Woke up in a funk, then I decided to do things a little differently

It’s a choice

So, I woke up at 6, after getting, oh, about 6-1/2 hours of sleep. Not great. I’m still thrown off by the overnight work on Fri/Sat night. Ugh.

And I had to get some things done, that I had neglected for … oh, months.

And I was in a funk about my spouse always snapping at my heels about every little thing. It’s like living with a bee constantly buzzing around my head, sometimes. You know, how you’re sitting there, relaxing and enjoying a sandwich, and then this bee shows up and starts buzzing around you, trying to get a bite of your sandwich, and you don’t want to get stung, but you can’t get rid of the bee… and you try to ignore it, and you try to make space for it, and you try to not be bothered… but it’s still there, buzzing around… buzzing… buzzing…

That’s how it was, pretty much all weekend with my spouse. Aside from a few times when we were able to just sit and be and enjoy each other’s company, it was pretty much of a drain. Constant complaining. Constant worrying. Constant coming up with more things that need to be done — that I need to do.

Holy crap, was it tiresome. And all I wanted to do, was get away. Just leave. Put all this behind me. The constant complaining, the moaning, the worrying, the fretting. Oh my God, when will it ever end?

And it occurs to me that I really don’t want to live this way. I can’t spend the next 25 years of my life marinating in someone else’s misery. No way, no how. Every time my spouse starts to complain and bitch and get all dramatic, it has the same effect on me that someone lighting up a cigarette does. I used to smoke, 25 years ago. I know and hang out with smokers. But I can’t stand the smell of cigarettes, when I can’t get away from them. And that’s what it’s like, every time my spouse starts to complain and find fault and pick at every little thing.

Like they’re chain-smoking. And I’m getting a lung full of 2nd-hand smoke.

I think I’ll buy a pack of cigarettes, and every time they start up, I’ll just light one. They hate cigarette smoke — about as much as I hate their constant complaining and whining and blaming. So, to give them a taste of what it’s like for me, I’ll step outside and light up a cigarette whenever they start to complain and find fault and vent — basically throwing up emotionally all over me.

There’s a reason I have a constant headache. And it generally gets worse, whenever my spouse is around.

I think I need a shield. Or full body armor.

So, this morning as I was trying to get things done — and my spouse was yelling at me for being to loud and waking them up (I get clumsy when I’m tired and out of it, and I bump around a lot), the thought occurred to me that I could just walk away. I don’t have to stay in this situation. I could carry on elsewhere, on my own, and I could be very happy alone. I’m the one who does most of the work in this relationship; they’re pretty much freeloading on me. So, stepping away and just living my life without someone draining the life force from me would be a welcome change.

It would be so nice to just have some peace. It really would. And I’m at the point now, with my birthday just around the corner, where I can’t figure out why I stay around, to get dished the same helping of neediness and negativity, every waking hour.

I’m not staying because I have to. I’ve stayed for 24 years because I’ve wanted to. But I want to less and less, with each passing day.

I do all the work, and they sit back and enjoy the ride.

Am I missing out on all the good that’s possible for me, because of some misguided loyalty to a person who just uses me, day in and day out, and then tries to make up for it by setting up a nice birthday for me? It doesn’t make sense.

So, what do I do?

I don’t really want to leave. It crosses my mind. I don’t have a spouse. I have a dependent. A ward. And I’m sick and tired of it.

Then again, this is a terrible time to make any decisions. My birthday is right around the corner, and that’s messing with my head. I also want to keep things stable for the next while and enjoy my time away, next weekend. My work projects are coming together, and that’s feeling good. I’ve also realized that I really don’t want to leave my current job. If the people I’m talking to actually offer me a buttload of money and benefits that make it all worth it, of course I’ll consider it. I might even do it. But I don’t have to leave. I’m good where I am, and I can stay here for the duration of my contract till the end of next March and be good with it.

The main thing is, I need to adjust my own attitude and how I relate to the rest of the world. If my spouse is miserable, that’s their business, not mine. I don’t have to get dragged down by it, and I don’t have to let myself be tainted by their negativity. I can live in a completely different world and leave them to theirs, without needing to turn our lives upside-down. If I did go, where would I go? What would I do? I like where I live, and unless I moved out of the country, I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather live.

So, enough of the burden that I take on, myself. Enough of that. I have a choice about how I will live my life and think about things. And I choose to be happy and stay the course. If my spouse chooses to join me, then fine. But I’m not choosing to join them in their abject misery. I know what it’s about — it’s because of their upbringing. I did not have that degree of abuse and neglect in my life as a child, so why should I experience life the same way they do? We both know how to deal with panic/anxiety — why should I suffer because I’m the only one who’s making the effort to use the tools?

I work hard to keep positive andΒ  productive, but they can’t seem to be bothered.

It’s not fair to me. And it’s not realistic at all.

Happiness is a choice, and today it’s my choice. My spouse can do what they please, and they can live as they choose. It’s literally killing them in front of me, which is incredibly painful to watch. (And it’s probably a big driver behind me wanting to leave – so I don’t have to watch them in the final stages of their mental/physical breakdown/demise.)

As for me… I’m going to live.

End of subject.

Onward.

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Working on foggy and dull

I’m a little low this morning. I got a full night’s sleep – almost 8 hours – but I haven’t been sleeping well for a number of days, so I have some catching up to do. I also have been kind of stressed at work, concerned about missing some dates — when it’s my job to keep everyone on track and make sure we don’t miss dates.

I have been feeling foggy and dull — not at all like myself — for some time, now. I can’t remember whether it’s been weeks or months. I think it’s actually been years. I feel so dense and dumb, sometimes… like I’m walking around in a daze. The only times I don’t really feel that way, are when I’m a little stressed over things — when the pressure is on, and I have to dig a little deeper inside to make things happen.

I realize I’ve been chasing that experience for as long as I can remember — at work, and in my personal life. My “best friends” were always folks who treated me badly, and I chose one job after another that would stress me out. In fact, the most stress the better.

Now it’s all catching up to me — I’m in a job that has a lot less environmental stress, the commute is shorter, the team is stronger, and the company culture is words better. And I’m having difficulty adjusting to the good circumstances. I’m feeling dull and blah and bland. Like there’s not much excitement going on at all.

Here’s the thing, though — I could create my own excitement and “get the juices flowing” on my own, by stepping up and pushing forward just a little bit harder. I could apply myself more, step it up just a bit, and thereby give myself the pump I need. Only this time it would be in positive conditions, which I am setting — instead of chasing something or playing catch-up.

It would appear that’s the key — to be the driver behind the action, rather than the reactor. I have been working in reactive situations for so long — where management tells people not to think, but to react — that I’ve gotten acclimated to that way of doing things although I never wanted to in the first place.

Funny how that goes.

Anyway, now I can work on that, and get ahead of things a bit. I have an old bad habit of not taking action and just reacting to things happening around me, and I have to change that. It’s a lifelong tendency, which needs to go away. I can do this.

But I need sleep to do it. I need to be rested. I need full nights of sleep, and I need to work at relaxing again, like I used to do.

I could really use some relaxation down-time around 2:30 p.m. each day, to get myself geared up for the late afternoon, which is go-time for me. It’s the time when I’m most productive, when I’m most clear, when I can focus most fully. The rest of the day is a wash for me. Not until around 2:30-3:00, do I start to really come to life. Then I’ve got about 4 hours of goodness, before I start to wane again.

Getting used to this job is a lot about getting used to a new routine and a new cadence. Part of that new cadence is being able to sleep, and not being ON, 24 hours a day. That’s going to take some recovery time — and more than 6 weeks, that’s for sure. It’s probably been a good 15 years, since I could relax and settle into my job. The TBI in 2004 didn’t help anything, but the years immediately prior to that were pretty much of a test, too.

So, here my life is, in really good shape, and I need to restructure my life so that I can be in really good shape, too — and keep my life this way. Things are pretty simple and straightforward at work. Keep people on schedule. Deliver things on time. Communicate news — both good and bad — as honestly and clearly as possible. And don’t be afraid to ask for support from management, because they can — and will — help.

So, I got a full night’s sleep, and it’s time to get ready for work. I’ve got some good blocks of time today through Friday, when I can really kick it. So, I shall.

And get some good rest, in the process.

Onward.

Such a headache

Holy crap, I have a headache. It feels like a vice is pressing in on both temples, and my eyes hurt. I’m sick to my stomach. I have felt like this since early this morning. Probably all the pressure I’m putting on myself over what may or may not happen on Monday when I give my notice.

Silly. I have given notice at past jobs a bunch of times, and rarely has it been pleasant. But I always got through it. Once, I gave notice to a real jerk who had me in a very important position and was seriously hindered by my leaving, but that individual was an unethical creep who was in constant violation of official and unofficial ethical codes — both within the company and without. The really sad thing was, they were in a senior position, so they were unassailable. Powerful. They knew I could report them, and they used their power to intimidate me. The weird thing was, I was actually the one with the power, but I didn’t realize it then.

I think the same thing holds for my current situation. All too frequently, I think I have no power, when I’m the one who has the most.

It was a huge relief to get away from that creep. I saw them on television years later, at some security training presentation that was on public television. There they sat, all smug and sh*t, with their clueless spouse beside them. My stomach turned, when I saw them, and I was glad that I had left. Even if I was once worried about them retaliating at me. They never did.

Creep.

I think part of what is upsetting me about my present situation is the idea that it might harm my future prospects if I leave this job right now. I’m afraid that there will be backlash and it will get ugly, and I will not be able to keep myself from fighting back when I feel like I’m being attacked. I’m pretty much on alert, right now, and I am feeling like I’m under attack, even though it is the thoughts in my own head that are attacking me – and giving me a headache.

I need to calm myself down, so I don’t escalate with the wrong people.

As you may be able to tell, I have invented a whole scenario in my mind about “how things will turn out”… and it’s not good.

So, enough of that.

I need to focus on what truly is — making up my list of activities for my new employer, so they don’t consider my existing side projects to be part of their intellectual property… working on a bunch of slides for a presentation I’m giving to a local community group in another week and a half… taking care of household business… and staying healthy and happy all the while.

Maybe — just maybe — I am making myself out to be more important at my current job than I really am. Maybe I am just inventing this whole scenario about me being indispensable. Nobody is indispensable. At least, they shouldn’t be. I have no idea how things will turn out, I have no idea what the reactions at work will be. It could be that people are expecting my resignation on Monday, and they already have a contingency plan in place.

It could be.

Rather than focus on the maybe’s that are bad, why not invent some maybe’s that are good? And focus on them.

Maybe that will get rid of this headache.

I did manage to lie down and take a nap for a few hours, earlier. That was good. I’m also reading some books — “Psycho-Cybernetics“, which is a self-improvement classic… “Overachievement“, which is a new book about how to achieve top performance in unconventional ways… “A Benjamin Franklin Reader“, which is a collection of his writings and stories from his live… and some other books about money and power. And brains. And samurai legends.

I’m also reading a scientific paper on how perceived mental effort will wake you up — basically, if you believe a task is difficult, your “tonic arousal” (temporary state of wakefulness in your brain) will improve. So, that’s my new approach to getting boring sh*t done without screwing it up — tell myself it’s really, really hard, and it’s going to take a lot of mental effort to do it, so then my brain kicks into gear and gets with the program.

I’m starting to feel better, actually.

I should go juggle… but I’m still pretty sore from all the juggling yesterday.

I should probably stretch, as well, and get the kink out of my neck, which has been paining me for months. I’m sure that’s not helping the headache.

I’ve been doing some dual n-back training on and off over the past couple of days, and I have to say, the 3-back training is all but IMPOSSIBLE for me to do. I get maybe 1/3 – 1/2 of the questions right. It’s very discouraging, because I want to be at 100%, and I’m not. I think that is contributing to the headache, too. So, I’ll give that one a rest, even though I do want to think better, and I feel like it is helping me.

I need to rest. I really need to rest — so that I can be strong on Monday.

With regard to the dual n-back training, I think the best thing for me to do is hold the reins myself — always use the manual controls and work on specific areas of performance to improve a few main things:

  • reaction/response time – increase and decrease the time I need to respond in
  • number of pieces of information I retain – vary that from session to session
  • different combinations of sound, color, position, and shapes – target different mixes to keep myself sharp

I need to start in very specific ways and work my way up, not just use the generic settings in the program. That’s just maddening, and it’s not giving me the kind of precision training I want to get. I’ll talk to my neuropsych about what areas would be good to improve. I know that processing speed is one of them, as well as the number of items I can keep in my head at any given point in time. I could really play with that — set the response time to really long, and have a handful of different elements to remember each time. There are an infinite number of possibilities here, so I need to make the most of it. On my terms.

My frustration with the program is not helping my headache. So, I’ll do something about that.

But most of all… Take a break. Get myself a big glass of water. Do some stretching and movement. Maybe juggle a little bit, but not too much.

Balance. Relax. Take care of a few things that need to be done. Quit stressing over what has not happened yet — and may never happen.

And enjoy the rest of my Saturday afternoon. As well as my Sunday to come. It’s Mother’s Day. I’ll need to call my Mom.

Onward.

 

DIY OT for TBI

The magic koosh ball

When it comes to TBI/concussion recovery, we are so very often on our own.

We frequently don’t get the rehab help we need because:

  1. we don’t realize we need it
  2. we under-report our symptoms so they go unaddressed
  3. the people around us don’t recognize the signs
  4. our medical care providers don’t have a clue
  5. long-term options for ongoing treatment aren’t always great
  6. different sorts of therapy can’t go on as long as we need them (insurance won’t pay)

Now, most of us reading this know that. What we don’t always know is what to do about it.

I have found a number of “occupational therapy” (OT) solutions for myself that — in addition to getting regular feedback from a trusted source — have really moved me ahead in my life. They are simple, they address basic issues I have (but nobody realizes this, or they think I “shouldn’t” have), and they are practical — and fun — things I can do for myself, each day, to get myself on the good foot.

Some of these things are:

  • Making lists of what I need to do — especially things that I do regularly, that I screw up regularly, like get out of bed and get ready for work each day. When I started my TBI recovery process, just getting from the bed to the office each day was a bit of a gauntlet. I began using a list of all the things I needed to do — in the order that I needed to do them — and it solved a lot of issues for me. Things as simple as the order in which I brushed my teeth, showered and shampooed, got all jumbled up, and I spent way too much time thinking about “what comes next?” to have a very relaxing morning. A list of the most basic activities solved that for me. Even though people around me said having a list was too “remedial” for me — I knew it wasn’t. It truly helped me.
  • Cooking — breakfast and dinner. Again, this is about doing things in order at the right time. I have been the main cook of the house for years — ever since my spouse got seriously ill in 2007 and could not function as well as they used to. I started my TBI recovery about a year after that, when I realized that there was something very wrong with how things were fitting together in my head. Cooking helped me with organization, and timing things out. It also helped me with my emotional regulation. Years ago, if I was in the kitchen, nobody could talk to me because it would throw me off and I would mess up what I was doing. It’s been several years, since that stopped. Now I can have a conversation while I am cooking, most of the time. And when I can’t, I now know enough to say I can’t talk now, but can later.
  • Dual N-Back training — helps with response times and short-term working memory. It helps me think more “fluidly”, and it helps me follow conversations better. It also helps me interact with others more easily — and I am noticing this after only a week’s worth of work — so that is a huge help to me socially and in general. It gives me more confidence, it improves my self-image, and with my Brain Workshop program, which I have on my computer, I can do it whenever I like, without needing to be on the internet. I also have one for my smartphone, and I need to get one for my tablet, so I have it on the go, as well. It has really helped me, and I keep doing it each day.
  • Juggling — this is also a new one for me, which is a welcome addition to my daily routines. It helps me with
    • eye-hand coordination
    • timing
    • being able to pick up quickly after mistakes and move on without getting bent out of shape
    • dealing with frustration — not getting so upset over disruptions
    • physical stamina
    • left-side abilities
    • left-and-right-side coordination
    • sustained focus
    • resistance to distraction

    Probably more than anything, juggling has helped me gain a new balance and poise in my outlook and abilities. After just a couple of weeks of training, I am really enjoying it AND I am seeing the benefits in my outlook and my fluidity. It is helping me to keep calm in situations which normally fluster me, and that did wonders for me at my interview — which turned out successful on every single count. Six out of six people want me to join the company, and that’s a great testament to the power of just some simple exercises I do for fun and conditioning.

These four things are all DIY — Do It Yourself. They are also either free or extremely low cost, and some of them are part of everyday living — like cooking and making lists.

The one thing that determines the success of these approaches, I believe, is motivation and consistency. You have to do them, and you have to keep at them. You can’t just do them now and then, and take a long break to do something else. You have to really commit to them — like anything important — and be willing to learn the lessons they teach.

That commitment to work and to steady improvement — more than anything — is probably the biggest ingredient in all of this. Without that, none of these DIY techniques would work. In fact, it’s probably even true that just about any activity in the course of the day-to-day can be DIY TBI OT.

But juggling is a fun break.

And dual n-back has specific things it trains in your brain.

So these are good foundations to get the brain rewired in a positive direction.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

10 Reasons I Keep Juggling

I feel like a clown now… but I’m improving!

It’s pretty amazing… the effect that juggling is having on me. It benefits me in these ways:

  1. It’s improving my eye-hand coordination. I am finding it easier to “juggle” other things, like multiple grocery items and bags I have to carry inside after work, along with my knapsack and travel mug.
  2. It’s improving my response time.Β  I am finding myself catching things that are falling or slipping out of my hand, much more quickly than before.
  3. It’s improving my quality of responses. I have problems with flying off the handle over things that irritate me, and lately I’ve been getting more short-tempered and reactive. Teaching myself to just pick up the ball(s) I dropped and move on without missing a beat, is so very important to know and do — all throughout my life.
  4. It’s improving my balance. Following the balls and keeping my center of gravity steady, is making a small but noticeable improvement to my balance. And that translates to better posture and more confidence as I go about my daily business.
  5. It’s improving my left-side coordination and abilities. I can now toss and catch a ball in my left hand much better than I could, just a few days ago. I think this has more to do with training my brain than my body. But whatever.Β  All I know is, my left side is getting a lot more coordinated and capable. And that cuts down on the distractions that come with fumbling around with crap — and also the frustration that accompanies the fumbling.
  6. It’s raising my frustration level. Dropping the ball over and over, and learning to pick it up and just move on without getting mired in frustration is good. Also, working through my frustration with not being well coordinated or very able to juggle, is good practice too. I can see myself improving a little bit each day, which is good. And I know that tolerating a little frustration now will pay off on down the line.
  7. It’s keeping me engaged and interested in something other than my boring-ass life. Some days, my life seems so incredibly boring, because I’m following my formulas and schedules and agendas — getting a lot of things done, but really bogged down in the drudgery of the everyday. Juggling gives me a way to pique my attention and get me interested in other things. I have a long way to go before I can say I truly know how to juggle, and can do it well. And even when I do manage to juggle more than two objects, and they are things other than foam balls (no chainsaws, thank you very much), I will still have room for improvement — and I will keep learning.
  8. It’s a cheap hobby that I can do just about anywhere, anytime. I have a bunch of small balls in a ziploc bag I carry around in my knapsack, and I also have balls lying around the house that I juggle when I get a chance. I can juggle pens and pencils and my toothbrush and just about anything I find lying around. I don’t have to shell out a bunch of dough, and I don’t have to reserve space to do it. I can do it indoors and outdoors. I can do it morning, noon, or night, for a long or short time.
  9. It gets me moving. Granted, it’s not the most demanding exercise, but it does get me out of a stationary state. And it does it for short periods at a time, so I don’t wear myself out. It’s really the perfect break in the middle of a long slog. And rather than pulling my attention away from what I’m doing, it helps me refocus and go back to what I was doing, sharper than before.
  10. Most of all, it’s giving me a chance to learn and develop a skill without any downsides. Nobody cares if I cannot juggle like a pro. It doesn’t matter if I’m a barebones beginner. All I can do is improve and learn and grow… and enjoy my learning and growth as I go.

So juggling is really helping me in a number of ways.

Try it – you might like it! Especially if you’re dealing with TBI after-effects, or some attentional issues.

Fasting day today

Every now and then, it’s really good to go without

So, now that I’m exercising again, I’ve had some time to read — while I’m riding the exercise bike, first thing, before lifting or doing resistance exercises. I’ve been combing the Web for material on the benefits of exercise for the brain, and I’m rediscovering a lot of pieces I read a few years back that slipped into the nether regions of my memory. Yes, BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) is stimulated by exercise. And intermittent fasting can be good for your brain.

I have an easy day today — I’m telecommuting, and my afternoon appointment will probably be cancelled — so I don’t have a lot of energy demands on me, and I can safely get through the day without being in danger from hypoglycemia or not having enough energy to get by. When I’m commuting and I’m on my regular schedule, I need to have all pistons firing, which means I need a steady flow of energy to my brain, so fasting is not possible.

Today, though, I’m good to fast. I’ll drink my water and tea, get some intermittent exercise, and probably take a nap later this afternoon. Pace myself, and let my body take a rest from eating. I won’t fast into the evening. I just need to be without food till about 8:00 tonight, which probably won’t be a problem. I usually don’t eat until after 8:00 anyway. I ate my last snack last night around 10:00 p.m., I think — a natural fruit popsicle. So, a 22 hour fast will do the trick.

I learned about intermittent short-term fasting at the blog Getting Stronger, which discusses hormesis, or making your system stronger by introducing small bits of stress that test your system and increase its capacity for performance. I have tried to fast in the past, but it went poorly — probably because I had issues with behavior and emotional regulation, and my diet was pretty crappy, so I was all set up for hypoglycemia that made me a bear. So, I never did much with fasting after a few little tries.

Intermittent short-term fasting, which is where you go without food for about 20 hours, every now and then (some people do it monthly), actually offers a lot of benefits, without the intense stress and strain of prolonged deprivation. I aspire one day to being able to fast longer than 22 hours, but that may actually never be necessary, as reduced calorie intake is also a proven way to help you be healthier.

Anyway, I have been looking for opportunities to fast, but I’ve either been pretty active, or I have completely forgotten (like over the week between Christmas and New Years) that fasting might be a good idea. So, now I am remembering it, and it looks like this is a really good day to do this thing. And I shall.

I know this may prove challenging later today, when I am looking for my lunch around 11:30 a.m. – that’s when I usually eat. And then there is the afternoon snack that I usually have around 2:30 or so… Doing without them, especially when I am working at home with lots of good, healthy food within easy reach, may be a challenge. But I have to keep in mind that I am doing this for a good reason — and it won’t be forever.

I’ll break my fast tonight, and that will be that.

The big challenge today will be keeping my mind on my work and not getting pulled in a bunch of different directions. I’ll spend some extra time today exercising or sitting and breathing, instead of eating. At times when I am usually having snacks or lunch, I will do a little stretching or sit and count my breaths. This could be a really good way to get that extra meditation time I’ve been wanting.

I’ve felt myself jumping quickly into a state of knee-jerk reactiveness, over the past months, and that has not been good. I can’t just snap over every little thing. I need to be more mindful and also better about managing how I behave with regard to my emotions. I know this is an issue for me. So, sitting and breathing and working on my self-restraint while not eating will be a great opportunity for me.

I just need to keep focused and remember why I am inconveniencing myself — and really celebrate at the end, when I get to eat again. It’s only 11 hours and 16 minutes away πŸ˜‰

Figuring out how to relax… and get on with things

The flood doesn’t have to last forever

I’m running a little late this morning. I was supposed to have an early phone call with a colleague on the other side of the world, this morning, but that was cancelled — partly because they told me they would be traveling at the end of this week, but I didn’t put it together that I should reschedule our meeting till when they got back.

No worries, though. They reminded me of it, and I’m rescheduling, so that’s fine.

In the past, I would have really given myself a hard time for not putting that together. I would have been unsparing and relentless in my self-criticism, and by the end of my internal tirade against myself, I would have reached the conclusion that I am good for nothing and I can’t do much of anything at all. It’s happened before, lots of times – especially at times when I’ve forgotten to reschedule meetings.

Today that didn’t happen.

If anything, I was relieved that I didn’t have to get on the call right after I woke up. I have had a couple of late-evening calls with colleagues, for the past couple of days, and I haven’t been able to get in bed before 11:00, or sleep past 7, which means I’m getting 6-7 hours of sleep, when I should be getting 8+. Oh, well. At least I’m not getting 4-5 hours, like I was last week.

I felt a bit foolish for a little bit, having spaced out on the schedule thing, then I just got on with my morning. I’ve had some time to check my personal email and make a list of things I need to get done today — and wonder of wonders, I don’t have anything scheduled for this evening, so I can take care of some things for one of the projects I’m working on.

There’s been an interesting change with me, lately. It happened around the time when I went to see my family and got out of my daily routine rut. There was a LOT of driving involved, I did NOT sleep very well, and the whole time was pretty uncomfortable for me in a lot of ways. But I handled myself extremely well, and as a result, no relationships were trashed or threatened, and there was no left-over biochemical sludge that I needed to clear out of my system.

Also, all during the trip, I was practicing the “90-second clearing” that helped me to regain my balance after upsetting or unsettling or anxiety-producing discussions or situations.

Basically this “90-second clearing” works this way:

  1. I pay attention to my stress level, my physical situation — am I stressed? Am I relaxed? Am I getting tense and uptight? When I think about a picture of how I’m feeling, do I see a crazy line chart that looks like a craggy mountain range, with the line going wildly up and down to extremes?
  2. If I am getting tense and uptight, I stop what I am doing and thinking, and I take a break for a minute and a half.Β  I stop the reaction to what’s happening. I stop the racing thoughts. I stop the escalation. I stop the fast breathing.
  3. Then I breathe slowly for about a minute and a half — sometimes I need less time — until I feel “level” again.Β  I think about what my state of mind and body looks like, and if I see a line that looks like a nice little wave, or gently rolling hills, I know I’m good.
  4. Then I can get back to doing what I was thinking and saying and doing before.
  5. Then I can relax.

By stopping the crazy escalation and bringing myself back to a point of biochemical equilibrium (many times during my vacation), I was able to keep my head from going nuts over passing things. It wasn’t about tamping down my experience and suppressing my feelings and reactions — it was about just letting it all come… and then letting it all go… and moving on.

I’ve continued to do it, too — with good results. In fact, I just did it this morning, when my spouse and I were having a heated discussion about something that wasn’t going right, and we were both getting pretty uptight and tweaked over the situation. It wasn’t something that either of us had done “wrong”, just something that was wrong that I needed to fix — and we were starting to get pretty bent out of shape about it.

I managed to stop and just breathe for a minute or so, and the calming effect on me also had a calming effect on my spouse. I could relax. So could both of us. Good stuff. And now I can get on with my day.

This is a big change with me. I mean, just the fact that I even know what it feels like to relax, is a change. Up until about 5-6 years ago, that never happened. I had no idea what relaxation really felt like, and I wasn’t interested in finding out. I just needed to be ON. I just needed to be UP. I just needed to be GO-GO-GO, all the live-long day. And frankly it was tearing the sh*t out of me and my life and my relationships. Especially after my TBI in 2004, when suddenly I was unable to keep it together and manage the GO-GO-GO in a sensible way.

Then I started doing “stress hardiness optimization” which is guided meditation for first responders and other people in high-stress conditions. I figured that applied to me pretty well — especially since I felt like I was always responding to emergencies in my life on a personal level. That trained me to physically relax, with progressive relaxation.

Mentally relaxing and being able to just let things go, however, still eluded me.

But over time, the more I’ve relaxed physically and the more capable I’ve become at understanding and managing my own “internal state”, the better I’ve become at being able to relax my mind as well as my body.

Ironically, one of the things that’s helped me to relax my mind, is coming to realize that no matter what the circumstances, I’ll be able to figure something out. It may not be perfect, it may not be what I want, but I’ll be able to deal. I’ll be able to manage myself and my situation. I’ll be able to handle things. The 90-second clearing is a huge piece of the puzzle that helps me incredibly.

First, it defines my internal state of anxiety and upset as a biochemical thing. It’s not that something is wrong with me, and I cannot handle things. It’s my body reacting to what’s going on, trying to help me rise to the occasion with a flood of biochemical stress hormones that are specifically designed to kick me into action. It’s a purely physical reaction.

Second, it’s all about recognizing that my body can be a little “behind the times” — and my mind / awareness can jump in to help it calm down. My fight-flight system (like everyone’s) is quick to react, but slow to back off — once engaged, my fight-flight system doesn’t want to let go. It wants to keep me safe. It keeps escalating, until the “danger” has passed, but it doesn’t always realize that a “danger” is not actually dangerous. So I have to help it do that. It’s not doing it by itself. It needs my awareness to help. Which I can do.

Third, it’s about exercising my mind in very basic ways — just paying attention to how I’m feeling, and doing very simple things to adjust. It’s not about some elaborate plan that will require tons of practice and has to be done just right. It’s about just noticing what’s going on with me, and doing something with it. Taking action. Working with my situation to turn it in a different direction — adding important ingredients — elements of balance and just plain feeling good, which is a new experience for me. Just plain feeling good… what a concept.

Last of all, it just works. Slow breathing for a minute and a half puts a halt to my downward slide and stops the escalation in its tracks. I’ve used it a number of times in a number of different situations, with excellent results. I can’t even begin to explain how great it feels to have the waves of anxiety and dread and fight-flight sludge back off — to feel them subside, leaving calm in their place. It’s like the flood waters of the Nile are receding, leaving fertile fields awaiting a new season of crops. And it leaves me feeling awake and confident and better than I did before.

Feeling tight and cramped and anxious and nervous and antagonistic feels like crap, I have to say.

Feeling loosened up and relaxed and strong and flexible and friendly feels pretty awesome.

90 seconds is all it takes, too (well, sometimes it takes longer, but not more than a few minutes). It “resets” me, “reboots” my brain. And it lets me get on with my life. Relaxed, confident, and with a lot more better ideas than I had just a few minutes before.