Picking my battles carefully

Save your energy…

So, this week has been interesting. I’ve been working very long hours (12-14 hours a day), trying to clean up a lot of outstanding tasks that are months late. In the past, it made me crazy to be late on anything, or to fall short on anything I undertook. It just wasn’t allowed – and it worked out in favor of my standard of living, because nobody loves an overachiever more than a company that knows how to put that OCD impulse to good use to make a lot of money.

I’ve done well by my employers, if I say so myself. And before my TBI in 2004, I’d long been in the habit of never tolerating anything less than my best effort. I was always locked on target to continuously out-do myself, no matter what. But then I fell down those damned stairs, and things started to unravel. So much fell apart — slowly and quickly — and before long, I was just happy to be getting through the day.

One of the toughest things about my TBI after-effects, is having to deal with sudden onslaughts of all sorts of mediocrity. I was in a meeting the other day, discussing a project that I was doing a very poor job of managing. The whole thing had just gone off the rails, and I was a little freaked out about the whole thing. In this meeting, we were trying to come up with solutions about how to handle things, and I was getting very turned around and confused, not connecting the dots, and generally not representing very well.

It was pretty disconcerting for me. I’ve long been accustomed to being one of the “with it” people in the room, but that day, I was definitely not. So, I stepped back and just let the other folks who were with it talk amongst themselves and come up with a better solution.

And it worked out okay. We finished the meeting on an up note, and I got some new ideas about how to fine-tune the way I work with other people.

It just wasn’t a very good feeling, to sit there all foggy and clueless, not following the conversation and not being much help at all.

I hate this kind of chaos. I feel stupid and dense and impaired. Right now I’m feeling pretty impaired, actually, because I am tired, I am stressed, and I need to start working on some of my take-home tasks in a little bit. I need to hammer out some work before the weekend is over — and my spouse is inviting company over tonight, to stay into tomorrow, which takes a bunch of productive hours away from me in the morning. Shit. Oh, well. Welcome to my chaotic life — that’s just how it’s been, lately.

Actually, now that I think about it, the chaos has been ongoing since before the holidays — since before Thanksgiving time, when the holiday scheduling difficulties started to happen. So, since around the middle of November, things have been up in the air, and I’ve just been treading water, trying to get things done, to precious little avail. Three full months of uncertainty and scheduling problems, holidays and travel and jet lag and exhaustion… and more.

It’s just sucked so terribly, it’s unreal.

It’s almost as if the people who are in charge of setting the stage just don’t give a damn about whether or not anything gets done. It’s all on us to “manage” — and if we can’t keep up and can’t meet our goals and get everything done that we need to get done, well, it’s on us. Nobody seems to care anymore if things are actually done.  Nobody actually seems to care if things are left half-baked and fraught with uncertainty. It’s almost as though nobody cares about actual quality, as long as the “experience” people are having is acceptable.

Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but it seems to me that something should actually get done, every now and then.

I feel a rant coming on, but I’m going to step away from that, because it’s not worth it.

And here’s the crux of it all — I’ve been picking and choosing my battles, figuring out what matters most to me, and focusing on that, and letting the rest of it go. Some things I just can’t afford to get worked up over — things like sitting in a meeting and not feeling like I’m actually following everything that’s going on… or falling short on one project after another, and yet deciding to not get crazed about trying to keep up…

It’s best I concentrate on focusing on the good that I do have, and leaving the rest of it alone.

My time is much better spent on figuring out what I want to do with myself, and how good I want my life to be, instead of bitching about how bad things are right now.

It’s funny — I’m reaching a slightly different perception of my employer, these days. They keep taking things surveys at work asking about how people feel about working there, and every year the scores come back lower and lower. It’s kind of sad, that there are so many miserable people working there. At the same time, though, I think it has a lot to do with the character of the people working there. The fact of the matter is, we are responsible for what we make of things. All of us at work can make our situations into anything we want or need. We’re not helpless victims, and we have the power to control our attitudes and our gratitude.

And it occurs to me that maybe the problem isn’t so much that I’m working at a terrible place. Maybe the problem is that I work with a bunch of whiners. Thousands of them, in fact. They do a lot of bitching and complaining about just about everything under the sun. And I get really tired of hearing them bitch and complain about every little thing. It’s really up to us, to make things right — not to expect someone else to come along and fix it all for us.

At some point, you’ve gotta start acting like an adult.

I mean, geez, if people knew half the crap I have to wade through, just to get through the day, they’d probably run screaming from the building. But when you have to deal with it, you have to deal with it. The pain, the confusion, the fatigue, the emotional roller-coaster, the constant ringing in my ears, the unpredictable coordination, and this brain that just loves to crap out on me at just the wrong times… it’s just how things are, and I have to deal with it.

So, I’ve got a lot on my plate. And I have to pick and choose the battles I fight. The fact of the matter is, I am working with less working memory capacity and some pretty significant attentional issues, so if I get all worked up over things and I spend all my energy fighting against stuff that’s not going to change from me getting bent out of shape… then I just hurt myself. And I don’t want to do that. Getting a handle on what I can change, and focusing on fixing that, rather than spending a lot of time and energy beating myself up over things that are already done and can’t be undone, is a much better use of my time and energy. And it pays off in very big ways.

This weekend, I’m battling a bunch of backlogged work that I need to sort through. I’ve got so much to do, it’s crazy — and it’s all sorts of work, both tactical and strategic. So, no, I can’t worry about sitting in that meeting, earlier this week, and losing my place, not following what was going on, and getting turned around. Screw that. I don’t have the time. I’ve got to put my focus on other areas where I can be sharp, and I can be reasonably sure that I will make progress. Fine points like doing math on the fly and seeing quickly how a bunch of different moving pieces are put together… those are definitely not my strong suit when I’m stressed and exhausted (which was all last week — no, the past three months, actually). I just can’t let that derail me — I need to find where I can make up for those gaps, and concentrate on that — like just plain getting things done in the quiet and comfort of my own home. Like looking at bigger picture pieces of the grand puzzle.  And keeping my motivation high and intact.

So I’ll be taking a lot of time this weekend to just settle in and do the work that’s in front of me. It’s not terrible work — I actually enjoy it. There’s just a lot of it, and it’s really disheartening to be so far behind… and have people at work complaining about it, too.

So, off I go. Got lots to do, and I’m feeling pretty good about the idea of having it all done.

Onward.

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Tinnitus music therapy-A do it yourself guide

Just found this on YouTube:

I may try it, myself. I don’t have CoolEdit, but I might be able to figure it out with Audacity.

The perils of pseudo-psychological problems

Something has occurred to me repeatedly, over the past month, as my sleeping habits have improved. Namely, that many of the “mental health” issues I’ve been experiencing over the past several years, have had a distinctly physiological component to them. In fact, at the risk of sounding radical, presumptuous, and heretical – though I’m seldom reluctant to be just that 😉 – I suspect that a ton of my “psychological” issues have actually been physical ones.

I’m sure I’m going to really piss off some of the psychotherapists in the room by saying this, but I have to say that catching up on my sleep and figuring out how to get a full night’s sleep more than one night in a row, has done more for my mental health than two years of therapy.

And no, I did not have a bad therapist. They were great – awesome – and they really helped me a great deal, if only by sitting there and not making fun of me when I talked about this and that.

But let me tell you – as a TBI survivor who had/has a whole raft of physical ailments (chronic pain, insomnia, sensory hypersensitivities, weight fluctuations, heart palpitations, vertigo, tinnitus, and more…), just living with all those issues can really mess with your head. And as long as only the symptoms of my physical distress were being addressed, not much moved.

I did get in touch with my feelings. That’s for sure. I figured out that I actually mattered, and that it was important for me to take care of my own health and well-being, not constantly do the martyr-hero thing and sacrifice my own safety for the sake of others. I had space to learn to look at myself and my life through a less negatively critical eye and consider that maybe, just maybe, I had a right to do more that survive in life. I had/have a right to thrive.

But one of the things I really got in touch with was the fact that my physical well-being is a huge contributor to (and predictor of) how well my mental well-being holds up. When I’m tired and in pain and weak, my ears are ringing like the dickens, and my head spins wildly and I feel like I’m going to fall over every time I move, it’s pretty damned difficult to maintain a positive mental outlook and count my blessings. When I’m not feeling well physically, the chances of me feeling well mentally and emotionally decrease exponentially.

There are some people who manage to keep a cheery, chipper outlook, despite significant physical issues. I’m usually one of those  people, and I usually manage to not let my physical problems bother me. But when I haven’t had enough sleep for weeks and months on end, chances are pretty good that I’m going to feel depressed, anxious, irritable, low — and show other signs of clinical depression.

Okay, so here’s the thing — when I was in therapy with my prior therapist, they repeatedly came back to the suspicion that I was depressed. They asked me a number of times if I thought I was depressed, and if I’d said “Yes,” I’m sure they would have followed up on that, however a therapist does that. And they probably would have plumbed the depths, looking for what it was that made me depressed — some repressed past trauma, some childhood violation, some incident that I’d blocked out to keep from being unhappy.

And lots of talk would probably have ensued. Talk, talk, and more talk.

Now, talking is all very well and good, but as Belleruth Naparstek said at a conference I once attended (and I believe she’s said in her book “Invisible Heroes”), sometimes talking does more harm than good, by dredging up old traumas and forcing you to relive them. That can be very unpleasant, as I’m sure everyone is aware. And for me it’s really problematic, because I prefer to dwell on problems with a solution in mind, and if I’m dwelling on a past incident which cannot be changed (it’s already over and done), I get even more agitated and irate over it.

Some people might say that I’m just not willing to deal with the emotional fallout of misfortune, but I say I’m a solutions-oriented individual and the main reason I think about things, is so that I can change them, so why in the hell would I spend all this time thinking about stuff that cannot be changed? The therapists in the room who would say I’m emotionally “blocked” would probably try to treat me… with more talking about shit that makes no sense for me to talk about.

Make no mistake — I’m not at all reluctant to discuss misfortunes I’ve experienced in the past. But any discussion that takes place with me, has to be about devising solutions and coping mechanisms for the problems I have as a result. I’ve had some really shitty things happen to me, but you know what? It’s over, and I’ve managed to forgive just about everybody in my past for their shortcomings… even myself. The problem is not that I’m represssed. It’s that people want to process the wrong type of stuff with me — problems, problems, and more problems — and my reluctance to discuss stuff I’ve already been through a thousand times in my head is interpreted as repression or avoidance or some other psychological/emotional impairment.

What’s more, when pressed to explore the nether regions of my soul with talk therapy, I tend to get turned around. As good as I am at writing, I’m can be kind of pathetic when it comes to spoken conversation. I have an intensely visual mind, which follows conversations and spoken communication with series’ of images that are like an associational, disjointed movie in my head. I literally see pictures of what people are talking about, and when people start talking about things for which I have no picture — or I have several of them to choose from — it takes me a while to catch up and keep up. It’s not that I’m stupid. Or that I’m slow. I’m just incredibly visual in my own mind, when it comes to spoken language, and visual processing doesn’t lend itself as well to spontaneous conversation.

So, when I’m talking to someone about what’s going on with me, and they start talking about things that aren’t immediately famliar to me — or that I’m not expecting them to talk about — it’s really easy for me to get agitated and introveted. I need time to catch up. I need time to keep up. I need time to translate their words into pictures and process the information visually, so that I can make sense of what they’re saying to me. But I don’t always have that much time, and over the course of my life, I’ve gotten into the bad-but-pragmatic habit of just pretending I know what’s going on, while making mental notes in the back of my mind about what was just said, so I can go back to it later and rethink it all and hopefully make sense of things.

The problem is, in a therapeutic situation where I’m supposed to be making some sort of progress and addressing issues, this really works against me. It tends to make me look reticent and/or like I’m deliberately withholding. I’m not — I’m just trying to process the information and make sense of it. Believe me, if I could answer immediately like other people, I would. But my brain just doesn’t work that way.

I also tend to get really frustrated with myself and get agitated, which looks like I’m uncomfortable talking about certain things. It’s not that  I don’t want to let other people in. I do — more than I can say. But I get so turned around in my head, and I get so upset with myself for not being able to follow, that I start to flail and spin and then shut down. I feel like I’m getting backed into a corner, and I get revved… and by the end of the session, I look like a totally basket case who needs to spend years sitting across the room from someone, before I can get in touch with my feelings.

This sucks on so many levels, I can’t even begin to tell you. The worst thing of all is having someone who is supposedly trained and experienced in these matters misunderstanding, miscalculating, misdiagnosing, and mis-treating conditions which don’t even exist the way they think they do. On the surface, you’re exhibiting classic signs of clinical depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, but underneath it all you’re struggling for words that will explain exactly what is going on with you, and why you’re acting the way you do. And the bitch of it is, because you’re the (sick) client and they are the (trained, experienced, licensed) therapist, you’re not in a position to be taken totally seriously when you do manage to tell them a little bit about what’s up with you. ‘Cause they think you’re seriously mentally ill and you can’t possibly know what your real problems are.

After all, you probably have no recollection of what that nasty-ass uncle did to you as a toddler when your mother’s back was turned.

It’s a problem. I hear plenty of stories about therapists who don’t know  what they’re doing… as well as those who know very well what they’re up to but have no scruples or morals. I hear plenty of tales about over-prescription of medications, as well as  misdiagnosis of mental health issues that have more to do with fundamental differences of information processing, than pathology. The mental health profession has been pathologizing the diversity of human experience for as long as it’s been around — perhaps that’s a hallmark of any helping/caring profession that’s trying to get on its feet. Applying labels like “hysterical” or “deviant” or “sick” to people who are just different from the norm is a time-honored tradition in the mental health field, so there are no surprises there. But it’s a problem that’s been shifting and changing over the past 30 years, and that’s a good thing.

Now, if I can figure out a way to explain to my new therapist the nature and degree of my physical issues, so they can see my issues in light of my insomnia, pain, and physical sensitivities… and not spend an inordinate amount of time focusing exclusively on my past emotional trauma, that will be a good thing.

Blah… blah… blah…

Maybe it’s just the summer, but I haven’t been getting much of anything done, lately. My fire to accomplish at work has faded considerably, and I’m sort of slipping into the doldrums. I’ve been starting out the day with exercise, which is good… but a funny thing is happening, now that I’m waking up more in the a.m.  It seems that that old edgy drive has dulled considerably, and while I’m not as prone to hounding myself over every little detail, I also don’t feel particularly called to Get Things Done.

Is this what it feels like to be “normal?” To not have constant agitation? To not be perpetually on edge over some indeterminate goal? I wonder…

Well, anyway, at least I have been sleeping more, lately. I’m learning how to relax. It sounds odd to me, to say it, but I have had to learn how to relax — doing deep breathing, teaching my body to let go of the tension it’s holding, counting breaths, letting my muscles relax, allowing my body to be supported by the bed, when I lie down to sleep. Such a simple, elementary thing… that I couldn’t do very well at all, until a few months ago.

Well, at least there’s progress…

Actually, come to think of it, I have been getting a lot done — just not in that old frantic-stressed-harried way that used to drive everyone around me nuts. I’ve been doing some reading on neurofeedback therapy, trying to get it straight in my head — the different brain wave patterns, etc. I suspect there may be ways to do this on my own, without needing to seek out expensive therapists who don’t take my insurance. Well, we’ll see.

I’m not feeling particularly driven to pursue it. It would be interesting to know more, but I can wait. There are lots of other things I can do to occupy my attention quite well — some of them having to do with making a living, which is something I mustn’t neglect, no matter now relaxed and un-motivated I am.

Now, if I can just find a way to get the intense ringing in my ears to stop. It’s been particularly loud and obnoxious, and it’s been going on for days, and it’s driving me nuts.

I probably just need to sleep.

I’ll see….

Sleep mask + earplugs = magic

I actually slept for seven hours last night.

Amazing.  I haven’t slept that long without being completely and totally exhausted/depleted/at the end of my rope in quite some time.

I’ve been sleeping in the guest bedroom for the past few nights, so I can sleep through the night without being woken by my partner sitting up late reading, snoring, coughing, or otherwise being human. The only problem is, the guest bedroom has a great view of the back yard, and the back yard is surrounded by trees, and those trees are filled with lively birds that love to awake and sing-sing-sing at 4 a.m. I typically wake up around 4:30, when I sleep back there. I may be able to sleep uninterrupted all night, but the morning is a problem.

So, sleeping in the guest room isn’t necessarily the most sleep-conducive thing to do, unless I go to bed at 8 the night before, which is out of the question. My body just won’t do it. Nor will my mind.

But last night, I had to do something to take the edge off my exhaustion. I haven’t been sleeping very well at all for weeks, now. I have been getting 5-6 hours a night, which is just murder on me, because it coincides with some intense deadlines at work. Not only does the exhaustion take a toll on my cognitive functioning, but it also erodes my mood. Whereas I’m usually pretty “up” and can-do, and my outlook on life is quite open and ready for just about anything (within reason), when I’m over-tired, my mood just spirals down, and I end up in very, very bad places, where no amount of reason or motivation will drag me out.

I noticed it especially last night

I was really feeling good all day, until late in the evening, when I was going to bed. All of a sudden, I was melancholy and blue, feeling sorry for myself and feeling lonely and afraid and overwhelmed. I just couldn’t handle much of anything, and I started to get mired in that sad-sack poor-me swamp from which no good things come. I was starting to get intensely depressed and feel like there was no hope for me at all.

I started to think about my family and how we just don’t connect. I started to think about my new therapist and get down about how the relationship I have with them is an artificial one and no matter how I may feel we’re connecting, they are essentially a professional consultant, and — for my own sake — I need to keep the relationship somewhat arms-length. I started to think about my old therapist, and wonder how they’re doing.

I was spiraling down into that place I’ve often “gone” in therapy… that place where my old therapist loved to “camp out” and plumb the depths of my past, to see what terrible hurt had been done to me. And just as it used to make me really uncomfortable to delve into all that — not because I’m afraid to explore the places where I’ve been hurt (I’m only too happy to do that at times), but because they were making flawed assumptions and reaching inaccurate conclusions about what caused that depression, what was pulling me down, what I needed to deal with.

I can think of many, many instances where I spent a whole hour hashing and rehashing crap that was dragging me down, only to get all turned around and more frustrated… then I had a good night’s sleep, and everything was miraculously all better.

Seriously. I’m not just making this up to make the psychotherapists of  the world feel inadequate. The main problem wasn’t that someone was mean to me when I was ten. It was that I hadn’t been sleeping.

Fortunately, I recognized that I was going there, last night, as all the thoughts and fears and regrets tumbled around in my head like puppies in a basket.

Thankfully I had the presence of mind to notice it AND do something about it

“This is ridiculous,” I said to myself, as I sat in the bed with my journal, ready to write some maudlin entry about the day. I had had such a great day — clipping along, getting things done, making good progress… only to crash at the end. I could tell very clearly that I needed to sleep, and I knew that I needed to do something about being woken at 4 a.m. by exuberant birds.

So, I pulled out a sleep mask and earplugs I picked up a couple of months ago. I had tried to use the earplugs before, but they felt strange in my ears, and I hadn’t tried again. Last night, I was beyond caring how they felt in my ears, and I fit them in as far as they could go. I also found an extra fan and turned it on low — to circulate the air in the room and to drown out background noise. Then I pulled on the sleep mask, laid back, and counted my breaths that were echoing loud in my ears.

One of the problems with wearing earplugs with me, is that it makes the tinnitus louder. I have constant ringing in my ears, which gets almost deafening when I stop up my ears. It’s the craziest thing, and it drives me nuts. But last night, I was in no mood to care. I just laid back, focused on my breath, and dropped off to sleep.

And wonder of wonders, I actually slept till nearly 6 a.m. A record for me lately.

And I’m feeling great. Really ready to take on the tasks ahead of me today and make some good progress. That’s a good thing. Because today is D-Day for this project. Deadline Day. And I have to be sharp. Dullness is not an option.

Tomorrow I’m going to try the sleep mask and earplugs again. Little by little, I’ll work my way back to being able to sleep. And take care of all these little niggling sleep-related problems as I go. It just amazes me, how much a good night’s sleep does for my mental health and overall performance. It’s like night and day.

Sleep matters

When I’m overtired, I become moody, can’t focus, have problems with thinking tasks, become over-reactive, and I have a tendency to melt down. It gets ugly pretty quickly, and then I have to work double-time to make up for what I’ve said and done and try to repair the havoc I’ve created around me.

But when I’m rested, I’m happy, hearty and whole, and no matter what life throws at me, I can handle it. I’m a productive, positive partner and team member, and people love to be around me. No obstacle is too much for me, when I’m rested. And no event I’ve experienced is too big to overcome.

Which makes me wonder how much unwarranted exploration I’ve indulged in, during past therapy sessions, when I was trying like crazy to understand why I was so depressed and down… why I was struggling so. I overturned all kinds of rocks and plumbed the depths of my aching soul… and was unable to come to terms with just about anything I found there.

But magically, when I slept and had enough rest, suddenly it all became clear. And I could not only deal with what I found, I was also able to use it and change it and shift it and have it be an asset, not a liability in my life.

And I wonder how many other folks have similar issues to mine — psychotherapy clients struggling with lots of stuff not just because of the nature of the events, but because they haven’t slept well in weeks, if not months and years… and psychotherapists themselves being thwarted in their work because the person across from them is physically incapable of a positive, healthy outlook on life.

If I were a psychotherapist…

One of the first things I’d do in dealing with my clients, is find out how they’re doing physically. I’d find out of they’ve been sleeping, how they’ve been eating, if they’ve had much exercise. I’d find out what their physical health is like, find out when they’re at their best and when they’re at their worst, and try to schedule time with them when they were at (or near) their cognitive peak — or at the very least, avoid seeing them when they were at a low point.

I wouldn’t waste anyone’s precious time, processing their “stuff” when they were over-tired or hadn’t been eating or exercising regularly. And I wouldn’t agree to see someone who wasn’t taking care of themself. I suppose I would start out with a new client who wasn’t in the best of condition, but if they persisted in neglecting their bodies and not getting enough sleep, I would drop them like a hot potato. Sure, they would be a natural source of unending revenue, but if I only took clients who were likely to need my help till the end of their born days, I’d be a pretty crappy therapist.

Most of all, I’d focus on the sleep thing. Especially if someone had sustained a TBI. Sleep deprivation makes you crazy, overly suggestible, unpredictable, and easily manipulated. Spy/intelligence agencies have known that for years, and they’ve used it to their advantage. But getting enough rest each night is one of the primarly building blocks of good health. If you don’t care about your health — mental or physical — then how much you sleep shouldn’t matter. But for me, it matters a whole lot.

And I look forward to getting more of it.

A Perilous Relief – The Physical Backdrop(s) of My Risk-Taking Behavior(s)

At the risk of sounding like I’m sitting around feeling sorry for myself, let me tell you about my physical experience. I don’t want pity, I don’t want clucking of tongues, I don’t want you to feel sorry for me. This is just my experience, and I’ve acclimated to it over the years. But I’d be lying, if I told you it’s easy…

To fully appreciate just how my risk-taking and danger-seeking constitute attempts to soothe my overworked physical/mental/emotional system, you’d have to understand just how anxious, sensorily overloaded, and painfully sensitive I tend to be. And you’d have to understand the impact that repeated injuries, including head injuries, have had on my everyday life. I have, in fact, sustained numerous mild traumatic brain injuries since age 7, the experience of which is consistent with my sensory and other physical issues. (See http://www.traumaticbraininjury.com/content/symptoms/mildtbisymptoms.html for a list of mild tbi symptoms.)

All my life, I have had issues with pain and handling sensory input. As a child, I had a hard time differentiating between different sounds, but at the same time, my hearing was very sensitive. I was very attuned to fine details, and I was highly distractable. I experienced touch as pain, which caused many forms of regular human contact to be uncomfortable, even painful for me. I was not very limber, I had trouble touching my toes, and doing exercises like somersaults was difficult. Cartwheels were out of the question. I was an active child, and I loved to climb and play and join in with games, but my coordination wasn’t always the best, and I was often picked last for team games in school.

I loved to play sports, but I didn’t have a very broad range of abilities. For example, I loved to play softball. I loved it so much, that I wanted to become a professional softball player, when I grew up. Baseball didn’t appeal to me, because having a small, white object hurled at me scared the bejesus out of me. I had a hard time judging distance and speed, and the larger, softer softball wasn’t nearly as frightening to me.

There were a couple of problems with my pro ballplayer aspirations, though. The first was, I had a hard time catching fly balls. When my dad would practice with me and hit flies to me, I couldn’t judge the distance to the ball, or I shrank away from it in fear. My preference was to let the ball drop and then pick it up and throw it to another player. But that kind of choice-making in a serious ball game would have cost my team dearly.

Playing the outfield was not an option for me.

Sliding was out of the question. I was to hesitant and too gawky to do it very well. And the pain that came afterwards was inhibitive, whenever I considered sliding.

I couldn’t react quickly enough on the spot to play shortstop.

My coordination issues kept me from being a very good baseman. My reaction time wasn’t consistent, and my ability to catch and tag wasn’t very good. I wanted to play shortstop, but it made me too nervous, and I couldn’t think and react quickly enough to make a very good player at that position.

I made up for all this by throwing myself wholeheartedly into the small range of activities I could do well. I had too much trouble with fielding and reacting quickly to be an all-round good player. What I could do, was play third base, hit, and be a good team captain. Third base was a kind of in-between position that was half-baseman and half shortstop, that let me be in the infield, but in a more marginal position. I was a pretty decent batter, and I also learned I could switch hit. I’m right-handed, so I always thought that I should bat right-handed. But I actually found that I was better able to bat left-handed. It just felt so much more natural to me. Most of all, I was a good team leader — a captain who led by the example of just throwing myself into the game and doing my best at any and all times, even if I messed up, now and then. I think, if anything, my spirit helped the team more than any amount of technical skill.

But still, it wasn’t easy to come to terms with the fact that I just didn’t have what it took to become a professional softball player.

When I was young, there wasn’t really anything like a diagnosis of sensory integration dysfunction or sensory perception disorders, and attentional challenges weren’t yet on the radar. All I know/knew was, I was immersed in a seething cauldron of sensory input and there was really no escape.

I’d like to say things got better when I grew up, but I can’t say that’s so. All I can say is, I’ve gotten used to these problems, which doesn’t make me very happy, actually. But there it is.

Below is a run-down of the persistent physical issues I’ve had to deal with most of my life, and that still plague me intermittently. I’ve tried to be as thorough as possible, so you can get an idea of the scope and intensity of my “sensory landscape.” These issues can range from mild to extreme, and they manifest with varying degrees of frequency. I do not experience all of them simultaneously, but many can appear concurrent with others.

Ringing in my ears (tinnitus)

I have a constant ringing in my ears. I’ve had this as long as I can remember. It used to drive me crazy as a teenager, but eventually I got used to it. It’s a high-pitched whine, not so much ringing — a very thin, reedy, penetrating whine “over” several other deeper tones. It rarely goes away. If there’s no ringing when I wake up, it usually starts by mid-morning. It’s worse when I’m tired and/or stressed and/or have allergies. It’s better when I’m rested.

Vertigo, Dizzy-ness, Light-headedness

I have occasional feelings of being “woozy” and/or losing my balance suddenly. Sometimes it can last for a day or more. Sometimes, when it’s really bad, it lasts for days — nearly a week, in the past. I have to be very careful that I don’t fall, when it’s particularly bad. Holding onto things, keeping myself rigidly upright and intently focusing my attention on something in front of me helps. Tactile activities help me focus — holding onto things, making contact with things around me, like fabrics and curtains, arms of chair, objects held in my hand. It’s much worse when I am tired, and when I have allergies, it’s worse. It gets better when I’m rested, but it usually takes at least a day or so to clear up, even when I am rested.

Balance (Vestibular) details (when they’re at their most extreme)

When I’m experiencing “vestibular challenges,” the whole world spins wildly around me… swaying and shifting. Every time I move, no matter how small the motion, I feel like I’m going to fall over. I cannot move my head without being overwhelmed by waves of nausea that wash over me in progressive swells. When I turn my head this way or that — I never know when, or which way — there is a swooshing sound in my ears that is sometimes accompanied by pressure and pain. My ears hurt me with a dull ache that’s sharp at the center… like thick sticks that have small points being pressed into my eardrums. My stomach lurches, and my head pounds with a sick headache. A whining, whistling, high-pitched roar fills my ears, and through the intense ringing, I hear muffled sounds that annoy me with distraction. Even when I stop and hold still, the sense of imbalance continues, like a bucket of water that’s been swung to and fro, sloshing back and forth for a while, even after it’s set down on a level surface.

Going about my everyday business, I sometimes have a sudden sense of falling that eclipses and overrides all other sensory input in my system. The room spins, my legs become weak, and my head swirls in sickening waves of disequilibrium. The walls seem to move before my very eyes, the floor rolls beneath me, and my body feels like it’s swaying. For as long as the feeling lasts, I cannot think, I cannot talk, I cannot react to anything around me. I cannot hear or see much of anything around me. I’m dimly aware that there are objects or people nearby, but they don’t register. I’m faintly aware that people are talking to me, but I cannot respond immediately. All I can do, is try to right myself, try not to fall, try to fight back the waves of sickening vertigo, and hang on, till the nausea passes.

My condition does not seem to respond to “standard treatments”. I’ve tried ear drops and anti-vertigo medications, and they did nothing for me. I also wish I could just write this off as a simple balance issue and have that suffice. But there’s a whole lot more to my situation, than being off-balance. Vestibular issues are just the beginning.

Coordinated Balance (“Proprioceptive?”) Issues

I also have issues with sensing where my body is in relation to the world around me (“proprioceptive” issues). These tend to kick in most intensely when I’m off-balance. I cannot feel where my body is in relation to things around me, and I bump into objects all the time — corners of tables, sides of counters, chairs I’m passing… I also knock things off flat surfaces, if they are too close to the edge. I have a hard time gauging how quickly my body is moving in any one direction, which can cause me to misjudge distances and be uncoordinated. I fumble at picking up objects, I drop things I’m holding, and I tend to have trouble judging distances between myself and others. I also inadvertently bump or hit people when I’m just trying to reach out to them or move past them. When I’m trying to keep my balance, I tend to (for lack of a better word) “proprioceptively overreact,” which makes me either bump into things and people around me or shy away from them abruptly, neither of which is interpersonally optimal.

Hearing

My hearing is also affected by my simply not being able to pay attention to anything but staying upright and not running into things. I can be so intent on trying to stay balanced, that I don’t hear anything around me immediately. I’ll hear things, but they don’t immediately register. And when they do register, I’m often so far behind in figuring out what’s going on, I get the message turned around and am not successful in responding to what I’m hearing right away. When I’m really struggling to navigate contact with the world around me, it can take a few minutes for sounds to sink in and be processed in my brain. I hear them, but I don’t process them immediately. This can be a problem when someone is talking to me. I won’t hear them for a few seconds, and then when I do hear them, I am so busy trying to figure out what they just said to me that I miss what I am able to hear. This is less than optimal.

One of the most annoying and disorienting auditory aspects of my bad days is the whooshing sound, which comes and goes when I’m “off” — sometimes quickly, sometimes gradually. I can rarely predict when it’s going to happen (although during allergy season it is usually more pronounced). It often takes me by surprise and thoroughly distracts me from what I’m doing. I’m usually so caught up in going about my daily business, I don’t notice the dull roar or the achy pressure or even the whooshing sound until it’s unmistakable. And when I finally hear this whooshing sound, I tend to feel nauseous and dizzy. I seem to associate it with feeling lightheaded and sick on my stomach, and whenever I hear it — whether I’m nauseous and dizzy or not — I cringe. I freeze. My rest of body seems to remember what it feels like to hear that whooshing sound, and it reacts accordingly.

Sight

My vision can be affected, too. When I’m off-balance, and I’m not well in-touch with the world around me, my vision gets “re-assigned” to the task of helping me keep my balance. It’s hard to describe, but when I’m “off,” I can visually detect things around me, but I don’t readily process what that means. It’s like with my hearing — I know I’m seeing something, but my brain is too busy trying to figure out how to just keep steady and parse out all the input coming in, to interpret what that something I’m seeing is.

Probably the best quick example I can give of this, is from a time when I was driving through a parking lot, and I literally didn’t see another driver, who nearly hit me, and I didn’t hear him honking his horn at me, until I was nearly out of the parking lot. I was at an office supplies store, and I’d just bought myself a new headset for my cell phone, so I could drive hands-free and still talk on the phone. I try to avoid talking on the cell phone while I drive, but I was hoping that a headset might let me at least be able to accept incoming calls without being a hazard to other drivers.

I sat in my parked car for a few minutes, figuring out how to put the headset together, then I placed it on my head, positioned the mic in front of my mouth, and slowly pulled out into the parking lot. As I was rolling towards the exit, I noticed that a car was pulling out of a side lane just ahead of me. The headset felt like it was slipping off my head, and the microphone wasn’t staying in front of my mouth. My attention was focused intently on the feel of the headset on my head and the mic at my mouth.

As though in slow motion, I saw the front of the other car inch out into my path. I didn’t slow down, but continued to drive towards the exit. The headset felt strange on my head, and I could hardly think of anything but keeping my head straight. The front the other car was rapidly approaching the driver’s side front fender of my own vehicle, but I continued to drive on. I didn’t veer, I didn’t slow down, I didn’t speed up. I didn’t react at all — I just drove on. Only dimly was I aware that I had barely slipped past the front of the other car and avoided a collision. It never occurred to me that I should react in some way. It never occurred to me that I should interact with the other car.

As I continued to coast towards the exit, I could hear a beeping in the distance. The headset on my head continued to bother me with its pressure on my one ear and the feel of the microphone near the side of my cheek. The mic wasn’t pressing against my skin, but I was keenly aware of its proximity. I really felt like I was losing my balance, and I held my head absolutely still to keep the apparatus properly positioned. The beeping continued, and I wondered if someone’s car alarm had gone off. But the sound wasn’t rhythmic or regular, so it must have come from somewhere else.

I looked in my rear-view mirror, and I saw driver of the car I’d narrowly missed yelling and beeping his horn at me and wildly gesticulating, pointing at his head. At first, it didn’t sink in, that he was communicating with me, but when I looked up again, I realized that his behavior was directed at me. And he was furious. The headset kept slipping off the side of my head, ever so slightly, but enough to distract me.

Realizing what was going on around me, at last, I tore it off my head and threw it on the passenger seat beside me. When the headset was off, it was as though the lights went on in a dark room, and someone suddenly turned up the volume on life all around me. I could suddenly see. I could suddenly hear. Suddenly, I wasn’t sitting in an enclosed cell with a headset on, I was driving a car in a parking lot. I got out of the parking lot as quickly as I could, merged into traffic, and went back to work, shaken but grateful that I hadn’t done any damage.

I haven’t used that headset at all, since I bought it.

My vision and hearing aren’t the only senses that get “whacked” when I’m out of sync. My taste and smell do, too. My sense of smell tends to be either all-on, or all-off. It’s very rare that I smell something “normally” and can take deep breaths of scents, like perfumes or foods. If I get too strong a whiff of something, it makes my head spin and really overloads me. And if I’m already off balance, or I’m not connecting well with the world around me, my sense of smell sometimes completely turns off. My sense of taste is even less predictable. It’s muted and vague, and I often judge the foods I like more by their texture, than by their taste.

Touch – Pain

My sense of touch is quite variable — like my sense of smell, either it’s all-on, or it’s all-off. I can literally slam into things, and never feel the impact… sometimes I don’t know I slammed into something until I see the bruises on my leg the next day. But my sense of touch in my hands is very active. When I’m feeling nervous or agitated, running my hands over objects — like the interior upholstery and surfaces of my nephew’s new BMW — is very soothing for me. I’ve always loved satiny fabrics, and when I was a kid, I couldn’t fall asleep unless I rubbed the satin edge of my blanket. I rubbed that smooth, soothing edge so long and so often, I wore a hole in it!

On the other hand, I can experience a lot of tactile discomfort. A simple human touch can feel like a blow to me, and when people put their hand on my arm, sometimes it feels like they’re smacking me. Hard. It’s very strange and difficult to describe, and it makes me very uncomfortable to talk about it, but I experience pain and discomfort from things like clothing, hugs, harmless social touches, and jewelry. I don’t wear any bracelets or extra rings or necklaces, or even a watch, because the contact tends to be very uncomfortable — and distracting — for me.

There are a number of different kinds of tactile discomfort I experience. They are not like muscular pain, but are very much on the surface and localized in my skin surface. Here are some details and descriptions:

Burning – It feels like being burned with a hot coal(s), like embers are laid on top of my skin and are burning down through to the bone. This occurs often on my upper arms and across my shoulders and back. It’s usually worse when I’m tired or have a lot of stimuli coming in on me, and its origin is internal in nature (I’ll call it “autonomic”).

Twisting – It feels like I’m having my skin twisted by two hands having a firm grip on my skin, and twisting in opposite directions (like the “Indian burns” we kids used to give each other). It is mostly on my outer forearms and wrists, and it’s worse when I’m tired or stressed. (Autonomic)

Healing burn – It feels like having second-degree burns that are healing under my skin – not on the surface, not down at the bone, but just under the surface of my skin. This occurs mostly on my outer forearms and wrists, and it’s aggravated by having long sleeves. It’s usually worse when I’m tired or have a lot going on around me. (Autonomic)

Chafing – It feels like being rubbed by by a rough surface – either a piece of rough material, or in some cases, a surface that is a little sticky or ‘grippy’ and pulls my skin a little as it rubs. Some people talk about “sandpaper” type of pain, and this might be close to it, but it’s not exactly. It sometimes feels like a moist, tacky texture being rubbed across my skin. I experience this mostly on the tops of my thighs, aggravated by my slacks. Sometimes I feel it on my arms, and it’s aggravated by the touch of light clothing. (Autonomic)

Prickling – This feels like being jabbed with little tiny pins over an extended area. It’s somewhat similar to “sandpaper” type of pain, but not exactly. It sometimes feels like coarse sandpaper against my skin — not rubbed across it, but held in place, so it irritates me with its presence, but it doesn’t rake. I usually experience this when my clothing brushes my forearms and wrists, also happens without prompting on my upper arms and across my shoulders. (Autonomic)

Blistering – It feels like my skin is blistering and cracking, like paint cracking in the sun, or my lips cracking from being chapped. It usually happens when I am just lying still and trying to relax, like when I’m in bed and trying to sleep. The more I relax and just breathe, the more my skin feels like it’s blistering and cracking and peeling. It happens when my skin is exposed to the air and doesn’t have anything over top of it. It’s much worse when I am tired, but it can happen pretty much anytime. It often takes me by surprise. (Autonomic)

Brushing/Raking – This feels like having my skin brushed/raked/ stroked with a metal-bristle hair brush – the sharp ends pulled across my skin, not pressed in really deeply, but just on the surface, where it irritates and I can’t get away from it. I usually feel this on the tops of my thighs — when my pants brush against my skin lightly. It’s not startlingly painful, but it does hurt. (Autonomic)

Smacking – This feels like being hit hard with an open hand or broad surface – and then the pain scatters out across my skin, as though it were a campfire that had something land in it, and the coals and sparks scattered all around it. It usually happens when someone touches me for a few minutes (an short but extended period of time). Like when my partner put their hand on my forearm when we were driving down to visit family for Christmas. They just laid their hand on my forearm affectionately. It really hurt, and I could feel the pain spreading out around where their hand lay on my forearm. The pain continued, even after they took their hand away. (This is an interactive type of pain, brought on by human contact.)

Banging – This feels like being struck with a blunt instrument – and then the impact reverberates throughout my body. This usually occurs when someone touches me briefly without warning, often in casual conversation, like when my brother-in-law was talking to me at a restaurant one Christmas, and he was harmlessly touching my arm (in a friendly, appropriately affectionate way). This also happens when someone tries to hug me. I have also experienced this when my partner was checking me over for ticks, and they touched the backs of my legs, near my knees. The pressure was very light, but it felt like they were poking me very hard with a blunt object. (Interactive).

Please keep in mind that (thankfully) not all of these types of pain happen simultaneously, and they tend to vary. From one minute to the next, I can go from a relatively pain-free state, to waves of strong physical discomfort. I can be 75% fine one day, and be 15% fine, the next. One type of clothing can be unbearable for me, while others are benign, even pleasurable. And a person’s sudden touch can be excruciating one day, while the next, it can be welcome and enjoyable. “Pain” can also be relative, varying from mildly uncomfortable to downright agonizing. But I differentiate it from “discomfort” in that its degree is different.

Discomfort is something I can deal with, but pain is something that every fiber of my being seeks to escape. An itch is uncomfortable for me. Fabric sensitivity, even at its slightest, feels painful to me. It’s not just discomfort, which to me to me is just annoying and transitory. It’s pain.

My autonomic pain seems to be exacerbated by the qualities of the things I contact — the chemical makeup of fabrics, the quality of light and sound around me, the intensity of the sensation I have (such as the strength of pressure on my skin from the cell phone headset). It tends to get worse, also, when I’m over-tired or I’ve got a lot of different sensory input to process. I haven’t taken the time to figure out what kinds of textiles or materials give me the most trouble. Some days, everything gives me a lot of trouble. I just kind of go with it, and see how I’m doing, where I’m at, and I adjust accordingly.

My interactive pain tends to be exacerbated and complicated by my vestibular and proprioceptive issues. Being unable to gauge distances from people who are reaching out to touch me (no matter how appropriately), makes it difficult to A) prepare myself for their contact, or B) react appropriately. It is difficult for me to receive hugs from friends and loved-ones when my sensory issues are kicking in, and this contributes to my social awkwardness. I tend to stiffen and get tense, which actually makes the experience worse for everyone — for me, because it heightens my agitation, and for them, because they sense a reluctance from me that is physical rather than emotional or interpersonal, and their contact tends to become a bit more clumsy. Stress and strain tend to sharpen my pain, so when my vestibular and proprioceptive issues are acting up, the startling experience of a sudden physical contact can make even a simple touch extremely painful.

The different types of pain I experience can be helped by things like sleep, immobility, keeping away from the source of irritation, movement, stretching, steering clear of people and physical contact, preparing for physical contact with others, or just distracting myself from the sensation by some sort of activity. Analgesics like Advil are not very effective, although they do sometimes take the edge off things. A hot shower can be very relaxing, and swimming in a heated pool is probably the thing that helps me the most. Depending on the type of pain, and how well I’m rested, sometimes relaxing and being immobile makes it worse. Other times, it makes it better. It all depends how I’m feeling at the time, and how well I can redirect my attention to things other than the pain. I haven’t been able to figure out exactly how best to address this. I usually just think about something else and keep myself busy to keep my mind off it, as there’s really no escaping it, when the pain is in “full swing”.

Touch – Insensitivity

One of the other tactile issues I experience is on the extreme opposite end of the spectrum — lack of sensation. When I’m off balance, and my proprioceptive sense is diminished, I tend to run into things, but I often don’t feel it right away. I sometimes notice a sharp shooting pain when I bump into things, but the sensation disappears immediately, and I won’t know how badly I’ve bruised myself till later. I have also accidentally cut myself and not felt it until some time later. At times, when I have really cut myself deeply, or I’ve bumped myself hard enough to get a deep bruise, I’ve been so intensely focused on what I was doing at the time, I hardly noticed the pain and only realized I’d hurt myself when I felt the blood or saw the bruise later.

I suspect this may have something to do with adrenaline — my adrenaline is pumping so hard, at times, as I try to keep myself together, that it seems to numb me to the pain. I’m not a doctor and I don’t know nearly enough about human physiology, but my experience when I unwittingly injure myself is very similar to when I was injured while playing sports — I’d be so intent on the game and so “adrenalized” that I would hardly notice the pain. Again, I’m no doctor, but that’s how I experience it.


A Perilous Relief – Table of Contents

An answer right under my nose

Crazy me… Here I sit in my study, periodically looking up at my calendar, now and then, to remind myself what the date is… I have a “zen art” calendar that has pictures and sayings on it, and I have tended to contemplate those sayings to help keep me on track. But in the past month, for some strange reason, I haven’t looked that closely at the saying on my calendar.

It is:

So whatever you do, just do it, without expecting anyone’s help. Don’t spoil your effort by seeking for shelter. Protect yourself and grow upright to the sky; that is all.

Yeah, that.

Just the answer I’ve needed over the past months, as I’ve been struggling with my brain’s limitations. Hidden disabilities… Invisible problems… Issues that I never had to worry about before… Difficulties others do not know I have and don’t expect me to have… Falling behind and forgetting to keep on top of myself and my activities and my state of mind and heart and soul, not to mention body… I’ve hassled and hassled over a lot of stuff, especially as it’s become more and more apparent to me.

I’ve been getting some help from folks along the way who supported me the best way they knew how — by offering me their sympathies and lending me their ear. And it’s helped to know my difficulties were not only in my head, and that someone else could recognize them and offer me encouragement — as well as correction.

But I had a revelation while I was out working in my yard this morning. I was raking up deadfall from the winter, spreading organic fertilizer (it’s dried chicken manure, but ‘organic fertilizer’ sounds so much more glamorous) on my grass, and uncovering the shoots and leaves of tiny plants looking for the sun, and it occurred to me that something was shifting with me. Something was changing. Along with spring. Along with this new job I have. Along with all the changes going on in the world. Something in me had shifted.

Suddenly, I felt ready to fight on.

Maybe it was watching HBO’s special PACQUIAO/HATTON 24/7, last night, which follows two boxers training and living their lives, leading up to their boxing match next month that reminded me what I fighter I really am. Maybe it was seeing the “old dawgs” who had been fighters and were now trainers, who were living their lives just as they were, pugilistic damage notwithstanding. Maybe it was watching the training, seeing the fighters and all the others around them going through the motions of preparing for the face-off.

Maybe it was the last three weeks I’ve had on the job, finding out just how much harder I have to work at this learning business. Maybe it was figuring out (yet again) that I need to not focus just on job security, but on employment security, and not let the political scene at work distract me from my skill-building and practice. Maybe it was getting to a point at work, where the folks I work with, side-by-side each day are starting to include me in their conversations. Maybe it was being told that my contract may be up sooner than I expected, so I may have to go out looking for a new job, sooner rather than later.

Maybe it was the unseasonally hot spring morning. And the mayflies swarming me. And the physical labor of raking and lifting and hauling and pushing and wheeling. And the stink of chicken manure dust on my jeans and the sweat streaming down my back. And the realization that I haven’t taken nearly as good care of my house and my yard, as I should in the past few years, and that sustaining a mild TBI that threw me for a loop is no longer a viable excuse, now that I know about it, I know about my issues, and I am able to do something about them.

Maybe it was the acceptance of the fact that I’m probably going to be really, really tired much of the time I’m awake… and reaching a conscious decision to just learn to live with that and not let it stop me. I want to live my life. I want to have a full and complete life, and I’m not going to get that lying in bed. I am usually fatigued. Even if I do take two-hour naps on my days I’m at home, I am once again fatigued in a matter of hours after I wake up. That’s just how it is. Of course, I need to not endanger myself in the process and end up asleep at the wheel or convulsing with stress/exhaustion-induced seizures, but underlying fatigue is something I’ll likely just have to live with, the rest of my born days.

The headaches and general body pains and joint issues and ringing in my ears will likely be with me the rest of my born days, too. Nobody I’ve talked to has been able to figure them out or give me anything to ease them, and I just don’t have time to accommodate modern medicine’s enthusiastic cluelessness and get on with my life. None of my doctors have time for me. They literally don’t. They won’t take more than 20-30 minutes talking to me, and they sure as heck aren’t going to invest more time in understanding my underlying condition(s) from a wholistic standpoint. That’s not their thing, and I can no sooner expect them to change their ways, than I can expect the deer to stop eating my shrubbery towards the end of a deeply harsh winter.

I’m perfectly capable of functioning, even if I’m exhausted. And have a blazing headache. And creak and groan with every movement. And am having trouble keeping my balance. And can barely hear what’s going on around me for the whining roar in my ers. Heck, I’ve been doing it for years — and a lot longer than since my fall in 2004. I’ve been dog-tired, hounded by auditory static, and wracked by pain and for years. And yet I fight on.

Yes, I fight on. It’s what I do. It’s who I am. It’s what I’m about. I have friends who are all into peace and love, and that’s fine. I value their friendship, and they’re good people. But I’m a fighter. And while peace and love are wonderful, I’m not the kind of person who lets the absence of peace and love just stop me. If I did, I wouldn’t be where I am today. And I wouldn’t have been out today, working on my yard and my house on my day off work. I might have been out and about, but I would have been working on something that was the property of someone else. And probably feeling pretty sorry for myself, too.

Working up a sweat today, I realized that in the past several weeks — especially in the past few days — I’ve cycled around again to a point where I am looking less and less for sympathy regarding my condition; less and less, I am seeking assistance from others. Less and less, I’m asking my partner to pick up slack for me. Less and less, I’m looking to my co-workers to cut me slack. Less and less, I’m expecting my job to be secure and my work situation to be ideal. Less and less, I am in need of perfection — or accommodation, in order to succeed.

More and more, I’m looking more within for what I need. More and more, I am starting to look within for my own resources to see where and how I can help myself. More and more, I’m “giving up” on the medical establishment in a fairly good-natured way, allowing them their limitations, while not letting them hold me back or get me down. More and more, I’m just buckling down and doing the job in front of me, and it feels pretty good.

Now, on and off for about a year, I’ve been on a kind of quest to find out what issues I have and figure out what they mean to me. It’s been disconcerting and upsetting and unsettling to find out that in some ways I’m a lot worse off than I ever guessed. And it’s put me in a more vulnerable place than I care to be. I’ve been learning to reach out and ask for help. I’m also learning to see where and when I actually need help. That might not seem like such a huge deal, but for me it is.

But I have to say that trying to get others to help me is a bit of a losing proposition for me. I have a heck of a time articulating what I need, and frankly, I’d rather do a lot of things myself, than look to others. I have a hard time not only figuring out what I need from others, but also telling them what that is. And then I have an even harder time making sure they get it right. It’s just not where my skills lie.

And seeking for shelter in the face of adversity is also not in my nature. The “shelter” that others offer me is all too often not suited to me — it treats me like a victim, a hapless individual who has been acted-upon, rather than someone who acts upon my world. I have tried to find shelter with friends and therapists and family members and co-workers for much of the past year, and it’s just not working anymore. Not anymore.

So, I’m sorta kinda giving up on that. Doing for myself is really my first nature, and I need to get back to that. Blazing a trail through the jungles of my life is also innately me, and I need to get back to doing that with gusto. Yes, I have sustained multiple mild traumatic brain injuries over the course of my life. Yes, my difficulties have wreaked havoc with a lot of aspects of my life. Yes, things that others find really easy are very difficult for me, and things that others find difficult are quite easy for me. I’m at odds with the world. Always have been, most likely always will be.

And I’m okay with it. It’s just who I am. And I’ve been separated from that truth about myself for too long.

Now, I’m doing something about that. I’m getting back to just being who and what I am. I’m getting back to doing by just doing, rather than noodling everything through, up-down-left-right-inside-out, and mucking it all up in the process. I’m getting back to being okay in some ways and not-okay in others, and allowing that to be what is. I’m getting back to doing what I do, exactly the way I do it, and just letting myself be.

So whatever I do, I’ll just do it, without expecting anyone’s help. I won’t spoil my effort by seeking for shelter. I’ll protect myself and grow upright to the sky; that is all.

Yeah, that.

And my ears are ringing

My tinnitus has been driving me nuts, lately.

I just needed to mention that, because it’s one of the most constant aspects of my life experience, and it’s one of the most neglected.

I went to see a neuro once, in hopes of sorting some of this stuff out, and when I asked them about the ringing in my ears, they shrugged their shoulders and said they didn’t know what it might be.

This makes me crazy!!!

Isn’t tinnitus one of the biggies that go along with TBI?

Isn’t TBI a neurological condition?

Aren’t neurologists specialists in neurological conditions?

Why the shrugging of shoulders? Because it’s not posing a danger to my life and limb, or because the neuro is/was clueless about it, or because they have no “cure” for it, so they’re not interested in learning more?

I don’t get it.

I constantly come across people talking about it. Okay, so it’s not life-threatening (that I can think of), and it’s more annoying than anything else, in some cases, but it’s such a part of my life, it seems disproportionately dismisssed.

Enough cursing the darkness. Here’s a candle:

Tinnitus Evaluation and Management Considerations for Persons with Mild Traumatic Brain Injury at http://www.asha.org/members/aud/TinnitusTBI

I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but it’s a start.

And here are Google search results on head injury/brain injury/tbi and tinnitus.

Happy reading, for those afflicted like me.

I’m listening… but I didn’t hear you…

Here’s a common problem I’ve got – and yes, it’s a problem, not an “issue” or a “challenge”.

I’ll be doing something, like writing a blog post or reading something, and someone will ask or say something to me that I’m supposed to respond to.

I’ll say “Yes,” or “Okay,” or something else that indicates that I’ve heard and understood, but I’ll realize a split-second later that I have no clue what they just said to me. And I don’t have the faintest idea what I’ve just agreed to.

This is a problem. It happens all the time when I’m asked to do a chore, take out the trash, feed the pets, or carry something to another part of the house. I will respond as though I heard and understood and agreed and will do this thing. But I won’t have a clue what just happened.

And then I get in trouble, because either:

  • I’ll ask a few minutes later what I was supposed to be doing, which makes it look like I wasn’t paying proper attention to the person talking to me, or
  • I’ll forget what I was supposed to be doing, and it won’t get done, which gets me in hot water

If I can explain to the person talking to me that I’m having trouble processing what they’re saying to me, then that can help. But I don’t always have the time to do that. And sometimes by the time I figure out that I’m lost, I’m in hot water.

I spend a lot of time being in hot water. Especially at home.

At work, this happens periodically, but I can usually cover it up, because I understand my job so well that I can usually figure out ahead of time what I’m supposed to be doing, and then I’ll do it on my own time. Or I can “push back” on the people who are all over me to do something, saying that I need to do it properly, and quit pressuring me, already.

From what I’ve observed, this is what happens when I “lag” with my processing

  1. Someone says something to me
  2. I sorta kinda register that someone is talking to me
  3. After a few seconds, my brain kicks in and starts paying attention
  4. I realize that I’m not paying close enough attention, and I start really tuning in
  5. I realize that the person who is talking to me has said a bunch of things that didn’t register, so I start “rewinding” what just happened to see what I missed
  6. I get a lot of visuals about what I’m being told — different pictures flash through my head, some of them fit what I’m being told, others don’t fit at all — and I try to figure out the context of what’s being said to me… this all happens in split seconds, and it’s usually accompanied by a fair amount of anxiety, because I’ve gotten in so much trouble for getting things turned around, ever since I was a little kid, and I don’t want to get in trouble again!
  7. While I’m rewinding and replaying what happened before, this person is still talking to me, telling me more things I should be paying attention to, but my attention is divided between present and past
  8. Best case scenario: the directive is short and simple and familiar to me… Worst case scenario: what I’m being told is something new to me that I’m not following very well, I don’t have a context for it, and I’m getting all turned around
  9. If I’m lucky, the person talking to me finishes up and believes I understand what’s expected of me. If I’m not at all lucky, I am completely turned around and need to ask for help understanding, I don’t say things the right way, and the person talking to me gets really pissed off at me… starts to yell at me for not paying attention, and tells me I’m pathetic or an idiot or something like that

It’s not that I wasn’t listening. I just didn’t hear them.

Between the ringing in my ears and the many, many ways my senses are working overtime… and the way my brain is working overtime trying to make sense of it all, it takes me a little while to switch gears and get a clue that someone is trying to communicate with me. It’s not that i don’t want to listen — it just takes me a little longer to do it.

I wish the communication process were simpler with me. I think I may start asking people close to me to give me a heads-up that they’re going to say something to me… like I’ve done with deaf folks I’ve known, who have wanted me to stomp my feet on the floor or do something else to let them know that I’m about to engage with them.

Well, there are lots of areas for improvement, and I’m figuring out more every day. It’s a process, really. Something that just develops over time. And if I just don’t give up and keep going and keep trying and keep working at it, someway, somehow, I do manage to get it all sorted.

I am listening… and eventually I will hear you.

TBI Symptom of the Day – Such trouble sleeping!

I had another rough night, two nights ago. Probably had something to do with my visit to the doctor, but then again, I haven’t been sleeping all that well, lately, anyway.

I was up at 2:00 a.m., drenched in sweat — I’m having a hard time moderating my body temperature, these days, as the seasons change. I’m either too warm or too cold, and when I get too hot, I sweat like crazy, when then soaks my pajamas and then I get chilled.

It’s just not good.

I tried listening to my guided imagery CD that’s meant to help me sleep, but it wasn’t working. I considered taking a shower to get all the sweat off me (sometimes the odor of my perspiration keeps me awake).. but then I opted for just changing my t-shirt and changing bedrooms.

The guest bedroom in the back of the house is quieter and smaller, and it feels sheltered. It doesn’t have much furniture in it; it’s pretty bare-bones, in fact. And it’s where we keep our extra stuff, like dirty laundry, shelves I have not taken out of the box and hung, yet, odd luggage that we can’t fit anywhere else, and a half-working multi-function fax-scanner-printer that bought the farm many years ago, but doubles as our outgoing fax machine (which we need surprisingly often). But the room has a nice feel to it, and it’s like a sanctuary to me when I’m not feeling well. It’s also where I take afternoon naps on the weekends, sometimes. It’s a nice room, the humble features notwithstanding.

I pulled a nice heavy quilt out of the closet, spread it across the bed, got my pillow, and climbed in. There’s something about making a “cave” out of my covers that makes me feel safer and more comfortable. I think the difference in the temperature in the room — my usual bedroom tends to be hot, and I’ve had the humidifier running to help avoid sinus issues — and the quiet in the back of the house really helped. Plus, it was a change of pace for me. I usually only sleep in the back guest room if I’m sick and I need to keep away from everyone.

I guess that wee hour of the morning was one of those times. Because I was sick. Tired and overtaxed and worried about my health and wondering if/when this TBI business is ever going to let up on me, and give me a break.

It could be that it never does. It could be, I have to keep dealing with the fallout — emotional, social, interpersonal, logistical, professional — all my live-long days. That probably will be the case. But on days like today, when I’m just so tired and I’m so fed up with having to navigate the world with different and/or diminished resources, I start to lose faith in my ability to cope.

I can cope, of course. I always have and I always will. I wouldn’t have gotten this far in life, with all those head traumas and all those tough experiences with family and friends and jobs and just daily living, if I didn’t have it in me to cope. I’ve been coping since I was seven years old, which means I’ve been at this for 36 years. But on days like today, when I’m tired and feeling like I’m falling behind in everything and I don’t know how I’m going to keep up, I start to lose faith.

Until I find something really great to perk me up. Like the fact that the speed of my broadband connection has improved exponentially, far beyond what I ever dreamed possible from my ISP, and I’m on good terms with my co-workers who also enjoy my company (when I’m absorbed in thoughts that perk me up, of course).

I think that if anything has spared me, in the years after my various TBI’s, it’s my continued sense of … well, adventure. And my tenacity. There’s a joke that with Alzheimer’s you get to meet new people every day, which (even by my fringe standards) is twisted and callous. But in a way, that’s how I feel about my own neurological issues. There is literally never a boring moment. If I approach each new situation with a sense of curiosity, even wonder, and I don’t get too hung up on the fact that I tend to screw up royally the first couple of times I try things… and I keep my sense of humor… and I just hang in there and keep trying, till I get it right… well, then, nothing is too terribly big for me to tackle (within reason, of course — let’s not go hog wild and get our hearts set on space travel or paying off the mortgages of every duped homeowner in America).

Some days, of course, I despair. I mean, it just really sucks when your brain doesn’t function the way you’d like it to — and everybody expects it to. It really sucks, when your own doctor backs away from you in alarm because they’ve discovered their assumptions about how well you can cope in the world are dead wrong. It sucks when your loved ones cannot deal with your temper, your memory issues, your mood swings, your difficulties remembering where to look for the note that’s supposed to tell you what to do today… And it really sucks, when you’re not sure who your friends really are…. and you don’t know if you have it in you to try to find out for sure.

But on the whole, I’m just so stubborn and hard-headed and too in love with life, to just give up and quit the game. Or even sit on the bench. I’m a viable, lively human being with a big heart and a lot to offer and a whole lot of life experience that others might find useful. Why should I live any less of a life than other people who haven’t gotten hit on the head and knocked around? Why should my injuries disqualify me form living my life to the fullest? They shouldn’t!

So long as I get enough sleep. Having enough rest is of paramount importance to me. If I haven’t slept, I can go off the deep end really quickly and start to make life miserable for everyone arund me. It’s the short temper, the extreme (someetimes violent) mood swings, the yelling, the tears, the inability to concentrate, the lapses in my memory over things that should be so simple… It’s all of it… it’s the almost childlike dependency that makes people wonder who I am, really… the reluctance to go out and be social, for fear that my tiredness will wear on me and make me edgy and gruff and put people off, and make me say things I regret and don’t really want to say. It’s the anxiety about any sort of social interaction — even with friends — that isolates me and ties me up in knots, since I don’t really have anyone I can just shoot the breeze with and bounce ideas off of. It’s the anxiety about people I know finding out about my tbi, when they had no idea before, and treating me differnetly, even though they’ve known me even in my most troubled times when my symptoms were really playing havoc with my head and behavior.

When I haven’t slept, I have trouble doing the most basic things — like remembering to zipper my fly. Like remembering to turn on my headlights when I pull out of the driveway. Like remembering a very important task I have been meaning to do. Like being able to understand people when I talk to them on the phone.

It seems like such a basic thing. How could sleep deprivation cause these issues? How could something so simple make my life so hard?

I’m not sure. But it does.

So, this weekend, with the support of my family (who are growing tired of dealing with a tired version of me), I will rest. Sleep. Take it easy. Read a good book. Write a little Draw a little. Just chill out. Take long hours to listen to my guided imagery CDs that I’ve been meaning to listen to. Spend some time doing some self-assessment and looking back over my past week to see what the pain points were. Tomorrow I’m taking time for myself, which is a rare, rare thing. And I’m going to catch up on my sleep, if it’s the last thing I do.

Nothing else matters, at this point. My priorities are clear.


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