it’s time to do it — time to put it into action. This is good and useful, so now it’s time to use it.

Onward.