People are funny. We’re so social. And when we feel like we’ve been cut off from our social group, it can make us crazy.
I’ve been having that sort of experience this week. My team members have either been traveling, or they’ve been in a lot of meetings, and there is a lot of discussion and politicking going on behind the scenes that affects me, but I don’t know about.
I’ve also been slammed with everyday busy-work that’s been consuming all my time and energy – I’ve been ‘in the weeds’ and it’s been making me nuts. I’ve been very productive and I’ve gotten a lot done, but it’s been really tiring. And when I get tired, I isolate, which is not good.
Yesterday I managed to reconnect with a coworker who has been a little nuts, lately. They’ve pissed me off, and I have been keeping them at arm’s length. But that’s not making me feel any better, so I put aside my aggravation and I’m not pushing them away anymore.
It’s made things easier at work. And it’s also saved me a ton of time and energy that I was using up being pissed off at them and keeping them at arm’s distance.
Forgiveness and generosity of spirit are so much less work, actually. So, I’m letting those set the tone for my work with people. And that seems to be helping a lot.
I’ve also been taking breaks during my day — first thing in the morning after I get up, I sit and just breathe for a few minutes… during the day I’ll stop and step away to also just sit and breathe… and in the evening before I go to sleep, I’ll spend a few minutes just sitting and breathing. It calms me down and it settles my mind.
So, one of my old high school buddies messaged me on Facebook a few weeks back and apologized for treating me so badly during high school. They were genuinely sorry. For what, I’m not sure.
Seriously, I could not remember anything that this person had ever done to me, let alone something that required an abject apology. I guess what was in their heart and mind at that time was something they now realize was not right.
But here, all these years, I’ve been thinking we were good friends and parted ways on good terms.
So, there’s one benefit of having a bad memory. I also tend to forget instances of bad experiences in my past — though I can often recall them later, if I think about them. They’re just not front and center in my mind.
Which, I suppose, is good. I don’t need to have all my “cycles” used up by negativity and regret and anger and resentment. Life has enough challenges, as it is, without adding my own baggage to it.
So, there it is.
Not every memory is worth keeping. And not every recollection is worth dwelling on. Sometimes the best thing for me to do is give people the benefit of the doubt — even when they don’t really deserve it — and free up my mind for more positive things.
Today has started out on the rough side. I got in bed before midnight, but I wasn’t able to sleep past 5:00. So, here I am, operating on about 5-1/2 hours of sleep, with a full day ahead of me. Oh, well, I guess I’ll do the Thomas Edison thing and take a long nap later today. By his own admission, the inventor of the light bulb considered sleep to be a waste of time and missed opportunity to work and invent. He once wrote that he considered people who slept 8-10 hours a day to be “never fully asleep and never fully awake — they have only different degrees of doze through the twenty-four hours“.
Of course, he did nap an awful lot (and there are lots of photos showing him taking “power naps“), so that’s where I’m putting my focus — on just getting a nap later today when I can. I’ve got the whole day — and I’ve got tomorrow, too — so waking up early isn’t such a terrible thing.
So long as I use the time productively, of course. The thing that actually got me fully awake after I woke up was not such a great thing. It’s something I don’t often have trouble with, but today, it’s a big ole burden — Jealousy. Frustration. Feeling like a relative failure.
See, yesterday afternoon I called a creditor who I’ve been paying off for the past couple of years. We arranged monthly payments which have been pretty intense to meet each month, and according to my notes, I was going to be all paid up as of this coming January. Well, in talking to them, I learned that I’m nowhere near being fully paid up — I have about another year to go at the current rate — before I’m all paid up. This puts a huge kink in my plans. Having $400 less each month that I have to pay out has been a huge part of my planning for 2014. It was going to free me up, let me pay off other things that have been hanging over my head, and open up the options for work I can take on.
Because if I need to spend $5000 less each year, that means I don’t have to earn Top Dollar for my work, and my options for what kind of work I can take in, will expand. I hate to settle for less, but in my discussions with recruiters, I haven’t been very encouraged by what they’re telling me I can make. Times are tough all around, that’s for sure. And that $5000 break was something I was banking on.
Then my mouse died — the left button doesn’t click. And I realized that I have a lot of things I need to take care of this weekend, which I did not do for the past few weekends (I forgot I had to do them). And money is very tight – the mortgage is going to be paid a month late for the next three months, by my calculations. And the bank loves to call me, even though I technically have a 60 day grace period before they send me to collections. Last night, it was all starting to come in on me, and I went to bed feeling overwhelmed and generally put-upon.
I woke up this morning in a funk, pissed off at myself for not having called the creditors sooner and basing my future plans on a mirage… pissed off at myself for forgetting the things I needed to do… pissed off at TBI for screwing up my life back in 2004 so much that it’s taken me almost 10 years to get back to some semblance of normalcy… pissed off at how hard I have to work at things, how much I need to constant re-think, how much energy it takes, and how overwhelmed I feel.
All. The. Time.
I feel like I can never catch up, and it makes me crazy. No sooner do I come close, than my goal moves out of reach again, and I have to work all the harder.
Geeze. What a rotten way to start the day.
But it gets better (not)… then I got to thinking about an old friend of mine who has really been pissing me off, lately. I first met them when they were an admin at a massive, faceless, soulless corporation, just putting in the hours and hating their life, and longing to do more. They had some health issues and left the 9-to-5 for a while, then they returned to the workforce… and then married someone with a great job, and moved out to the country where they were going to focus on their writing and try to become a published author.
We kept in touch now and then over the years, and one day I was messaging back and forth with them, and they were saying how they wished they could get feedback from other people for their writing. They were enjoying being able to write all the time, but they felt very isolated in the country, just doing their own thing by themselves. They weren’t working a regular job, because their spouse made enough for them to stay home, but the solitary life was not for them.
I suggested they start a blog — blogging was brand new, back in 2006 — and they said, “What’s a blog?” I told them about blogging, how awesome it was, how liberating. They could write each day, work on their style and their “voice”, and they could get feedback from readers.
So, they did just that. They started a blog. And within a few years, they had a regular readership of thousands of people each day, they had advertisers, and they were starting to get requests from magazines to write for them. Big magazines. Well-known magazines. Jackpot. One thing led to another, and now they’re working on their third published book, they’re doing international book signing tours, and they’re leading online classes that are in high demand.
Holy crap. What an amazing success story. They literally did everything right, and I’m really proud that I helped make that happen, because a lot of people have benefited from their blog and their work.
On a good day, that’s how I feel — proud of them and gratified and in awe of how well they’ve followed through on everything.
On a bad day — like today — it bugs me to no end. Because despite the fact that I’m the one who encouraged them to follow their dream and I’m the one who told them about blogging in the first place, never ever have they actually thanked me for that tip. They did thank me once for supporting them with a little pep talk atta-boy email I sent to them, but other than that, it’s been crickets. I guess they’ve been so busy, they may have forgotten about my tip. But in other ways, they’ve just kind of brushed me off, whenever I’ve reached out to them as a peer.
Like I’m not good enough for them anymore. Even though I was there for them, when no one else could be bothered.
In fairness, I didn’t do myself any favors in our friendship. When we were still in regular contact by email and IM, I was a few years out from my last TBI, and I was pretty erratic and unpredictable. They actually sent some business my way that I couldn’t follow through on, and I think I kind of screwed things up for them and the people they referred to me. I also posted some stuff on their blog that was a little “out there,” and I’m sure it made them wonder if I was right in the head (for the record, I wasn’t, at that time).
Even so… it sticks in my craw that I have to really work at the most basic things, while they seem to be swimming right along. And when I read their Facebook posts and their blog posts about how fantastic everything is… how awesome their life is in their bright new apartment that’s getting new hardwood floors and has plenty of sunlight… and how exciting life is in their very popular, up-and-coming locale…. how connected they are with their professional connections and their readers… how stimulating it all is… how much they love their spouse… as well as the next member of their perfect family who’s on the way and due in just a few months… God, it really works my last nerve.
Okay, I get that we all make our choices. I didn’t get where I am totally by accident. But this is one of those mornings, when everything feels terribly unfair. The main reason they were able to do all they’ve done, is they’re married to someone who has made it all possible. They haven’t had to work for anyone else for close to 10 years, and they’ve been able to travel all over the world, because of their spouse’s connections. They’ve gotten insider tips on places to live and business connections, thanks to their spouse’s connections, and they’ve had the freedom to make plenty of mistakes along the way, without it hurting their work, their business prospects, or their vision.
It is really unlike me to be all pissy and envious like this, and it doesn’t feel good. I know that comparing myself to anyone else is a losing proposition, and it just drags me down for no reason. I don’t know what kind of pain and suffering they’ve experienced in life, I don’t know the reality underneath the facade of perfection they put forward, and who can say if they are anywhere near as happy and truly successful as they seem to be? Heck, for all their books that have been published, who knows if they’re even seeing much profit from it? And who knows how much creative license they’ve had to part with, in order to work within the system?
Who can say if they’re even that happy? I know they seem to have all the ingredients in place — attractive spouse, trendy house, new baby on the way, world travel, a successful blog, and a string of publishing credits that keeps getting longer — but who can say what their actual experience is?
Heck, they might be even worse off than I am, on the inside, whilst putting forth the right impression on the outside.
Who knows? All I know is, there’s this thought in my head that they have it so much better than I, that they’ve had it so much easier than I, and that they’ve succeeded as a result of others’ help, which they aren’t even acknowledging.
But that’s an ugly way to start the day.
I’ve known that since about 5:15 this morning. I’ve also known I needed to change my attitude, one way or another, since about 5:17 a.m.
Thinking through how I felt about that old friend of mine this morning, I gradually found my thoughts turning to another old friend who’s on the other end of the spectrum. This is someone I became good friends with, several years after the above-mentioned Friend No. 1 disappeared from my daily life. Friend No. 2 and I were great buddies for years, working closely together and producing some great projects on a regular basis. We’re very simpatico, with similar world views and values, and we’ve kept in touch intermittently over the years. Whenever we’ve caught up for coffee, we’ve had some great discussions, and we’ve talked about collaborating on a number of projects — none of which ever panned out… but oh well…
Anyway, Friend No.2 and I caught up about four months ago, when I told them about a project I was launching – starting a new business on the side – and I showed them my product. They were really impressed and we had what I thought was a great conversation and a jump-started connection.
One thing that really struck me, though, was their attitude. After years of what most would consider a very successful career, a solid marriage, and the ability to take time off work for a few years, thanks to smart investments and prudent savings, they seemed… well… bitter. Like life had been unfairly unkind to them, they’d been used and abused, and they were running out of options. They didn’t seem to have a whole lot of enthusiasm for their future, and they seemed a bit depressed when they talked about their general situation — which to me looked pretty good.
I mean, seriously — they have a really nice car that’s paid for, their marriage is strong, their house is paid off, they’ve got an amazing new riding mower with all the tools to keep their lawn in tip-top shape, they know who they are, and they know what they love to do. They have a lot of the things I lack — and am suffering for pretty intensely at times.
And yet, they’re bitter. They can’t do some of the things they used to do all the time — like go out to clubs every weekend and listen to live bands because it’s way too loud. They have ideas for inventions, but they can’t figure out how to turn them into money. They’re brushing up on their technical skills, but they can’t seem to find an exact match for what they want to do. They’re feeling used and abused and washed up, like their life is over and there’s nowhere else for them to go.
It really surprised me to hear them talk about the things that get to them. It’s like they were just settling for turning into a curmudgeony old coot without even putting up a fight. They’re about 15 years my senior, so they are getting older, but still… I’ve got relatives who are in their 80’s, 90’s, even past 100 years old, and they’re still going, still engaged, still enjoying their lives.
After what was mostly a good meet-up, Friend No. 2 disappeared. I gave them a call a few months later to see if they were interested in helping out with this project. When we met four months ago, they said they’d love to help with it, but when I called them again, they couldn’t talk at the time and said they’d call me back. I never heard back from them, and frankly I’d be surprised if I hear from them ever again.
Friend No. 2 is gone. By their own hand. It’s a loss for me, because when they were “on”, they were great to talk to and hang out with. But if they’re not going to be “on” and they’re just going to be bitter and resentful about every little thing that doesn’t work out for them, I really don’t need that in my life. And I doubt they’re going to come around.
So, there’s my tale of two old friends. I’m probably going to un-friend Friend No. 1 on Facebook, because their self-congratulatory tone just rankles me and serves no purpose in my life. Friend No. 2 is out of the picture, probably for good. And here I am in the middle, looking for a way to find gratitude to buoy me up out of my morning funk.
Comparing myself and my life and my success to others makes no sense. I can only compare myself to myself — and when I do that, I can see how incredibly fortunate I’ve been to receive the gifts I’ve gotten over the years. The TBI in 2004 could have ruined me, no doubt. But through divine grace, a bunch of risks I took that worked out, and a ton of hard work, I’m back on track and moving towards something truly fine. I’ve got love in my life and a spouse who is still with me, even after 23 years of some very challenging times. I have a house, a commuter car and a late-model minivan, I’ve got a regular job with a regular paycheck (which I’m probably not going to be leaving soon, because of the change in my financial timeline), and I’ve got my health. I have personal projects that keep me engaged and involved in my own life, and our local libraries have amazing collections which I can request from anytime I like.
I really do have so many blessings in my life, and considering where I come from, I have every reason to start the day feeling grateful and proud.
So, that’s where I’m at — having a gratitude adjustment, so my day doesn’t need to fall prey to bad thinking habits and mental laziness about things that may or may not be true. Yes, I’m tired. Yes, I’m disappointed that my financial plans for 2014 have been altered. Yes, I have to work a little bit harder than I’d like, today, go buy another mouse, and try to catch up with things I forgot to do for the past month.
But life doesn’t happen by itself, and things happen for a reason. It’s dawn. The sun is finally coming up. Time to find my reasons, and help things to happen.
This vacation is turning out to be pretty amazing. I’m still a far cry from being fully rested, or getting a full night’s sleep. I’ve been up late every night, under the clear night sky filled with stars, just being. Not doing. Just being. Sitting on the beach till midnight, tending a fire. Swimming in the ocean at midnight with a friend. Listening to the waves coming and going and letting go of a lot of old “stuff” that has bogged me down.
A few days ago, when I was so very tired from entertaining the lamprey house-guest, I got really caught up in some old “blame games” with my spouse. We’re lying on the beach under a clear sky, not a trouble in sight, and a lot of old resentments started to bubble up. It was definitely withdrawal from the energy I had to expend on the lamprey house-guest — and I was tired, so very tired, and agitated, too.
About an hour of an otherwise perfect day was spent hashing and re-hashing a handful of old hurts, which I now realize may not even be valid. I realize now that my addled mind got paranoid and had it in my head that some terrible betrayal was done to me… when what I have been imagining and getting resentful about may have never happened at all.
Then again, there’s a chance that it did happen, that a terrible injustice was done to me… and I would be “justified” in being hurt and angry.
But focusing on that imagined condition at that point in time, when it was not happening, and in fact it was old news… and it was a gorgeous day with ample time to rest and relax… it just didn’t make any sense. I was ruining my present moment with something in the past that might never have been real.
So, I decided to just let it go. Just. Let. It. Go. There’s no point in hanging onto that old stuff — it just keeps me from being present to, well, the present. And it gums up my system with all sorts of biochemical sludge that I then have to remove at a later time with a lot of extra work and attention.
It’s easier to just let it go from the get-go, and not get into it. Of course, take care of myself and stand up for myself, and not let people walk all over me. But not get mired in the past, when the present is calling.
We humans are funny creatures, sometimes. We need to feel validated and we need to feel like we matter. And when we get hurt, we need someone to see and recognize that. For some reason, it makes us feel better. The problems start, when we get so bogged down in that needing to be seen and recognized and appreciated, that we “take up residence” in our hurts and frustrations and pain, and we drag everyone around us down into that quicksand of pain and suffering.
We want to be seen and recognized. We want our pain and sacrifice to be appreciated and acknowledged. But then our entire lives can end up revolving around that pain and sacrifice, to the point where it gets blown up into The Main Event of our lives. We can get addicted to the thrill of disclosure, as well as the rush that comes from talking about what bad things have happened to us… and that just pulls everyone down — including ourselves.
So, I decided a few days ago to just let it go. Just live as though it had never happened. Let the bad decisions and perceived betrayals and the hurts and injuries just fade into the background… like the invented thought-forms they are. Our perceptions of life and experience are so subjective, we can make of them what we want. And once they’re over and done, they are over and done. It’s just how we “curate” them in our minds that causes us pain — how we hang onto them and nurse them back to health, just when they’re about to die out and disappear.
And what I discovered years ago, is that if I decide to live and act as though what happened has dissolved into thin air, and I choose to think and feel as though the exact opposite occurred, I can turn around my mindset and change the course of my life.
It’s not pretending something never happened. It’s not denial. It’s refusing to let unhappy events of the past continue to live beyond their “expiration date”. It’s like putting “Use By” labels on my experience, and once that date has passed, I stop opening up the old memory containers, because I know the insides are going to be spoiled and smell really awful.
So, since that moment when I decided to let that old sh*t go, I haven’t been bothered by it. Even in the moments when things have gotten weird and tense inside my head, and I’ve had time on my hands to perseverate about bad things that happened in the past, I haven’t done it. I’ve literally just let it go.
And it occurs to me that so much of what we do in our own heads is just that — picking and choosing what we are going to focus on, and making that rule our lives and set the tone for our experience. The fact of the matter is, I’m really tired and feeling sick most of the time. My sensitivities are making me touchy and jumpy and hard to live with. And I’m in pain. But I don’t have to let those passing experiences take over my life. Every new moment is a new opportunity to experience and think and feel something completely different — something completely better.
So that’s what I’m choosing. It takes practice, and old habits of mind are hard to break — especially when they are connected with physical experience — but it’s possible. It’s very do-able.
And that’s what I’m practicing. That’s what I’m doing. I’m just dropping that old crap and moving on, using my mind to steer clear of letting my body drag me down. And in the process, my body actually starts to feel better. Sometimes. Other times, not. But whatever. At least my mind is freed.
I’m taking another shot at cleaning up this hard drive on my “old” computer. I think there are still components that can be un-installed, to reclaim even more space, not to mention speed. The more programs you have running on your computer, the slower it tends to go — if, that is, you’re a “mortal” like me, with a serviceable but far-from-top-of-the-line model.
I start my vacation today. Just two days off, before the onslaught at work begins. I have a ton of stuff to do, and in the past I would have declined to take time off, because I take a lot of pride in my productivity, and I don’t want to leave my co-workers hanging. It’s a terrible spot to be in, and Lord knows I have pulled out all the stops for them in the past, so they wouldn’t be left hanging.
But you know what? The Company is doing a lot of things that say loud and clear, “We don’t really care about your productivity and your team, and you better do what we tell you – or else.” They’ve pushed this agenda for the past 2 years, and I hate to admit it, but it’s worn me down. Also, my co-workers are just a little shy of insane, with their go-go-go mindless reactivity that dashes madly from one task to the next, without ever actually finishing anything. They’ve worn me down with their multi-tasking mediocrity.
Now, in the back of my head I have been thinking that I don’t want to trash my reputation with poor performance. I don’t want to alienate people who could do recommendations for me. But the people whose recommendation I care about have either left the company already, or they are on their way out, and all of us are going to say super nice things about each other, because it’s a small world, and we know that if we do good for others, there’s a chance it will come back to us. The people who are staying, who are invested in me super-performing for them and The Company, aren’t the sort of people I need recommendations from. So, I don’t feel like my long-term prospects have been that jeopardized by this environment and this organization. It’s all good. And anyway, I’m going to go back to contracting, once I’m done here. There’s a lot less pointless drama for me, when I’m not “permanent full-time”.
So, I’m not getting concerned, and I’m not letting myself worry. Today and tomorrow is “me time”, and I’m looking forward to just kicking back and enjoying things. Running a few errands this morning… taking a trip to a museum I’ve been wanting to visit… heading out into nature to just relax. They’re calling for rain tomorrow, which could put a damper on things, but my spouse and I are fine with that. We’ve got rain gear. We also are taking books to read, and if we spend the day sitting in the car reading and resting…. away from the hustle and bustle, that’s just fine with us.
The point is getting away.
It’s funny, though… for me, getting away is less of a necessity than it is for a lot of people. Yes, it is good to take a break from it all, and yes, it does help me “reset” my mind and give me a different perspective on things. But I don’t crave it like some people. I think it’s because each day literally seems like a whole new one to me. Every morning when I get up, things feel new. Hopeful. Like there’s something else out there to discover and learn. Sometimes I wake up with a terrible sense of dread, but that’s usually due to fatigue or a physical feeling. When I’m feeling sick and foggy, and I’m in pain, I really do get depressed. But when I’m well-rested, not much can get me down.
In this respect, I think my crappy short-term working memory actually helps me. Because I forget so much, and I lose my place so often, I have had to learn how to keep an open mind and perspective, and watch for clues and opportunities. When much of your daily experience that’s more than 20 minutes old seems to evaporate behind you as you walk through your days, you learn to keep going and keep your eyes open for clues about where to go next.
Literally. I mean, my memory for how things were and what I was doing, just an hour ago, tends to be pretty vague. I have to think hard to recall what I did just half an hour ago. And who has the time and energy for all that work and thinking, every minute of every day? If I focus too strongly on the past, I lose sight of my present and where I’m going in the future. So, I have to keep going, keep moving, keep growing and improving.
Some people would get pretty upset, if this happened to them and that’s how their life turned out. For me, I can’t remember anything different. I just never realized that this was unusual, until I did my neuropsych testing and learned that I have the short-term working memory of a chipmunk. Things get lost for me after a surprisingly short period of time. They start to dissolve and disappear on me, leaving big gaps in what I think I remember about what just happened.
That was an eye-opener for me, and it threw me for a loop. But then I realized that it wasn’t all that catastrophic — I’ve managed to put together a pretty excellent life, despite all that “disability”, and frankly, a lot of stuff that people insist on remembering simply isn’t worth hanging onto. I have several really good friends who are ultra-invested in nursing grudges and remembering every single slight and hurt that’s ever been done to them. I can honestly say that thatkind of mentality does NOT make you a happier person, than someone like me who has no “storage space” for that sort of stuff. I mean, I couldn’t remember it, if I tried, but why bother trying? It’s much better, in my opinion, to start fresh each day.
Obviously. I mean – compare… I cannot retain much of anything, and I bounce out of bed on many days with a great sense of expectation and anticipation. While they remember each and every instance of insult, slights, hurt, inconsideration, offense… you name it… and they literally can’t get out of bed a lot of days. They don’t want to live their lives, they’re afraid of living their lives. They expect bad things to happen to them at every turn, and a lot of times, that’s exactly what happens. But the bad things happening is not the problem. They get stuck in those bad things and cannot work through them, so they get stuck. Because their minds are stuck in that place. They’ve fallen, and they can’t get up.
I’m sure a lot of it is neurological. One of these friends was routinely knocked out on a regular basis by abusive adults their parents hung out with. There’s also the one-time drug abuse that left its mark, long past their last drink or drug. It’s also biochemical — one of the most hard-up friends I have simply refuses to eat responsibly. They live on coffee and chocolate and rarely eat a real meal. Small wonder they’re screwed up. They just won’t take care of themself. It’s heart-breaking to watch, but that’s their choice, and no matter how I try to reason with them, they just can’t seem to get it.
The thing that keeps these friends of mine going is drama and stress and adrenaline. They’re always getting themselves into some sort of mess — probably because it makes them feel alert and alive. I know for a fact that a lot of them have “tonic arousal” issues, as a result of brain injuries. But they can’t hear me talk about it. They just can’t get their head around the whole TBI thing, which is a shame, because they could really be helped if they would just admit that that’s the issue. But they’re more interested in proving that the problems come from outside them, not inside their head. There’s a whole mindset there that just kills. And it’s a shame.
But enough about them. For me, beginner’s mind is the only way to live. I start fresh each day, mostly because I have to. It’s way too much work to try to remember everything — that’s where my lists come in. Most of all, it’s way too much work to try to remember all the emotional and mental experiences I’ve had lately — even if those experiences were uplifting and encouraging. When I think about it, I realize that I’m constantly orienting myself to the present and to “what’s next” — not so much to the past, because that is dim and fragmented for me. And when I interact with people, I really follow their lead when I socialize and take cues from them, and I rely on them for reminders of what I’m supposed to remember and think about.
It’s a good thing that all of this happens inside my head, because if people new just how reliant I am on the people around me for even the most basic conversation topics and direction, they’d think I was a complete idiot.
On the other hand, when I look around at people who supposedly “know” how things were or what happened once upon a time, I see a lot of people who have very different perspectives about exactly the same thing, and who have completely different recollections and interpretations of “reality”. It’s like they’re all living in their own worlds (I guess most of us are), and they believe with all their hearts that their version is the right version. And they’re willing to defend that interpretation with their very lives — as a result, we’ve got wars and conflicts and political parties.
So, maybe having a “good” memory isn’t so great after all.
And maybe it’s actually better for me, that my past becomes just that — a faded, fragmented, distant past, about so much of which I’m uncertain. Maybe it’s better that I don’t remember all that much from my childhood, aside from shadowy memories and a bunch of brightly shining times when I knew I was okay, and new everything was going to turn out alright. Maybe it’s a blessing, that I can’t retain all the kinds of crap that my friends are so adept at remembering.
Maybe beginner’s mind is exactly the right thing for me.
I know it’s what a lot of people strive for. They actively seek to put themselves in that frame of mind. But I’m there by default, thanks to at least nine mild traumatic brain injuries that had progressively negative impacts on me. Each time I got clocked, a little more of my brain changed. And now here I am… beginner’s mind. Some people would (and do) pay tons of money to learn how to get there, but I learned for free.
NOT that I’m advocating repeat concussion as a route to enlightenment. Far from it. The thing is, for all that I’ve lost as a result of mild TBI, life hasn’t turned out to be a total waste. I’ve been forced to acquire new skills and adapt — or else. And all the hard work has been worth it. If I ever get concussed again, I’m not sure what will become of me. Maybe my memory will be completely erased.
Who knows? All I know is, right here and right now, I’m feeling pretty good. I have a few days off — a four-day weekend, which I’m looking forward to. I am practicing relaxing and getting back to my “happy place”, and the world looks pretty promising to me — despite all the international upheaval and what-not.
Okay, I know that when it comes to recovering from traumatic brain injury, the concept of “new normal” is not my favorite. I have heard so much advice from well-meaning individuals to “accept your limitations” and “get used to things not being as good as they used to be”.
Please. I’m not saying anything more than that, other than that.
Even the concept of “normal” is not my favorite. I think especially when it’s defined by others, it can be a trap that’s almost impossible to get out of. So, let me define “normal” for these purposes as being a state of mind and body and spirit that is balanced and feels usual — a way of experiencing and being in the world that doesn’t freak you out and put you on edge and make you miserable or anxious… but is part of your regular everyday life. It doesn’t have to do with others’ definitions of how you should being, but rather it’s about how you know yourself to be — and accept yourself. “Normal” life can include stresses that are customary and expected in the course of your everyday life. It can also include an incredible sense of well-being, in spite of all obstacles or difficulties you must overcome.
That’s where I’m at today — it’s not a “new normal” for me. It’s a new take on the old “normal” that used to be part of my everyday world. It’s taken a lot of work and time and energy, but it’s happening for me.
I wish it could happen for more people. Too many individuals give up too quickly, too soon, in the face of seemingly “permanent” conditions — those supposedly “it is what it is” circumstances are anything but permanent. But life is impermanent by nature. Nothing stays the same. And the only reason things remain permanently “effed up”, is if we just stop trying to turn them around.
That’s what so many of us do after a hard loss — whether it be the loss of a loved one, a job, a home, a planned future, and yes, the “normal” life we had before TBI. We just give up. Or we decide that we’re not really cut out for a regular life anymore, because either we don’t deserve it, or we don’t think we can deal with it, or we can’t see our way through to the other side, or we simply run out of steam and get way too tired to deal with much of anything.
And then we adjust to our “new normal” and hope for the best. As though that will help anything.
To me, that kind of acceptance is murderous. It is the exact opposite of what we should be doing after TBI, or any other kind of hard loss. The brain is “plastic” — it adapts and changes based on our surroundings and what we demand of it, and it needs to be retrained. It needs a lot of rest and water and glucose (and I suspect that the main reason for my splitting headache this morning, is because I didn’t give it enough of any of those three things all day yesterday), but if it receives the right TLC, it can — and will — learn to do new things in new ways — or learn to do old things in new ways.
See, that’s the thing — with TBI your thinking can get very rigid and literal and stubborn, and your brain can start telling you that there is ONE WAY AND ONLY ONE WAY TO DO THINGS (and yes, it will tell you that in a very loud voice). The old ways were “right” and the new ways are “wrong”. The old ways were the “only” way, and the new ways will “never work”.
Silly. There is never only one way to do things. There is never only one right way to get from Point A to Point B. There are lots of different ways — we just need to take it upon ourselves to find those different ways, and train our brains to handle life in a slightly different way.
Of course, you tend to get tired, in the midst of all of this. And when you get tired, your brain tends to work less well. That’s a struggle I’ve had for years. However recently, I’ve discovered a way to mitigate the effect of fatigue. It’s not that I’m less tired — I’m pretty wiped out, right now. But I don’t get as bent out of shape over being tired, as I used to. I recognize it, I take it in stride, and I get on with my life anyway. I do what I can, when I can, and I don’t worry about the supposed disaster that may come on the heels of being wiped out and mentally out of it.
I just accept the fact that I’m dog-tired, and I deal with it. I live my life anyway. If I can catch up on my sleep, then great. If I can’t, I don’t worry about it. I factor in the fatigue in my daily life, and I make the necessary adjustments. I can tell that things aren’t nearly as peachy as they used to be for me. I can tell when I’m a lot less sharp than when I’m rested. And I can really tell when fatigue is really chipping away at my patience, my self-control, my manners. But I don’t let it derail me like I used to. It’s not a tragedy anymore. It’s a pain in my ass that I just need to recognize and deal with, and do the best I can in spite of it all.
This is a monster change for me. The whole realm of physiological after-effects of TBI really threw me for a loop for a long time. I have been hung up on how much my cognitive state suffers from fatigue and stress and anxiety and physical pain. I guess it was pride, really — I don’t want to seem stupid or be the brunt of others’ jokes and ridicule, and when I’m tired and in pain and not doing well, I’ve not been able to handle myself well in the past, so I’ve ended up taking a lot of sh*t from people who didn’t know better. And so, when I would be over-tired, or in pain, or practically deaf from the ringing in my ears, or dealing with some other TBI-related problem, it would make me really anxious and upset… which made everything worse.
In the past months, however, I’ve let a lot of that go. Maybe I just let the whole pride thing go, because I realized it wasn’t worth it, and the only one who has really been keeping tabs has been me. I think that stretching my back and neck on a regular basis has been very good for me. When I crack my back or neck (and it doesn’t take much – I just need to bend or lean in different directions), I get this rush of really great energy and relief, like my brain is actually able to communicate with the rest of my body through my spine. And my head clears, I’m less foggy, and suddenly the colors are a lot brighter than they used to be.
Also, I shifted my focus away from remediation of my issues (like trying to catch up on my sleep after the fact), to the Bigger Picture — just living my life the best I can, under all conditions, good or bad. I’ve gone from managing every single aspect of my day…. to letting it all just fly free… to learning how to pick and choose the things I’m going to concentrate on each day. I’ve trained myself pretty well to do the basics again. I can get myself out of bed, have my breakfast, and get ready for work without losing my temper or forgetting if I’ve washed my hair. I’ve figured out how to get myself to work without incidents from my light and noise sensitivities, and I’ve figured out how to structure my days so that I’m doing the things I care most about when I’m the freshest and most with-it.
Now that I’ve got that basic functionality down, I’ve been focusing on relaxing and getting myself in a good space… or, if I’m not in a good space, realizing it and training myself to just deal with it. I used to be pretty good at keeping it together under 85% of difficult conditions. Then, after my TBI in 2004, that slipped to about 15% of difficult conditions, and that’s when my life started to fall apart.
I would say now that I’m getting closer to that 85% I used to be at. I’d say I’m probably doing pretty well under about 75-80% of difficult conditions — I’m not yet performing at my peak, but I’m holding it together and keeping my sh*t together much better than in recent memory, and I’m not having hardly any of the meltdowns that I was having, only a few years ago.
Which is good. I had a bit of a blow-up, the other night when I grilled up some killer steaks, and my spouse decided to take a shower just when all the food was ready to be served. I ended up with a tough piece of meat, because they waited till the last minute to do something they could have done all day, and I lost it. I lost it even more when they acted like I had no reason or right to be upset. I had a long day at work. I was hungry. It was late. I just wanted to enjoy my steak. But no… Oh, never mind. What’s done is done. The thing I need to realize and remember is that sometimes I have every right to be upset, and sometimes I am going to get upset. It’s just that I can’t let it take over and run me the way it used to. I need to let it be about being upset — not being upset about being upset, which is what gets me. And after all is said and done, I definitely have to let it go. And see how I can possibly avoid that next time.
Management issues. Hm.
Well, speaking of management issues, I’ve got to get going and get into my day. I’ve been working on my “stress hardiness” training — consciously trying to toughen myself up and not be so sensitive to the ups and downs of the everyday. I’ve got to get tougher, that’s for sure. Not “ram tough” and all aggressive and over-the-top, but resilient and able to take a hit without collapsing into a heap. I need to get a thicker skin and do better about just dealing with stuff, instead of letting it take over my head and make me crazy. I used to be like that — as I said, 85% of the time. And I am getting better at it.
It’s all about conscious practice — training myself to deal. In some ways, I feel like when I was a kid, and I was learning to do all kinds of things, like handle myself in the adult world. That’s how it feels right now, and while it is kind of strange and deja-vu, it’s like I get a second chance to learn how to do all this stuff. The “first time around”, when I was dealing with TBI stuff and didn’t realize it, so much of what I learned was inaccurate or just plain wrong.
Now I get a “do-over” and I can get my act together in ways that I thought I was before, but actually wasn’t. I can take a new shot at things and lay another foundation for myself, starting from scratch in many ways. It sounds strange to me — I’m nearly 50 years old, and I feel like a 10-year-old kid. But in so many ways, all of us needs to reinvent ourself in one way or another over the course of our lives. Some of us have to do it many times over. So, it’s not so strange or unusual. It’s actually pretty normal — perhaps the most normal thing of all, when it comes to being human.
I think maybe this is what my neuropsych has been trying to explain to me for years, now — that it’s in the nature of human beings to change and grow over time. We don’t always have a say in the areas where we need to change and grow, but we do have a say in how much we accept and adapt to that need for change, and the energy and determination we bring to that change.
How we define “normal” is up to us — if we don’t do it ourselves, someone else’s “normal” can end up defining us.
So, I’ve gone from 5-1/2 hours to 6-1/2 hours to 7 hours, last night, and I’m starting to feel better. I’m also feeling better about the job business, because I’ve been spending time brushing up on my skills and working with techniques that are in demand, these days. I’ve also been doing my market research to find out what people are looking for, and what they’re paying for.
Things at work have been difficult. There is a lot of tension in the workplace, and I have been so swamped with extra work that people have snuck in as a “favor”, that the framework I had for getting things done has pretty much fallen apart. People are jockeying for position and they are pretty frightened of losing their jobs and/or being yelled at by management, so the tension is high and the atmosphere is tough.
I’m working from home today – my spouse had a doctor’s appointment originally planned for today, then yesterday it got changed. I’m still working from home today – it will give me two more hours to get work done, than I would have, if I drove into the office.
I’m also collecting contact names and companies for my job search. In September, I will start contacting people about work, so I can start interviewing. I have almost three weeks of vacation time left this year, so I plan to take two weeks off in September/early October, and have some time to talk to people, interview, and brush up on my skills.
I have great things to accomplish. I have to keep that in mind. I’m getting clearer and clearer all the time about where I want to go and what I want to do with myself, and I have to stay true to that, not get waylaid.
One thing that I’ve found surprisingly helpful is prayer. Yes, prayer. It sounds strange to hear myself saying this out loud, because my “prayer life” as my church used to call it, has been pretty much non-existent for the past 10 years or so. Especially since I fell in 2004, I haven’t had much religious inclination at all. It’s just kind of evaporated. And to tell the truth, I don’t actually believe in the same God that I was raised to believe in. “God” for me is less concrete, and less definite, too. In fact, what we refer to as “God” (or whatever other name you choose) I think of in more quantum physics terms — the personal God that my family believes in doesn’t exist for me. And yet, there is a spirit, a presence, that I recognize — and that presence in my life has always made itself known to me in many, many ways.
My life has been a series of miracles, no doubt about that, and the existence of “God” seems as rational an explanation for those amazing “accidents” as anything else.
Now, I was raised very religious. My parents both came from religious families, I have plenty of pastors and deacons and missionaries in my family history. Holiness was a top priority with everyone, and my grandparents used to go to a “holiness camp” each summer where they would go to revival meetings and worship services and live their entire lives around their faith.
That faith had no tolerance for my ways of thinking and living, however, so I broke with that tradition and I have lived a secular but “plugged in” life, for the past 30 years. When I fell in 2004, that schism was widened even more by a rapid loss of any religious or spiritual inclination. I just wasn’t interested anymore in that way of being in the world.
I’m still leery of that way. It just doesn’t seem helpful to me, and I have grown increasingly literal in how I think about my life. I don’t know if it was the injury that did it, or if it’s been my life experiences since. I know that some people completely lose their faith after war or a terrible trauma. I think it might be both. I do believe that religion has a neurological component. Many neurological conditions are accompanied by “spiritual” experiences, like visions and revelations. And I suspect that having a neurological upset can switch those experiences off as much as they can switch them on.
I suspect that’s what happened to me. Or it could be that I’ve been so busy trying to keep up, and my brain has been so busy trying to figure out how to get from Point A to Point B to Point C without getting detoured through Points X, L, and T, that I just haven’t had the energy for religious experience.
Whatever the reason, a few nights back, I was lying in bed — awake — getting more and more freaked out that I could not sleep. I was all caught up in anger over things that were happening at work, I was bent out of shape over things that I was doing wrong, that others were doing wrong, and I was really upset about having to leave my current job. (For the record, staying is NOT an option — there’s just no point to it.) I was harboring major grudges against people who had slighted or worked against me, and I was really burned up about a lot of things — some of which go back two years, to when I started in this job.
I was pissed off at lots of people, including myself, and I couldn’t get my head off it.
Then these sentence came to me, from out of my religious past: “Love your enemies… Pray for them that persecute you.”
Well alright then. Interestingly, I haven’t really thought of my colleagues as “enemies” but technically they are. Someone who deliberately undermines you and works against you and sabotages your work on purpse, pretty much fits the profile of a sort of enemy. And I don’t like to think that others are persecuting me, but if that’s not what middle-management is doing, I’m not sure what they are doing.
So yeah, they’re acting like my enemies, and they’re persecuting me. Enough giving them the benefit of the doubt — let’s call it what it is.
And since I was completely out of practice with prayer, but I was also completely out of ideas for how to spend my time lying there in bed, trying to get back to sleep, I figured I’d at least give it a try. If nothing else, it would direct my thoughts away from my own pain and frustrations. I wasn’t very good at it, at first. I felt like I had to apologize to God for my “absence”, but then I thought about it and realized that no matter how distracted or otherwise occupied I’ve been, there have still been evidences of miracles and great coincidences in my life, so it’s not like that part of my life was completely gone — I just wasn’t actively involved in directly participating in it. Anyway, the whole religious experience thing is something I understand very differently from before… we all change with time. The important thing is not always doing the same thing, year after year, but doing the kinds of things that help… that work… in the ways we find most useful.
Long story short, I started to ask for help, and I asked that I be given the answers I need and the strength to do what I need to do. I asked to have the burdens of cares and worries lifted off me, and for my mind and spirit to be set free from all the terrible weight of it all. And a little while after I started to pray, I was able to fall asleep. I’m not sure I even got through a whole “prayer” before I was down.
A few nights later, I had the same kind of troubles getting to sleep. Problems with work, problems about work, worries and dread about what people were/were not doing to/for/about my work… After lying awake for an hour or so, the thought came to me again to pray, and I did. I asked that the people who were giving me so much trouble be reassured and supported in their work, that they receive divine guidance, and that their worries be eased by divine intervention. I didn’t think about myself so much as I thought about them. And like before, I fell asleep.
Last night, I got to bed an hour later than I planned. The Olympics were on, and for some reason, I had to watch platform diving. I got to bed feeling a bit pressured and rushed, and I was starting to spin with all my worries and concerns about work. So rather than get caught up in that, I started to pray for the people who have pissed me off the most in the past six months. There were a number of them — most of them on my immediate team. And before too long, not only was I feeling better about them, but I was also able to relax and get to sleep.
And I slept seven hours, which is the most I’ve slept in about a week.
Now, I don’t want to get all hyper-religious on you, and I’m not sure I’m even praying to the same deity everyone else is… but this “prayer” business seems to work in a couple of different ways.
It gets my mind off myself. It forces me to think in bigger terms, beyond my own immediate cares and worries.
It humanizes the people who seem hell-bent on making my life impossible. It makes them actually seem human and deserving of respect, dignity, and compassion.
It gives me the sense that I can tap into a source of power that is much greater than myself and any of the cares and worries I have.
It helps me feel not so alone anymore.
Each of these things alone would be enough to make my life better, but all together, they really really help. At least, they have for the past week. Now, I’m not going to go down the road of saying that religion and prayer are the cure-all for the ills of my world — or anyone else’s, for that matter. For me, this is a deeply personal thing, and it’s not even something I can describe and explain exactly the way I want to. I’m really uncomfortable with the “personal God” concept, and I do not like to imagine a human-like God, or even a god-like God.
All the same, the simple act of praying for those who persecute me, really takes the pressure off and lets me get on with my life — or my night’s sleep. I’ve even started doing this while I’m awake — when I start to obsess about what someone has done to me, I ask that they be given the love and support that they need, and that they get the answers and reassurance they’re looking for. If nothing else, the goodwill goes a long way towards easing the animosity that flares up and floods my head — and my behavior — and my entire life… Somehow, prayer has a way of chilling that out, of cutting it off at the pass and letting me focus on what’s truly important.