Wow – I actually got some sleep last night

sleeping monkeyWell, that was unexpected. I counted up how much sleep I got last night, and it was 9.5 hours. Amazing. After getting 4.5 hours the night before, and 5.75 hours the night before that… This is pretty cool.

Actually feeling like I got some sleep – which isn’t the same as being fully rested (I’m not)… it’s something I could get used to.

I keep thinking / talking about sleep, because it’s so vital – especially for those of us with TBI/concussion issues. A tired brain is an agitated brain. And being agitated on top of all the COVID stuff is just not good.

I suspect that a lot of the issues people have been having around the pandemic and the lockdowns and everything have been exacerbated by underlying physiology. Mentally, we can understand that we need to play it safe. But physically, we get tired – so tired – and for a lot of us, that means our brains stop working the way we need them to.

And when our brains stop working the way we need (and expect), then we can get into a “crisis of self-hood” as I think of it. When we don’t have the same kinds of reactions we expect to have, we can lose touch with our Sense-Of-Self, and that adds to our stress.

It’s not just TBI that scrambles that. It’s hardships that exacerbate our TBI issues. And when you’ve been in recovery for an extended period of time, it can be easy, so easy, to lose touch with the fact that yeah, you’re still impacted. And yeah, your brain still struggles. And yeah, it affects everything in life.

Which is why getting some sleep thrills me so much. Because it means my brain and body actually have a chance to recover and get back to some baseline of at least some competency. And after weeks and weeks and months and months of doing without a level of competency I used to be at before this pandemic hit… well, that’s pretty cool.

Wow. Amazing.

 

It feels so good to sleep

This pandemic has been messing with my sleep. I don’t get a solid 7-8 hours each night, like I used to. Now I’m lucky to get 6.

But now that I’m working from home, I can take naps in the afternoon, so that’s what I’ve been doing.

Thomas Edison hours. Sleep 4 hours, get up and work like a crazy person for 3-4 hours. Sleep 4 hours, then get up and work like a fiend.

There are worse things, I suppose.

I’ve also taken to just lying down and sleeping as early as I like. I nap a few hours after supper, then get up and shut the lights out and go to bed.

And it feels so good to sleep. It’s the only break I get, these days. And I need a break.

The really stupid thing that got me back on this blog…

lightning striking inside a headLast week, I was on a call with a life coach who was pitching their neuro-based approach to peak performance. They’re a trained neuropsychologist, and they had a handful of ways to “hack” the brain so you can basically flip the switch on your success. Super-charge it. Turn it on in ways that we usually instinctively turn it off.

Okay, great. I’m always up for ways to do that. I’ve been doing it, myself, for years, using neuropsychological principles.

But a couple things jumped out at me during that call, that seemed really really stupid. And I don’t mean “stupid” in a way that belittles people with cognitive difficulties. I mean it in the way that professionally trained people who should know better are leading people down a path that goes directly against what they should know, due to their professional training.

Before I go on, let me say that one of the things that discouraged me from keeping up this blog has been all the professional input about concussions, over the past several years, that has not helped. There’s a whole “concussion industry” that’s giving people really mixed messages – from people who have never sustained mTBIs or other sorts of brain injuries (that they’re admitting, anyway). And it’s made it all the harder to have a conversation about what mTBI is, how it affects you, and what you can actually do about it. I mean… I just don’t know where to start.

More on that later. Let’s get back to the professional stupidity.

Okay, so I was on this call, and the neuropsych was telling people that we can turn our lives around by breaking mental barriers. Find something that you’re afraid to do, and do it over and over and over again, using “exposure therapy”. Address your core beliefs about who you are and what you think you can do. Overcome those beliefs by not telling yourself over and over that you can’t do something. Use visualizations to “pre-wire” your system for success. And get comfortable with uncertainty.

All sorts of alarms went off with me on this, especially because the person talking admitted to having been very close with someone who had sustained a TBI years before they met them, and they had ignored the warning signs of suicidal thoughts… they’d even encouraged them to just take some anti-depressant meds — the very same meds which will set off someone with a history of TBI. Long story short, just after they told their friend to take some meds, that friend killed themself. Traumatic, to be sure.

And just as traumatic was the idea that someone who was trained as a neuropsychologist was telling someone to do something (take meds) that even I, from passing conversations with a neuropsych, know can be hugely problematic for a brain injury survivor.

Not only that, but this person was positioning themself as an expert in brain topics, immediately after revealing this massive “tell” about just how clueless they were/are.

Um. Okay.

And then they proceed to talk about how doing things like facing your fears, visualizing, and self-talk will get you on the right track and turn your life around.

Well, okay, so for a lot of people it will do that. But for someone with underlying physiological neurological issues (e.g., someone whose wiring has been rearranged by concussion/traumatic brain injury), those things will only go so far.

It would have been much more helpful, if they’d called out the fact that people with organic/physiological brain issues operate by different rules. And we have to live by those rules, day after day, if we’re going to be able to do things like visualize and self-talk our way to success.

Things like:

  • Get enough sleep
  • Drink enough water / stay hydrated
  • Get regular exercise
  • Find ways to calm down the over-active and easily amped-up system
  • Keep your blood sugar steady by eating decent meals regularly (and stay away from junk food)
  • Have a daily routine that reinforces your understanding of who you are and what you can reasonably expect of yourself, day after day.

If we TBI survivors don’t take care of the basics — food, water, sleep, routine — nothing else is worth much. At all.

And my heart aches for all the people (like me) out there who are being told, each and every day, that their failures are due to bad messages they’re giving themselves, or letting their fear run their lives. I think it was such a waste for the neuropsych’s friend to lose their life (in part) because of the terrible advice that they should have known better than to give. I also get so sick and tired of people lecturing me/us about how we just need to get our attitudes aligned with the right sort of mentality, and then our lives will dramatically change for the better. Never mind the underlying issues with fatigue and irritability and not knowing what the h*ll to expect from ourselves and our systems, from moment to moment, because our brain injury has turned us into someone we don’t recognize anymore. We’re being blamed for results that stem directly from our organic/physiological situation, without anyone even admitting that getting your wires crossed by a car accident, a fall, an assault, or a tackle gone wrong, can and does have an effect on your brain’s function.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do believe that pretty much all of us spend way too much time being afraid and telling ourselves the wrong things about ourselves and our chances. We don’t do enough of the kinds of things that can and will make us successful.  And we generally don’t have the right mentality that sets us up for success.

But none of those performance-enhancement approaches are going to get much traction, if we don’t address the physical facts of our neurological situation. Failure is not all in our minds. It’s also in our brains. And until we learn to support / heal our brains and do the things we need to do — regularly, routinely, predictably — all the self-talk in the world isn’t going to be much help. At all.

Until we get ourselves on a good schedule – and stay there – eat the right foods (for us), drink enough water, exercise on a regular basis, and get decent amounts of sleep on a regular basis… Until we develop a new Sense Of Self that tells us who we are and what we can expect from ourselves… Until we redefine ourselves in ways that are solid and predictable… those mentality tactics are just going to be all in someone’s mind.

And the fact that a neuropsychologist was spouting all this stuff without prefacing their talk with a disclaimer… well, that just pisses me off. If they’d said something like, “What I’m about to share is intended for people without underlying neurological issues, some of which may have been sustained a long time ago, but are still having an impact in you life”, it would have set much better with me.

But they didn’t. So, there we are.

Oh, well. It’s a beautiful Sunday, and I have another 24 hours till I have to be ON for work again. So, I might as well enjoy myself. This isn’t the first time this sort of professional stupidity took the steering wheel. And it certainly won’t be the last.

Life goes on.

So, onward.

Sleep helps everything

I probably would have been better off taking napsLike most people, I’ve been quarantined. More quarantined than most. My spouse is declining in their mental and physical health, and I’m frankly not sure how much longer they have. Could be weeks. Could be months. Could be years. I just don’t know. And they’re not very forthcoming about what is really going on with them, so it’s well nigh impossible to tell what the deal is with them.

Well, anyway, all the heartbreak gets exhausting to think about and talk about, so I won’t.

Not now.

I’ve been pretty stressed out over a lot of things in my life. The job. The house. The spouse. The COVID-19 situation. Now, I wouldn’t say I’ve been stressed out about everything, in the typical way a lot of people are. Let’s just say, it’s been more to deal with. And adding all the hypervigilance, the masks and gloves and social conflict around it… well, that’s just been overwhelming. Not because I’m terrified of getting COVID. I’m not. In fact, I suspect I may have had it over the winter, before it became “a thing”.

I had this really persistent cough, my chest felt like it was getting tighter every day. I didn’t have a fever, but I felt like I’d been beaten with a stick, and it lasted longer than other bugs I’ve had. It just felt different. Like some weird foreign entity had taken up residence in my lungs.

There were times it got a little scary. But I did breathing exercises to open up my lungs, and over time, they stopped feeling so constricted. And I got a break from it all. Eventually it resolved. So, that’s a plus.

The thing is, I still have issues with my breathing.  When I get really tired, my lungs feel like they’re shrinking, and I have to cough to catch my breath. This is when I’m tired – so tired – and I’m behind on my sleep. When I rest – and do my breathing exercises – I get better. But the breathing problems is a sure sign that I am over-tired and I need to do something about it.

Which is good. Because not getting sleep is a killer for me.

A tired brain is an agitated brain, and there you go. Agitated. Difficult to live with. And me trying to stay calm and collected with a spouse who’s increasingly erratic, emotional, anxious, and volatile.

Well, it is what it is. I know I can’t get any help from the medical establishment, because A) they don’t understand my mTBI situation, and  B) they’re all busy with COVID patients and extreme cases who have waited till they’re almost dead before they show up at Urgent Care or the ER looking for help.

Even if they were available, they couldn’t help me. Because they just can’t. They won’t. They don’t think there’s anything “up” with me, other than me looking for attention from authority figures. So, I don’t bother.

And I get on with my life. I notice the signs. I take action. I watch to see how it works out, and if I need to adapt, I do.

And that’s about all any of us can do.

I need a haircut.

Maybe next decade I’ll get one.

I’ve missed this

I have to say, I have missed this blog. I’ve been so busy, over the past year or so that I just haven’t done this justice. Or maybe it just felt like I was repeating myself and I was boring my own self.

That’s been known to happen 😏

But things have both leveled out and become chaotically familiar. And I’m not as scattered as I was before. So, it’s time to go a bit deeper with certain parts of my life and really find out what’s there. We don’t have enough depth, in my opinion, so rather than complaining, I’m going to do something about it.

One of the things I need to do is get $$$ support for this blog. I’ve been wanting to do it for years, but I’m feeling even more impetus to do it now. I’ve experienced a pretty amazing recovery from a long series of mild TBIs and I feel this intense drive to pass on what I’ve learned.

It’s worked for me. I need to help others, as well.

And I need to do it on a much larger scale than I have been. So, I’m going to put some thought into how to do that.

If you have any suggestions, let me know.

And that’s all for now.

Getting my balance back — and getting to a stopping place

picture of road on wall with crackled paintWell, that was exciting… The summer (thank heavens) is over, and now I can get my life back.

I don’t do well in the summertime. It’s a shame, because everybody else seems to have such a great time with it, running around, doing so much, getting suntans and extra exercise.

I, on the other hand, am not a fan. There are too many hours of sunlight in the day. And the days are hot… wet… uncomfortable in general. I’m sensitive to light and smells and noise, and summertime is full of all of the above. Not much fun.

I also have trouble sleeping in the heat. Keeping the A/C on in my bedroom (and all through the house, for that matter) is a constant source of stress with the noise. When I’m tired, I’m more sensitive to sound, so a moderately noisy air conditioner sounds like a massive fan in an airplane hangar. And that doesn’t help me sleep.

If I can’t sleep, I become more irritable. Volatile. Raging. It’s a problem. I’m not proud of how I’ve gone off the rails a few times, this summer. Between the work stress and summer stress… it’s not good.

I’ve been keeping really busy with work at my day job (sad face) and my own projects (happy face). It’s taken my mind off many of my troubles, but it’s also tired me out. Again, the fatigue business. And that leads to me drinking too much coffee… which leads to more headaches, difficulty sleeping… the same old vicious self-perpetuating cycle.

But now summer is over. Thank Heavens. And I can settle in for the next three months of enjoyment. I love fall. I love winter. I love spring. And now I get to take a break from summer.

I’m also giving myself a break from some of the Massive Undertakings I launched over the summertime. I came up with some pretty awesome plans that I’m convinced could be Very Big Indeed. The thing is, I really don’t have the capacity to follow through on all of them. I really bit off more than I can chew, so to speak, and that’s been dragging me down. I need to pick and choose what I’ll work on… and let the other stuff go.

But it’s all for the best, because as I narrow down my activities (e.g., writing and creating great content that I can license to others, versus running an entire company based on my ideas), I am operating from an understanding how a larger company would — and could — use my content to build their business.

I’m learning about the larger context for my writing, and that’s good. It’s very good indeed.

So, yes, sometimes I need to stop, in order to go. And learning to recognize my limitations and accommodate them is the first step towards being able to make some real progress.

It’s all a process.

Onward…!

Time for some summer fun

sunflowerWell, it’s been a miserable bunch of months. The past year, actually, has been pretty bad, and I’ve had enough. I’ve come close to quitting my job a bunch of times. Of course, the need to eat and have shelter and support my household has kept me from taking the leap — not to mention realizing just how non-negotiable it is for me, anymore, to be able to work from home.

If I can’t work remotely at least two days a week, there’s no point in even taking a job.

People have reached out to me. I’ve done interviews. I even got an offer.

But I couldn’t work from home, unless there was an emergency, and the commute was just too awful.

What is it with employers, that they don’t understand just how draining it is to work in an office all day long? It makes no sense. Some grown-ups (like me) actually thrive when working on our own. And we get a lot more done when we’re able to concentrate in our own space, than if we’re stuck in some cubicle where people are constantly interrupting, talking, walking by, making noise, and so forth.

I’m as guilty as the next person for doing it. People around me have to deal with my noise, when I’m at the office. But that’s the deal when you’re on-site.

But I digress. As much as I want to quit my job (and I do), I realize that I’m way too tired and stressed to make any kind of decent decisions about what kind of job I want next, where I want to work, what kind of salary I need, and so forth. I’m too worn out. I need a break. So, I’m taking the summer to rest, relax, rejuvenate. I’m overdue for time off. Like, a year and a half overdue.

I’m not in a position to just split for a vacation, but I can change my routine to make it more civilized. Ease up on myself. Quit pushing myself like I have been. Just take some time to take stock of my life, and think about how I’d like things to be. I’m getting too old to be getting constantly sucked into all the ridiculousness that happens, each day. I can’t control what others do, but I can avoid getting too emotionally invested in it.

It’s certainly not worth wrecking my health over the poor choices other people make, day after day after day.

Nah… I’m pretty much done with that.

So, this summer is really about me. Taking care of myself. Actually enjoying myself. And having a summer.

Going for long walks and drives. Roaming around and exploring parts of the world I haven’t seen, yet, even though they’re not far from where my daily routine takes me. Hanging out and enjoying the scenery. Looking around, as I drive to and from work, and really enjoying the scenery.

Taking a big old break from the social media echo chamber, and getting some fresh air.

Ahhhhhh….

I think this is going to be a good summer.

And now I feel it for the next week

work sign showing person shoveling a pile of dirtI had a busy day, yesterday. A quiet day, too. I helped my spouse get ready for their event, drove them there, unpacked the van, chatted with people at the venue, hopped in the van, and drove home along back roads (because the main roads were packed).

I had some lunch when I got home. Nothing huge, just a sandwich, potato salad, chips, pickles. I had a handful of things to do, so I ordered them according to the weather. It was amazing weather, yesterday — sunny with passing clouds, a nice breeze, in the mid-60s. Couldn’t ask for better mowing weather. So, I pulled out the lawn mower from the back corner of the garage, topped off the gas, and got mowing. It took me an hour and a half, but I got the front and back yards done. I also raked up leftover leaves from last autumn, swept out the garage, replaced a down-spout that had fallen off my gutter, and trimmed back some underbrush that was blocking the view from my driveway.

I used the leaf blower to clean off my driveway, stairs, and deck, and then I ran my snowblower till it ran out of gas. It’s best not to let it sit with old gas in the engine all winter. I’ve had the snow blower nearly 15 years, and it’s held up well, but I need to be smart about storing it over the winter. At last.

After that, I had a snack, took a shower, and put up a new huge bookshelf in my study that I got from the neighbors for almost nothing. I’d been needing a new bookshelf, and the timing was perfect. It took a lot longer than expected, because I don’t have a lot of room to maneuver in my study, and I had to put it together in a very small space. I also had to partly take it apart, because the way I’d assembled it first made it impossible to turn upright. Eventually, I got it, but I was not expecting it to take me three hours to do it.

Ah well, so it goes. I now have enough shelf space in my study, so I can get rid of some of the piles. I also have a lot of books I want to get rid of. I was interested in a lot of stuff, years ago, that just doesn’t have anything to do with my life, anymore. And I need to get free of all of it.

I also need to get rid of some of the computers I have. I don’t need to hang onto them. There’s no point.

Lightening my load. Getting my life in order.

It feels like I’ve been doing that a lot, lately. Picking and choosing and prioritizing. As it should be. I can’t do everything in my life, and I don’t have unlimited energy. So, when I do find something I care about that matters, I need to make the most of it.

I’m also getting clear about where I want to go with my work in life. Future directions. Areas where I need to focus.

I’m sore as anything, today. Just aching. But it was worth it. I got a ton of stuff done that I’d been needing to finish.

Whatever I do, and however I do it, I just want to make it count.

A quiet day… a busy day

Today is turning out to be interesting. My spouse has an event I’m helping to prepare for. I’ll pack the van, drive them over, help them set up, then come home and take care of my own projects here. I have some book cases I need to set up, books to move around, furniture to move, the garage to air out, the lawn to mow… etc.

And with the house to myself, this afternoon and evening, I can get it all done.

Plus, it’s going to be a cool day, today — temps in the mid-60s, which is a nice change — so I won’t have to run the air conditioners. I can actually open some windows.

And get a nap. Absolutely, get that nap.

I was up early, this morning. Couldn’t sleep past 5:00. So I got up and went out for a long walk. The early morning was cool, the bugs weren’t out yet, and I didn’t see that many people.

I still have an hour before I need to get going, so I’m making the most of it.

It’s quiet. But it won’t be for long. So, I’m savoring it while I have it.

 

 

Greetings from the island of missed opportunities

Happy Belated Memorial Day to All
Thank you for your service.

Last weekend, I had every intention of taking care of essentials. Getting my hair cut, mowing the lawn, going for long walks down the road, blogging on Memorial Day to thank veterans and their families for their service.

I got a fair amount done on Saturday. Then it rained for two days, and the rest of my plans were shot. The naps I was going to take didn’t materialize the way I’d hoped. I was still tired from last week, and I was irritable. I was off my regular schedule, which made me antsy. And I had too much time on my hands to think about how my life had taken so many wrong turns, and how I couldn’t seem to get it back on track.

When I’m tired and I can’t catch up on my sleep, problems happen. I cause them, of course… and then I need to fix them.

So, that’s how I spent the weekend — dealing with my self-made problems.

Fortunately, a lot of stuff got worked out, and I’m on better footing than I was, last week.

And life goes on.

The thing is… Sometimes things need to fall apart before they can get fixed. I’ve been kind of limping along on, for months (maybe years) at work and at home, trying to make the most of bad situations and challenging conditions, without knowing what to do about them. Either I was too tired, or I didn’t have all the the information. Or things (politics at work) were out of my control. And I just made the best of a problematic situation. Of course I did. That’s what I always do.

I tend to complain a lot on this blog, but to be honest, that’s mainly because I don’t whine about a lot of things in my everyday life. I keep that proverbial stiff upper lip. I make the best of things. I keep positive and can-do, as all Americans are taught to do. Being anything less is an affront to everyone around you and a sort of blasphemy in this country. Of course I can do it! Of course I’m capable of figuring things out! I’m an American. By God.

Every now and then, though, I just have to let that go and indulge myself in a little realism — how I really feel. How things really seem. It’s not giving up. It’s just being honest about how I feel about the situation… before I rally to get myself back on track.

I always rally. No doubt about that. I’m still here, after all.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about missed opportunities, lately. I’ve missed so many, due to slow processing speed, foggy thinking, and of course fatigue. The kind of tiredness that wipes everything messy, like all the class notes being smeared on the blackboard (or whiteboard, as they have now). And nothing makes sense, anymore.

I think about all the dreams I’ve had, and how logistically impossible they’ve all been. I have responsibilities. I have a household to maintain. Insurance to keep. A job (or two or three) to do, each day. The things I always wanted as a kid… most of them haven’t happened, in large part because I just didn’t have the capacity to keep up the pace required to do them all.

And there’s a sense of loss to that. A deep sense of … I dunno… deprivation? Failure? It’s hard to put my finger on it.

Then again, when I look at my life and all that’s happened, I can’t feel badly. Not for a moment. I’ve been able to experience some amazing things, and I’ve really had a great run. I continue to, as well. Even more now, than before, because I know so much more about my limitations and how to work with them. Ironically, my life started to come together after I learned about how limited I am. Only then, could I put systems in place that offset my difficulties. Especially with regard to memory, sleep, and prioritizing things in my life.

I learned how to listen to people, how to talk to people. Before I knew that my short-term working memory was horrible, I thought I could keep things in my  mind and interact with people by just being quiet. Now I know better, and I know that I have to keep engaging with people during our conversations, or I’ll forget what they said just a few moments ago. Not only does that help me remember, but it also makes me a better conversationalist. By far. And I’ve gotten over my self-consciousness, I’ve quit telling myself I was an idiot because I couldn’t remember sh*t.

I’m not an idiot. I have organic limitations to my memory, and I just have to work with them.

I also learned how to pace myself and take care of myself on weekends. I used to push myself constantly — keeping a steady level of stress in my life, to boost my “tonic arousal”, keep myself alert and aware of my surroundings. I realize now that while the stress is tasty and energizing like junk food, it’s also terrible for me. Like junk food. I’ve given it up, and I go to extra lengths to get as much sleep as humanly possible. My spouse helps, too, not pushing me so much to stay up late watching movies and late-night t.v.

I just can’t go without sleep for long, without there being serious repercussions. And the changes I’ve made have been hugely helpful to me, my spouse, our marriage, and my work life. It’s a win-win all around.

Most important, perhaps, is how I prioritize things in my life and say “yes” or “no” to things. I pushed myself really hard, up until about 10 years ago, just driving-driving-driving towards my goals. In a way, it worked wonders for my career. It built up my skills. It won me recognition and respect. But it also fried my nervous system. I was chronically over-committed in so many areas, working long hours, driving a long commute, doing extra jobs on the weekends, and pursuing my hobbies. I traveled a lot. I was always juggling a lot of balls in the air. And I could do it. For decades, I did it.

Until it undid me. My fall in 2004 was directly caused by being overcommitted, over-tired, under-rested, and not paying attention. It was nearly fatal to every aspect of my life, a kind of delayed reaction payback that forced a reset in my life that permanently altered so much.

I lost a lot in the process, including my ability to drive-drive-drive.

And along with that, so many opportunities disappeared. Just evaporated.

But when I think about it, I’m not so sure that’s a terrible thing.

I’ve gone from quantity to quality, now. I pace myself better. I pick and choose. I know I can’t do it all, nor do I want to (anymore). I realize just how much time and energy I wasted in all the rushing around, all those years. I was driven by a long history of TBIs / concussions that scrambled my thinking and set me careening through life without good systems in place to keep myself on track.

And that’s not a bad thing. It’s a very good thing, in fact. I don’t need to be doing all that stuff, at every turn. I don’t need to over-extend myself, every week and every weekend. Sleep is good. Rest is essential. And actually enjoying my life… well, that’s a concept I’ve gotten used to.

So, all in all, missing opportunities isn’t nearly as terrible as everybody makes it out to be. I’ve gotten over my FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), to the point where I actually look forward to missing out. I see that the rest of the world can easily lose its mind by racing around at top speed, without stopping to think about what’s going on.

I have my music. I have my books and my house. I have my marriage. I have my steady paycheck. And the work situation seems to be sorting itself out, at last. The most important opportunity is still available: to appreciate and enjoy it for what it is, each and every day.