In it for the long haul

truck on road leading into the distanceAfter a brain injury, it’s awfully easy to get stuck in every single moment.

Everything seems different. Everything is different. Your brain has changed, and you have to devote a whole lot of time to each and every moment, as though it were the only one in your life.

Focusing on the present with laser-like attention became my main form of brain injury rehab. After all, I had to retrain my brain to make sense of what was going on around it, and I had to acclimate (all over again) to certain things I had once taken for granted.

Like brushing my teeth and taking my shower and getting dressed in the proper order each morning.

Like washing dishes and cooking and fixing simple snacks without losing my temper.

Like going to bed at a decent hour and getting up to exercise each morning.

The things that I had once taken for granted… well, that familiarity was taken from me, when I fell in 2004. And everything fell apart.

We don’t realize till it’s gone, how much we really do take for granted, and how much we depended on the predictability to structure our lives. When it disappears, all hell breaks loose. Literally.

But now, after 10+ years of really drilling down on the details of every day, moment to moment, I seem to have turned a corner. And now I’m looking at the “long haul” — what’s ahead of me, not next week or next month, but 10 years down the line… 20… 30… and beyond. I wasn’t born yesterday, but I also come from a long-lived family, and I can realistically expect to live at least 20 years longer than my peers. Maybe even longer than that.

So, I’m shifting my attention away from immediate stuff and concentrating on the big picture. What else is out there? What else can I learn? How else can I grow? Where can I find interesting things to expand my mind and life?

It’s all out there, waiting for me.  And it is for you, too.


Building readiness

Get ready, stay ready

You never know when something will come up that challenges you, and that is especially true of TBI. With traumatic brain injury, there is often a surprise just around the corner, or right in front of you when you least expect it.

I’ve been struggling with this for many years — many, many years — and over time, the constant adjustment/readjustment has really taken a toll on me. It’s pushed me and pulled me and really strung me out. And it’s doing it again with this job I have. Somehow, the things I thought I was doing well, are turning out to be not so great, according to some. And I’m feeling a lot of pressure to make things right.

It’s not so much the added work that gets me, it’s the jolt and the shock of being confronted over things that are pretty tough to hear and to handle. It’s the surprise(!) of having someone say, “You know what? You’re screwing up, and it’s making us all look bad.”

… Just when I thought I was doing so well.

I have taken several approaches with this — trying to control the situations I find myself in, to minimize the element of surprise, and trying to put some limits on how much I take on in the course of each day.

The problem is, I get busy. And I literally cannot manage and control every single experience that comes my way. There is always an element of the unexpected, and rather than trying to exclusively head things off at the pass, I need to add more readiness to my “behavioral toolbox”.

Readiness, to me, is about being able to respond appropriately to situations that come up at work and at home. It’s about having a frame of mind that’s going to help me meet the challenges with dignity and honor and the kind of demeanor I can be proud of. It’s about realizing that life is going to throw some funky stuff at me, now and then, and the more advanced I get and the more I take on, the more ready I need to be — because it’s going to get that much more interesting.

I literally have no control over a lot of things, and heave knows, there’s even more stuff that’s out of my control that sneaks up on me, thanks to my neurology.

So, I need to get myself in shape. Literally and figuratively.

I’m doing pretty well with the food (aside from a surprise addiction to fruit and nut trail mix that I developed a month or so ago), and I eat pretty regularly and in reasonable moderation (most of the time). I’m also doing pretty well with the exercise, incorporating more rest into my weekly routines. I need to get stronger, that much is for certain, and I should probably invest time time at the gym at work lifting heavier weights. Looking at my calendar, I can see a couple of days I can do that this week.

Now I need to do a better job of managing my time and workflow, so that things don’t sneak up on me that really shouldn’t. I need to develop the habit of sitting down with my schedule at the beginning of each day and at the end of each day, and walking through everything I need to do. I used to do this in the morning while I was exercising, but that’s not working anymore. I need to do it when I get to work, first thing… and last thing before I leave at the end of each day.

In some ways, it really is about developing habits — habits of excellence that set the stage each day for some sort of improvement. There will be many days when I fall short, but rather than seeing that as a disappointment, I can see that as proof that I’m pushing myself to go farther, do better, be better.

At the same time, though, there’s only so much that I can depend on planning. I can do my best to minimize unnecessary surprises — so I can keep my energy for the real surprises. Because there will be many of them. In some ways, it’s like developing combat readiness — though on a much smaller, much less dangerous, civilian scale. It’s like developing the physical hardiness to keep strong in the face of some daunting tasks and schedules, and developing the mental hardiness to face up to any challenge that comes across my path.

I have a CD from Belleruth Naparstek that she created for first responders, called “Stress Hardiness Optimization”. It’s for use by firefighters and policemen and EMTs and soldiers — people who face day-to-day challenges that fry their nervous systems. My own experience is something far less extreme than that, but the principles still apply — sudden shocks, immediately pressing challenges, high stakes, and high performance demands are a regular part of my everyday life. And I need to live like that’s the case.

So, here’s to fostering more readiness — I’m reading up on the idea of readiness, drawing from different sources, from athletic and military and civilian emergency preparedness literature online. There’s a lot to read, but the basic concepts are there — training, preparedness, strength, flexibility, endurance… all the ingredients you need to stay smart and safe in a tough situation.

Perhaps the biggest threat I face on a daily basis is not one on the outside — it’s the internal threat of taking things for granted, of slacking off when I should be stepping up, of taking the easy way of not eating right or not getting enough rest, and not planning properly. But the most hazardous danger of all is underestimating my own challenges.

Speaking of which, I’m running late. Gotta go — I’ve got a meeting in a little over an hour…

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