Such a headache

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

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

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

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

Creep.

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

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

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

So, enough of that.

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

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

It could be.

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

Maybe that will get rid of this headache.

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

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

I’m starting to feel better, actually.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onward.

 

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DIY OT for TBI

The magic koosh ball

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

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

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

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

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

Some of these things are:

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

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

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

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

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

But juggling is a fun break.

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Left hand focus and training

Keep it going – it gets better!

So, I took a day off juggling, just to let my body and brain rest. I got pretty sore in my shoulders and legs, from the new motions, and I needed to let everything sink in.

I was a little concerned that I might forget the motions – since the brain changes that are seen after 7 days of juggling disappear, after the juggling stops. But as it turns out, taking a day off had no negative impact on my coordination, my speed, or my proprioception (my sense of where my body is in relation to other objects).

In fact, if anything, they all improved. My movements are much more fluid than they were just a few days ago, and I feel much more relaxed. Three days ago, it was a real challenge to keep three balls in the air for more than five or six tosses. Today, I got to 10 – and beyond – a number of times.

Also, my one-handed juggling — where I toss two balls up in the air and keep them aloft — has improved dramatically. Two nights ago, I was really struggling to keep them aloft, but this morning, I was able to do so with much more fluidity and control.

My left hand needs help, however. I have issues with reaction time, fluidity, and also accuracy with my left hand. It tends to toss the juggling balls off to the right very quickly, so I can’t catch them with my right hand.

I use koosh balls because they have good weight and they are also easy to handle and they do not bounce and roll away from me. I learned my lesson last weekend, chasing bouncing and rolling balls all over the room, and crawling around on the floor getting them out from under furniture (and discovering godzilla-size dusty bunnies in the process).

Man, was I sore by Monday!

Anyway, the koosh balls are working much better, and I’m making great progress.

I do special drills to work on my accuracy — holding my arms close to my sides when I toss the balls up and down… juggling with only one hand… tossing balls back and forth just beyond my peripheral vision… and also tossing them over my shoulder and trying to catch them behind my back.

My left hand just needs some help with accuracy and speed.

So, I am training it especially.

I’ll work my left hand/arm for a while, then I’ll switch over to my right for a few repetitions. Taking a break helps my left catch up, too. I can see progress in just a few minutes break. I was working on my one-handed juggling and really struggling with with my left hand. I was only able to keep the balls up for 3-4 tosses. Then I took a break and practiced with my right hand, and when I went back to the left, I was able to keep the balls up for more than 10 tosses!

Fantastic!

Granted, I have a long way to go, before I’ll be able to juggle for more than a minute at a time, but I’m making progress in leaps and bounds, compared to where I was last week this time.

This is an enormous confidence-booster. Even if I never become an expert juggler, the fact that I can learn this — and how fast I am learning, too — is a 180-degree turn from where I used to think I was. I was literally convinced that I would never, ever learn to juggle. I just didn’t think I could do it.

And now I’m doing it. And that’s huge.

It translates into other areas of my life, as well. It encourages me to take on more challenges at work, to step outside my comfort zone — one step at a time — and to expand my idea of what I can accomplish, and when.

Doing the n-back training is helping me, too — I’m going to work on my response time, especially, because that’s an area that I’ve struggled with, and it causes a whole lot of other issues and insecurities in my life. I’m tired of those issues and insecurities. Frankly, they’re boring. And they make me feel boring, too.

So, I’m going to do something about it. Especially by training my left hand — which I never thought would be very coordinated. Turns out, I’m wrong. Turns out, I’m better than that.

Much.

Onward.

Practical training to fix TBI issues – processing speed, reaction time, memory

My n-back results today
My n-back results today – click to see a close-up

I’m doing my dual n-back training again this morning. It’s pretty awesome. I’ve already noticed an improvement in my memory and my reaction time, after just a few days of practicing.

If you suffer from TBI and have access to a computer, be it at your public library or at a friend’s house – it can even be your smart phone, if you have one – there’s no excuse not to do this. There are many, many free versions of this available. My favorite is Brain Workshop at http://brainworkshop.sourceforge.net/. It’s for Windows and Mac (and Linux, if you’re into it), and it works great – very customizable.

There really is no reason to not do this training. Especially if you are on disability and you are unable to work or do other things with yourself. That’s really the optimal situation for you, because this training will help you with the core issues from TBI — processing speed, reaction time, short-term working memory and recall — and the thing you need most to do this, is time.

I almost wish I were on disability, so I could do n-back training as much as I like.

Now, obviously, I don’t want to overdo it. The brain needs to have rest and also good nutrition and oxygenation to really make the most of this training. So, it’s good that I actually cannot spend a lot of time doing n-back all day. I tend to perseverate on things that interest me, and this fascinates me. So, the chances of me plopping down in front of computer all day and doing this training are pretty high.

That would be counter-productive, and my scores would likely decrease, which would frustrate me. I need to allow myself rest. And I also need to allow myself room to just play. I tend to make everything I do into a “career” and go over the top, trying to elevate it to an art form. That’s fine, for things I’m making a living doing, but I need some time to play and relax and just have fun with things, too.

I have been playing with the combinations of things to test. I started out with a triple 1-back, where I try to remember the position, color, and audio for the last element that appeared on the screen. I put myself at 4 second intervals — the computer shows me a square in a certain color at a certain position and says a certain letter… then it shows me another one that may be the same or different, and I have to remember if it was similar in any way to the last one.

To be honest, the hardest part of the training is remembering which key to press for each aspect — A is for position, F is for color, L is for audio. One of the things that slows me down, is checking to see which key I need to press. Bums me out, frankly. I feel like an idiot that I can’t remember which goes with which, but oh well. I guess it helps me speed up my processing and my reaction time, by forcing me to react within a set period of time AND have to check the keys for each piece on the screen.

I started out at 4 second intervals, till I made it to 100% accuracy. Then I speeded it up to 3.5 seconds, and made it to 100% accuracy. At 3 seconds, I’m faltering — I went from 100% to 93% to 84% in a few tries. It could be due to my brain just getting tired. So, I’m going to stop and try again tomorrow — triple 1-back with position (A key), color (F key), and audio (L key), at 3 second intervals… and see if I can’t speed things up even more.

I like working with the 1-back, because it’s something I have mastered at certain levels, and I can always go back to it. I got to 100% accuracy with dual (position – A key, and audio – L key) 2-back at 4 second intervals the other day, and I want to push myself to hold more pieces of information in my brain at any given point in time. More pieces of information… at faster speeds.

As I said, the biggest challenge for me is memorizing which key to press for each aspect. That is very frustrating, so I need to work on memorizing that. I can spend my time commuting, conditioning myself to remember those key positions. That’s the thing that slows me down… Argh!

I’ve been doing some reading online about benefits that n-back training is supposed to provide. There are individuals who say that since they started doing the training, they have been able to learn much better. Others say it has had no effect on them. One of the things that irritates me, is how so many people write about it “improving intelligence”. The whole concept of “intelligence” is broad and wide and way too general for my taste. There are specific things this kind of training can help you with. These may make you seem “more intelligent” to others, but fundamentally, it’s really about improving processing speed, reaction time, short-term working memory, and making selective choices. Improving those aspects in different combinations, will help anyone — TBI or not — navigate life more smoothly, regardless of how well they perform on an IQ test.

For myself, the change in my own memory and response time has been noticeable, even in a short period of time. I’m going to to keep on with this, because it is helping me in specific ways that have been a bane of my existence for as long as I can remember.

Those things are:

  • feeling slow, like I’m not really keeping up
  • struggling to follow conversations and instructions
  • faking my way through interpersonal interactions, because if I slow people down to repeat what they just said and process what they just told me, it disrupts the flow of the conversation — it just hijacks it
  • distractions interrupting my concentration
  • “losing” pieces of information in the course of conversations
  • not reacting quickly enough to handle social situations, discussions, arguments, debates… and so on

These have been real struggles for me — for many, many years. And they have held me back in life. That doesn’t have to be true anymore. I now have something I can do about it.

There are many ways to train your brain to handle these things. When you’re a kid, there are clubs at school, like debate club or chess club or sports or other activities. I was active in sports, and I joined the school newspaper so I could do some writing, but I secretly struggled with the social and task-oriented activities (like writing articles for the paper). And the activities which centered around games or debate situations… they were just torture for me, because I wasn’t handling them well, and I could never articulate my situation well enough to reach out for help. Even if I had been able to articulate my situation, people were not in a position to help me. It was over 30 years ago, and nobody knew anything about TBI where I lived.

I have recently joined a public speaking group at my workplace, so I can practice being put on-the-spot to talk about a topic I didn’t come up with. That has been helping, too. But there’s nothing like being able to sit down in the quiet and comfort of my own room at home, and practice n-back training, watching my scores improve.

It has made me more confident, it has noticeably improved my response time in certain situations, it’s improving my memory in ways I can already notice, and it’s providing me a new challenge and a new hope in my life that has been missing. I’m going to keep doing this on a regular basis, as well as get plenty of rest and good nutrition to keep myself “beefed up” and progressing. Considering all the different combinations you can do — up to four different pieces that change, and as many “back” as you can ask for, all at faster or slower speeds, there’s an almost infinite number of combinations I can use to train my brain.

 

10 Reasons I Keep Juggling

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

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

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

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

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