After 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.
I’ve got my hands full, for the next 24 hours. I’m coming down to the wire with shopping and cooking and preparation for Christmas Day tomorrow. My spouse and I typically take it easy on Christmas, when we’re at home.
And this year, like last year — and several other years before that — we’re at home. Just the two of us.
No two days of driving, in both directions.
No packed houses with lots of people vying for our attention.
No navigating family dynamics and going the extra mile to let everybody just be who and what they are.
None of that. Just peace. Heavenly peace.
And to make sure it stays that way, I’m thinking ahead to the coming week, getting my schedule clear in my head so I don’t have to deal with a bunch of surprises, on down the line. I’m not very fond of surprises. I’ve got enough on my plate that I already know about, and I haven’t been sleeping well, lately, so that makes me more irritable and hard to deal with. I need to take better care of myself wherever I can, for the sake of everyone around me.
And that means streamlining and planning ahead wherever possible.
What do I need to do, this coming week? We’ve got some appointments we have to attend. I also have some car repair work I need to schedule. And I’ve got a handful of things I’d like to sort out around the house, too. Like do much-needed organizing of the files on my computer and the various “thumb” drives I have. I’ve got a lot of USB drives with a lot of stuff on them, and it’s time I consolidated them. Also, cleaning up, organizing the various rooms in the house. Moving furniture we don’t use to the basement, making room for the things we do use. Making space to move and breathe and live. And unwind.
Unwinding is good. I’ve been pretty tightly wound for quite some time. Unwinding will be a welcome change.
Before we know it, it’ll be 2018. Christmas almost seems like a blip on the screen, but of course it’s not. It’s a pretty big deal for my spouse, and I need to do my part. I’ve never been much for holidays, birthdays, special events — they all seem like just another day to me. But being part of something bigger than me — which also really matters to my spouse — is more important than indulging my Bah-Humbug spirit of the season. Just gotta put my own sentiments aside and get into it.
It’s not forever. And it won’t kill me to just go with it.
So, go with it, I shall.
And then… into the New Year with a positive frame of mind.
So, rumor has it that there are going to be massive staffing cuts before too long at work. Nobody — but nobody — knows their fate.
I mean, it’s not wonderful for people who need to keep their jobs and keep supporting their families.
It’s not wonderful for people just on the verge of retirement, who will find their plans hosed by rich people who aren’t getting richer fast enough for their tastes.
It’s not wonderful for people who don’t have a lot of skills to transfer into other companies or other lines of work… people who have been at low-level positions with the same company for so many years, that their salaries will never, ever be replicated if they go to a new company and have to start from scratch.
But it’s wonderful, that it takes the pressure off all of us to PERFORM AT OUR PEAK LEVEL, DAY IN AND DAY OUT. You can almost hear a collective sigh of relief, at how much less pressure there is to be ALPHA MALE/FEMALE and UBER-PRODUCER-OF-THE-DAY/MONTH/YEAR/DECADE.
All that gets old, after a while. And it’s a relief to just go about my business, doing what I do because it’s the right thing to do, rather than because it’s politically expedient.
I’m supposed to do my Q3 goals a few weeks ahead of time. I also had to do my Q2 recap a few weeks ahead of regular schedule. I think they’re trying to line everyone up and pay out our bonuses before we’re let go. And that’s fine. Because it may give me the month of September off — or at least a few weeks — to regroup and just enjoy the fine weather (assuming it is fine).
This is the harsh reality of the job market in my lifetime. It’s never been any different for me, so it seems business-as-usual for me. I’ve never known stability in any job, they’ve always moved things around, always cut staff, always merged and joined and “transformed” organizations — most often to benefit the ones in power. I feel bad for everyone who’s been at this company for the past 10-15-20 years, who had some stability and constancy, but to be honest, they’ve been in a magical bubble that was bound to burst, sooner or later. And I feel bad for some of them, because the skills they used to keep employed there, aren’t going to translate elsewhere, necessarily. The cultures are different. The people are different. And what cements your place in one company, won’t always work elsewhere.
Everything is unheaval. Everything. The best thing to do, is embrace it. Update your resume. Look around for other jobs. See what the market is like and where the biggest opportunities are. Follow your gut, use common sense.
And never, ever, take anything for granted.
This is the new world for many — and the old world for me. I wish everyone the best of luck…
Merry Christmas, everyone. Happy Christmas. Frohe Weinachten. Feliz Navidad. And many more wishes in languages I do not know.
I hope it is a good day for you, and that you find peace and a measure of happiness before the day is through.
Christmas is a tricky time for a lot of people, including those who have some sort of limitation or particular need. One of the most poignant things about it, is actually the spirit of it, which so often gets lost in the shuffle. The original story (whether you’re a believer or not) is about people under duress making the best of a bad situation.
A whole country is uprooted by a tyrant (of sorts) and hauled away from their homes, so they can be taxed in the town of their family’s origin. One couple in the midst is a man and his very pregnant wife, who have to make the trek, regardless of her condition. Nazareth, where Joseph and Mary were from, was a kind of crappy area — economically depressed and not the sort of place “nice” people lived. So, Joseph probably wasn’t all that well-off to begin with, and dragging him away from his work as a tradesman to tax him, was just heaping one injury on another. It wasn’t like he made that much money, to begin with — but he gets taxed and he loses however many days or weeks of work. That’s rough.
And when Mary and Joseph get where they’re going, there’s literally no room for them in habitable lodging. So, they end up in a stable. In a strange city. Anyone who’s spent time around farm animals, knows this is about the last place you want to deliver a baby, but apparently that’s where it happened, and the child ended up laid in a feeding trough for his first night on earth.
Now, I’m not a hugely religious person, these days. Once upon a time, I was, though. I was raised in an evangelical, fundamentalist Christian household and I was “raised in the church.” It was my primary social network. My parents are still very involved in their church community, as are some of my siblings. I’ve always been pretty spiritual (even after I stopped believing the way my family did), and that endured through the years with a strong tendency to feelings of mysticism and spiritual connection with something higher.
My TBI in 2004, however, pretty much erased my religious feeling. Suddenly, it just wasn’t there, anymore, and I could not for the life of me figure out why anyone would have any interest in religion or spirituality. My spouse has always been very spiritual, and I can assure you, the times when I did not pray along with them were not the best moments in our marriage. I rolled my eyes and tapped my foot impatiently, waiting for them to finish, which really hurt their feelings.
My lack of spiritual feeling has persisted somewhat, but in the past few years, that’s started to change. Just goes to show you how the brain continues to alter and develop along different lines, over time. And I’ve gotten some of my spiritual feeling back — though I have probably gotten back more willingness to play along so I don’t hurt others’ feelings, than I’ve gotten back my old religious fervor.
But religious belief aside, the story behind Christmas is one that really resonates with a lot of people. It’s all about being forced into a less-than-ideal situation, and making do. It’s about modest, humble circumstances setting the stage for later greatness. And to me it’s about dealing up-front with the indignities of life and recognizing that beneath the limitations of your circumstances, there lies a potential for rising above it all. The indignities of not having enough, of being pushed aside, being just another face in the crowd, aren’t the whole truth about who we are and what we’re capable of. We may not all be divine (though some believe we are), but we can surely rise above our circumstances, like that little baby who spent his first night in a feed trough.
Making do… that’s pretty much what this season has been about for me. I have been working overtime for months, keeping my emotions from getting the best of me, and that’s taken a toll on my system. It takes a lot of energy to keep yourself on an even keel, when everything around you feels like it’s going nuts, and I have really felt it, this holiday season. Not having a doctor I trust and can rely on… that’s a subtle source of pressure. Being told my neuropsych is retiring in the spring… that’s more pressure. Being threatened with a layoff in the immediate term… that’s a direct and intense source of pressure. Having everyone around me at work be in rotten spirits because of the impending job changes… that’s an indirect but distracting source of pressure. Expensive car repairs and drama while traveling over Thanksgiving wasn’t easy. Being sick has been a disruptive challenge. And having my spouse being sick, too — and increasingly disabled — has been hard to get my head around.
Most of this I’ve had to deal with on my own, but I don’t mind. It’s actually easier for me to handle things alone, so I don’t have to verbalize with people. Talking out loud is yet another source of pressure, and I’ve been doing it pretty poorly, this holiday season. Seriously — I haven’t been able to describe things I’m looking for, and people in stores don’t take kindly to it. It’s been kind of funny, actually, when I’ve tried to describe caulk… or a little bracelet with colorful beads… and failed to do so.
I’ve kept it together, more or less, but it’s taken a toll.
The energy that I’ve been using to keep myself on an even keel had to come from somewhere, and my thought processing has not been the sharpest. I’ve been forgetful, scattered, emotional, foggy, and that all makes it even worse. It’s really been a challenge to do the kinds of things that used to come easy to me, and that’s hard to take. I can’t believe I have to deal with all of this — and take things so much more slowly, plan so much more carefully, and resort to what feel like remedial measures.
And through it all… I am so tired.
But then I come back to the Christmas story. And I can relate. I have a pretty good idea how it must feel to be uprooted from your home and dragged somewhere else to pay someone money that you probably don’t have. I don’t know how it feels to have a baby on the way, but I know about long journeys and having more asked of you than you feel you can spare. And I know the feeling of despair and overwhelm, when everything around you seems to conspire against you, and you can’t catch a break.
I also know what it’s like to make do with what little I have. This year, we don’t have a tree indoors, because the artificial tree we’ve had for years has gotten old and smells terrible. It’s musty and dusty and the materials are starting to degrade and off-gas, so after a couple of tries, we ended up just putting the tree out on the back porch and arranging our presents on a beautiful golden cloth we have, surrounded by colored lights.
It’s modest, but it’s beautiful, and later I’ll roast the turkey for our Christmas dinner. We’ll have a quiet day, today, and just enjoy the quiet in our own merry way.
We’re better off now than we’ve been in quite some time, and for that I am grateful. We have our issues, but we also have our ways of dealing with them. It’s Christmas. Time to focus less on what we don’t have, and more on what we do.
So, all the talk is heating up at work about the changes coming down the pike with the merger. A lot of people are pretty upset, because they see the writing on the wall — writing which may or may not be there, actually.
People will do just about anything to predict the future. It’s one of the most human things you can do.
And that’s precisely what gets us in trouble — concocting a future that never actually had a chance to exist, but we somehow think must absolutely come to be.
Anyway, the way I see it, I have a handful of different prospects:
I get laid off in the next few months, to free up $$$ they need elsewhere.
I am kept on, and I spend the next 12-18 months doing my job, seeing how things go. Then, I look for another job in another year or so. Supposedly, all our salary and benefits stuff is supposed to stay in place throughout 2016, but we’ll see about that. If that is the case, there’s no reason for me to leave, because the benefits are good, and the salary is decent.
I stay on indefinitely and take things as they come, settling into the new organization and making my way as best I can.
Frankly, any of the above could happen, and it would be fine. I just can’t live my life with things hanging over my head. I have other interests, other things to keep me occupied and engaged. Whatever the people in charge will do, they’ll do. Whatever I choose to do, I’ll do.
If the two are mutually beneficial, then great. But I’m not making this into the be-all-to-end-all of my life. The whole “career” thing is old, anyway. I just need a paycheck, so I can fund the life I want, and I can live my life to the fullest.
It’s turning out to be an amazingly beautiful day, today. We had some stormy weather, over the past few days that chilled me to the bone, but now I see blue sky out my window. I’m not sure how hot or cold it is outside, but I’ll find out when I go out.
I’ve been feeling pretty bad, for the last three days, but I feel like I’m turning a corner. My sinuses are still stuffed up, but I’m not sneezing and hacking, and my throat isn’t burning anymore. I just have to make sure I wipe my nose frequently. And I’ve got tissues with lotion in them to keep me from looking like Charlie Chaplin with a red, raw moustache. I read for a while, as I was riding my exercise bike, and I got a lot of movement in, which is good. I’m stretching more, and it’s helping my hip, and I’m also doing more stairs at work, which gets the blood pumping and helps me forget I’m stuck in a veal pen all day at work. The stairwell is usually empty, and the echo of my footsteps as I walk up and down the three steep flights is a cadence that keeps me moving, even though I’m out of breath.
When I started there, I had to stop, halfway up the flights, to catch my breath. I refuse to take the elevator, unless I’m loaded down with boxes. There are steps right there, which ascend beside the elevator, and when I’m moving at a decent clip, I can actually beat the elevator to the third floor. It’s good exercise, and I can do it anytime. Since I’m fighting off an infection, I can’t go swimming, so I might as well do the stairs — as well as ride the bike in the morning, and lift some light weights.
Today, I did without the weights. I’m still a little sore from yesterday, and my body still aches a bit. I can get back to it tomorrow.
So, this is my daily work — keeping my body and mind in good working order, to handle whatever comes down the pike. My goals is to both say and believe, “Whatever happens, it’s all good,” because I will make it that way.
So, it turns out that my group will not be affected directly this round of layoffs. I got the news yesterday afternoon, and I had very mixed emotions.
On the one hand, it’s a huge relief to not have to start my job search again. It’s also a relief not to have a job search hanging over my head during the holidays.
On the other hand, I was looking forward to having some time off and taking a break.
Then again, I guess I get both of the above, because over the coming months, people are going to be pretty checked-out, due to the ongoing merger of our company. The buyer still needs to figure out where we fit in, and who knows where we will end up. The metaphorical sea of management decisions will continue to wash up on our metaphorical shore, and who knows what it will all bring? Metaphorical driftwood? Detritus from past wrecks? Erosion? Metaphorical treasures that have been buried out at sea for a long, long time, only to be washed up onto the beaches of our lives — surprise!
I fully expect that over the coming months, people are going to be in various states of dissolution and departure, as they either dissociate from the trauma of not knowing what’s to come, they go looking for other jobs, and they freeze in the face of not knowing what direction to go.
What’s our motivation for doing what we do, every day? Clearly, that motivation is going to be changing over the next months for a lot of people, since the motivation they have had for many, many years — being a part of a local company that’s made good on the international scene, and tying their identity to that company — is going to change… even disappear… as our employer gets merged into a completely different company. For those people who relate to their job in terms of just keeping the money coming in to support their families, things may not change much… other than a profound existential angst over whether or not they’ll be kept around. That angst is justified.
It can be pretty unnerving for everyone who doesn’t take charge of their own frame of mind and their future. We have no control over what goes on around us, and we have no way of knowing if anything we do actually tips the scales in our favor. For those who are in wait-and-see mode, it’s the worst of all worlds. Because nobody in positions of power is going to tell any of us what’s going on. They can’t. Or things might fall apart.
So, we have to just keep on keeping on.
Or make our own way.
Personally, I’m in the process of making my own way. I’m taking this opportunity to regain my focus on building something independent from my day-job. I’ve got some ideas I am developing, some projects that really bring me a lot of happiness and a sense of purpose. They’re something that I have control over, and they let me express myself and my own interests, even while I’m “stuck” at a job that’s being run by someone else who doesn’t know I exist, and frankly doesn’t care — insofar as I have nothing to do with them directly, and I can’t do anything significant for them, other than performing my small part in their grand scheme.
Having my own projects relieves me of the resentment I feel about that. It gives me a way to redirect my energy in a positive, productive direction. It takes the pressure off, because it lets me create something of my own, as part of my own unfolding life… not a helpless pawn (as one of my co-workers described us yesterday) at the mercy of management and their schemes. It gets me off the tenderhooks of waiting for management to make up their damn’ minds about what’s to become of us. It lets me take action in ways that matter to me.
Bottom line, I make a lousy pawn. Truly, I do. I need more than that. I’m capable of more than that. And, in fact, there’s more in store for me… and I don’t find any comfort at all in seeing myself as being too small to matter. None of us should feel that way… although some feel more comfortable with that perspective, for sure.
Anyway, it’s all a work in progress, and when I take the attitude of a student observing what’s going on and learning from it (rather than being a hapless victim of an impersonal universe), things get a lot more tolerable. And it becomes about me making sense of this all, rather than me succumbing to the senselessness of an impersonal cosmos that frankly doesn’t give a damn about me or anything that has to do with me.
I don’t believe in living only in that kind of world. It seems to exist, but beyond that, within my own heart and head, there is so much more.
That’s pretty much how it seems to me — especially considering how peaceful my state of mind has become, since dropping off Twitter. Seriously, my internal life is much quieter, ever since I walked away from the 140 characters of overly brief annoyance and provocation.
As an extended bookmarking and link-sharing mechanism, it’s great. But people can’t seem to resist the temptation to editorialize — and that’s a terrible idea, if you only have a few lines.
Under-doing anything tends to be a bad idea, and trying to pack extended thoughts into a condensed “container” has been the bane of my existence. Truly, Twitter represents just about everything that makes life difficult for me (and countless other TBI survivors) in this modern world.
First, it’s too abrupt. There’s no time to really think things through, when all you have is 140 characters. When your brain needs longer to function (and that goes for anyone who really wants to have a more studied life, not just folks with brain injuries), that very brief space is like a vice closing on your cognition.
Second, it’s too quick. People who have conversations on Twitter drive me nuts. There is no way I can actually have a meaningful exchange with anyone — even people who agree with me (and vice versa).
Third, it lends itself to extreme impulse control issues. The two elements above can stoke the fires of anxiety and frustration, tiring you out and further exacerbating an already shaky control over escalation.
There’s more, of course, but those are the big three for me — and the thing that makes them all even worse is the cognitive drain and encroaching fatigue that accompanies following and reading streams of tweets. If you’ve got slowed processing speed (that would be me), it can demand a lot to have even one back-and-forth. I tried it, a few months back, and it went downhill quickly. I got bent out of shape, and so did the other person, and the only thing that came of it, was irritation … and a touch of fleeting rage.
Nope, just not worth it.
It’s a constant struggle, in this world, to keep focused. Especially in the world where I work, it’s brutal. Absolutely brutal. And as the whole restructuring thing goes on, and I contemplate what I will do if I lose my job, I think about what kind of work I really want to do. I’ve been in the tech business for quite some time, now, and over the past 5 years or so, it’s become so much more “interrupt-driven” — which is a disaster just waiting to happen for me. I have to constantly guard against interruptions, constantly managing others’ expectations, training them to know that I will not drop everything I’m doing, in order to allay their irrational fears.
On top of it, the tech world is chock full of “youngsters” who thrive on constant change and interruption. And it’s full of execs who want to pay rock-bottom prices for folks just now entering the workforce, who may be “up” on the latest technologies, and promise to propel them into the brilliant new future ahead. Someone like me, who’s getting long in the tooth and is harder to fire (the longer you live, the more “protected status” you are in the workplace), becomes a liability after a while. I’m at that age where people start to get sick. Their bodies start to break down. Their minds start to go.
So, why would they keep someone like me around?
And why would I stay? Seriously. Why? If there is anything else I can do with myself, that will earn me a living, I should seek it out and do it. Get the hell out of the tech scene, with its stupidly long hours, its constant sitting/standing, its perpetual upheaval and disruption. That’s what it’s about, in any case, and it’s actually not what I’m about.
So, whether or not I’m let go today, I’ve got my Plan B in process. This job cannot be the be-all-to-end-all for me. No way, no how. I need more to my life, and I need to create that new direction for myself — not expect someone else to provide me with the opportunities.
I lost sight of that for the past three months, thinking that this job was going to tide me over for the next five years, at least. Now, nothing is certain. Nothing is fine. I wish to God I could find work that will let me just settle in and play my part for the long-term, but it’s becoming clear that I’m going to have to create that situation myself.
Anyway, it’s all very exciting. And it’s all a learning experience. Fortunately, my job involves work I really enjoy and that makes me good money, so I can focus on doing the things I know will translate into good money later on, and keep my head out of worst-case-scenario land.
Business as usual. Not usual at all. Which is usual.
Oh, thank GOD. They finally scheduled an announcement about what’s to become of me/us at work. Tomorrow’s the day we have our team meeting – ostensibly to get the news about whether we are going to keep our jobs and/or if our duties will be changing in any way for the foreseeable future.
They’re having the meeting at 4 p.m. on a Thursday, so it might be “bad” news — it could be they want to tell us at the end of the day, so we can all go home and have a good meltdown. And since it’s being announced on a Thursday, people can take Friday off. Or spend Friday clearing out their desks. Or pretend to work from home.
OR… they’re waiting till the end of the day, so that the people who are spared don’t have to spend the day surrounded by those who are getting pink slips. And seeing as most people work from home on Fridays, anyway, it should be even more quiet than usual.
I got off to an early start today — I had an ungodly-early meeting at 8:00, which meant I left the house early — but it wasn’t so horrible Voila! I missed all that terrible traffic in the meantime. And now I’m home early — it’s not even 6:00 yet, and I’ve had time to grocery shop and get a little exercise in. I’m going to start doing this regularly — get an early start, so I can beat the traffic in the morning, leave the office before dark, get home at a decent hour, and then just relax. All those late evenings at the office got pretty old, pretty quick.
And the fact of having the rest of the evening to myself is absolutely magical.
It gives me time to myself. To prepare mentally for the day tomorrow… And focus on the things that I want to do for myself and my ownwork, despite what everyone else is up to.
Ironically, I won’t be in the office tomorrow for the team meeting. My spouse and I have dentist appointments in the afternoon, and I need to act as chauffeur, because my spouse doesn’t drive well in the little city we’re going to. I don’t mind at all. It gets me out. And it gives me the chance to spend some time with my spouse that I normally don’t have. We’re going to make an evening of it, doing some Christmas shopping and having a nice dinner — steak!
It’s our favorite “date” trip — going into town, running errands, having a steak dinner, and then heading home after all the traffic has cleared. If I still have a job tomorrow, I’ll celebrate quietly and not say a word about it. If I’m losing my job, I’m not sure what I’ll say — probably keep quiet about it, so we have some much-needed quiet time to ourselves.
I don’t want to ruin a perfectly nice evening. Not over a job.
Anyway, right now I have a whole evening to myself, and it’s really, really good. And it’s actually much better than my usual schedule of getting up early and writing and reading, then going into the office later and staying later. I’m more awake after4 p.m., versus 9 a.m., so I might as well do my writing when I’m actually with it. I am not a morning person — never have been, but was forced to become one,because of work — and I’m tired of having early morning be the only time I can get to myself.
Time to change that around and take back my afternoons, when the creativity is running high… and I have no more work-work to absorb my attention.
Whatever happens at the end of the day tomorrow, it’s fine. I really don’t care. Whatever happens, I will handle it, and it will be awesome. In fact, my future will very likely work out better for me than where I am now. I’ll see to that.
And if I had the holidays off, that wouldn’t bother me one bit. Heck, I know a number of people who would love to hire me back, if they can. Maybe I’ll pick up a few days’ work, here and there. Whatever. It’s all speculation, anyway. Not a good use of time.
A better use of my time is to think about what is. What shall be. What I want to be.
I had an interesting discussion with my counselor last night. To be truthful, this individual has been very helpful to me, but they also have some severe limitations — such as their outlook on life. I was discussing resilience yesterday, asking aloud why it is that I’ve had so many situations where I had the bottom fall out from under me, yet I bounced back… when so many other people have less awful things happen, but they never fully recover.
Why is that? I think it’s a valid question that needs to be explored more fully.
My counselor told me that, after all they had seen while working for the state social services department for many years, they believed that some people are hard-wired for resilience. Some people had terrible things happen to them, and they recovered, while others did not. And they were just built that way.
Thinking about that, it’s probably one of the most depressing things I’ve ever heard. And it’s definitely “old school”, harking back to the days when people believed that you had what you had in terms of luck and life and cognitive ability, and that was that. Pretty antiquated, if you ask me. Of course, I wasn’t going to argue with someone who was working “in the system” for decades and is over 70 years old, and they have their perspective — their story — and they’re sticking with it.
I just can’t get on board.
See, I don’t think that’s true at all. I believe that people can change — they change all the time. And the people who are “stuck” have as much of a chance of getting “UNstuck” as the next person. Of course, there are going to be extreme cases, where dynamite wouldn’t dislodge them from their misfortunate mindset. But the vast majority of people have an inborn — IN-BORN — capacity to change.
Hell, we change all the time. We change our minds about things. We learn new things. We get bored by some things and drop them, and we get excited by other things and jump in feet-first. We make friends, we lose friends, we change jobs, we move around. We are in a constant state of flux and change at all times in our lives; we just normally don’t think about it, because change is really a regular part of our lives.
And then there’s the unanticipated change, that blindsides us and doesn’t make any sense to us in the grand scheme of how we understand our lives and ourselves.That takes some work, to get back. Sometimes we make it, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we end up turning into someone we don’t recognize. But we do change. We can’t help it.
TBI is the kind of change that takes us by surprise. Nobody can probably EVER anticipate the changes that happen when the brain is rattled, shaken, and reshaped in subtle, miniscule ways. Recovery from that kind of hit is different from just about any other kind of change, because the very thing that’s the central controller has been impacted. Certainly, with cancer and chemo-brain and other kinds of injuries and illnesses which impact the brain as well as the body and spirit, you’ve got that brain stuff in the mix as well. The thing is, with TBI — especially with mild TBI — it’s so damn’ hard to figure out what the hell you’re supposed to do, how you’re supposed to do it, and understand what’s going on.
The thing that probably makes it different from other types of illness, is the hidden aspects. Absolutely, there are many people who are struggling with hidden illnesses, yet with TBI you’ve got the perfect storm of disconnects between where you’re hurt, how others perceive you, and how you can heal.
And yet, we can heal. I’m healing. I have my setbacks, my bad brain days, my times of going a little bit nuts over things that are bothering me in the back of my mind. But I’m healing. And overall, my situation is vastly improved over where I was, just a few years ago. Make no mistake, it’s taken constant work. It’s been exhausting. There are no “days off” in this process, but at the same time, quality recovery is practically impossible without some sort of rest and recuperation. It’s a balance.
And I wonder what it is that has made my recovery so much more… effective… than probably anyone would have guessed or anticipated. I know my neuropsych is kind of amazed at the recovery I’ve made, and how … functional… I am in my world. I’m engaged. I’m social. I’m involved. I’m out of debt for the first time in over 20 years. (I’m also usually exhausted, but that’s the price you pay, Oh, well. At least I’ve learned how to build it back up.)
I also wonder how it is that I’m able to bounce back from extremely dark times, and rebuild the way I do. Money problems. Marital problems. Health problems. Exhaustion. Work difficulties. Losses of friends and loved ones. Dark nights of the soul, when it seems nothing will ever get better, and I’m seriously wondering how much longer I have to keep on living. Ultimately, this all passes. And I’ve found that the more quickly I engage the darkness on its own terms, just letting myself feel as badly as I do, just letting things get as bad as they can, the more quickly I can bounce out of my sh*tass state of mind.
What makes that possible? What lets me do that? Is it just how I’m hard-wired? Is it just how I’m built?
I find it hard to believe that I’m just built that way, because in years past, I have been so down, so low, so desperately depressed, nothing could drag me out. For so many years in my childhood, youth, and adulthood, I was in an extremely low state of mind. And looking back at who I was, once upon a time, nobody — but nobody — would believe it was the same person.
And if the people around me were looking forward to right now, probably nobody would believe that I’m the same person that I once was.
Some say it’s all about character. I say, character can be learned. It can be taught. It can be modeled. And the fact that I’ve had so many positive role models in my life, whom I really respected and looked up to, I believe has had a huge impact on me and my life.
I wish I could write more about this, but I’m running out of steam.
Bottom line is, I don’t believe for a minute that people are truly hard-wired to be one way or another. We change. We change all the time. It’s how we’re built and what we do naturally. We just have to figure out how to change in directions that help us, rather than make us (and everyone around us) miserable.
Well, the day is waiting. It’s my last day at the old office, and it’s going to be a good one.
I don’t just know it will be — I’m going to make it that way.
I’m running a little late this morning. I was supposed to have an early phone call with a colleague on the other side of the world, this morning, but that was cancelled — partly because they told me they would be traveling at the end of this week, but I didn’t put it together that I should reschedule our meeting till when they got back.
No worries, though. They reminded me of it, and I’m rescheduling, so that’s fine.
In the past, I would have really given myself a hard time for not putting that together. I would have been unsparing and relentless in my self-criticism, and by the end of my internal tirade against myself, I would have reached the conclusion that I am good for nothing and I can’t do much of anything at all. It’s happened before, lots of times – especially at times when I’ve forgotten to reschedule meetings.
Today that didn’t happen.
If anything, I was relieved that I didn’t have to get on the call right after I woke up. I have had a couple of late-evening calls with colleagues, for the past couple of days, and I haven’t been able to get in bed before 11:00, or sleep past 7, which means I’m getting 6-7 hours of sleep, when I should be getting 8+. Oh, well. At least I’m not getting 4-5 hours, like I was last week.
I felt a bit foolish for a little bit, having spaced out on the schedule thing, then I just got on with my morning. I’ve had some time to check my personal email and make a list of things I need to get done today — and wonder of wonders, I don’t have anything scheduled for this evening, so I can take care of some things for one of the projects I’m working on.
There’s been an interesting change with me, lately. It happened around the time when I went to see my family and got out of my daily routine rut. There was a LOT of driving involved, I did NOT sleep very well, and the whole time was pretty uncomfortable for me in a lot of ways. But I handled myself extremely well, and as a result, no relationships were trashed or threatened, and there was no left-over biochemical sludge that I needed to clear out of my system.
Also, all during the trip, I was practicing the “90-second clearing” that helped me to regain my balance after upsetting or unsettling or anxiety-producing discussions or situations.
Basically this “90-second clearing” works this way:
I pay attention to my stress level, my physical situation — am I stressed? Am I relaxed? Am I getting tense and uptight? When I think about a picture of how I’m feeling, do I see a crazy line chart that looks like a craggy mountain range, with the line going wildly up and down to extremes?
If I am getting tense and uptight, I stop what I am doing and thinking, and I take a break for a minute and a half. I stop the reaction to what’s happening. I stop the racing thoughts. I stop the escalation. I stop the fast breathing.
Then I breathe slowly for about a minute and a half — sometimes I need less time — until I feel “level” again. I think about what my state of mind and body looks like, and if I see a line that looks like a nice little wave, or gently rolling hills, I know I’m good.
Then I can get back to doing what I was thinking and saying and doing before.
Then I can relax.
By stopping the crazy escalation and bringing myself back to a point of biochemical equilibrium (many times during my vacation), I was able to keep my head from going nuts over passing things. It wasn’t about tamping down my experience and suppressing my feelings and reactions — it was about just letting it all come… and then letting it all go… and moving on.
I’ve continued to do it, too — with good results. In fact, I just did it this morning, when my spouse and I were having a heated discussion about something that wasn’t going right, and we were both getting pretty uptight and tweaked over the situation. It wasn’t something that either of us had done “wrong”, just something that was wrong that I needed to fix — and we were starting to get pretty bent out of shape about it.
I managed to stop and just breathe for a minute or so, and the calming effect on me also had a calming effect on my spouse. I could relax. So could both of us. Good stuff. And now I can get on with my day.
This is a big change with me. I mean, just the fact that I even know what it feels like to relax, is a change. Up until about 5-6 years ago, that never happened. I had no idea what relaxation really felt like, and I wasn’t interested in finding out. I just needed to be ON. I just needed to be UP. I just needed to be GO-GO-GO, all the live-long day. And frankly it was tearing the sh*t out of me and my life and my relationships. Especially after my TBI in 2004, when suddenly I was unable to keep it together and manage the GO-GO-GO in a sensible way.
Then I started doing “stress hardiness optimization” which is guided meditation for first responders and other people in high-stress conditions. I figured that applied to me pretty well — especially since I felt like I was always responding to emergencies in my life on a personal level. That trained me to physically relax, with progressive relaxation.
Mentally relaxing and being able to just let things go, however, still eluded me.
But over time, the more I’ve relaxed physically and the more capable I’ve become at understanding and managing my own “internal state”, the better I’ve become at being able to relax my mind as well as my body.
Ironically, one of the things that’s helped me to relax my mind, is coming to realize that no matter what the circumstances, I’ll be able to figure something out. It may not be perfect, it may not be what I want, but I’ll be able to deal. I’ll be able to manage myself and my situation. I’ll be able to handle things. The 90-second clearing is a huge piece of the puzzle that helps me incredibly.
First, it defines my internal state of anxiety and upset as a biochemical thing. It’s not that something is wrong with me, and I cannot handle things. It’s my body reacting to what’s going on, trying to help me rise to the occasion with a flood of biochemical stress hormones that are specifically designed to kick me into action. It’s a purely physical reaction.
Second, it’s all about recognizing that my body can be a little “behind the times” — and my mind / awareness can jump in to help it calm down. My fight-flight system (like everyone’s) is quick to react, but slow to back off — once engaged, my fight-flight system doesn’t want to let go. It wants to keep me safe. It keeps escalating, until the “danger” has passed, but it doesn’t always realize that a “danger” is not actually dangerous. So I have to help it do that. It’s not doing it by itself. It needs my awareness to help. Which I can do.
Third, it’s about exercising my mind in very basic ways — just paying attention to how I’m feeling, and doing very simple things to adjust. It’s not about some elaborate plan that will require tons of practice and has to be done just right. It’s about just noticing what’s going on with me, and doing something with it. Taking action. Working with my situation to turn it in a different direction — adding important ingredients — elements of balance and just plain feeling good, which is a new experience for me. Just plain feeling good… what a concept.
Last of all, it just works. Slow breathing for a minute and a half puts a halt to my downward slide and stops the escalation in its tracks. I’ve used it a number of times in a number of different situations, with excellent results. I can’t even begin to explain how great it feels to have the waves of anxiety and dread and fight-flight sludge back off — to feel them subside, leaving calm in their place. It’s like the flood waters of the Nile are receding, leaving fertile fields awaiting a new season of crops. And it leaves me feeling awake and confident and better than I did before.
Feeling tight and cramped and anxious and nervous and antagonistic feels like crap, I have to say.
Feeling loosened up and relaxed and strong and flexible and friendly feels pretty awesome.
90 seconds is all it takes, too (well, sometimes it takes longer, but not more than a few minutes). It “resets” me, “reboots” my brain. And it lets me get on with my life. Relaxed, confident, and with a lot more better ideas than I had just a few minutes before.