Getting into my routine

Feels really good. I managed to get to bed at a decent hour, last night, which was fantastic. I also took care of some chores around the house that needed to be done, which also felt good.

I’m settling into a daily routine I can live with, and it feels pretty awesome. Like I’m hitting my stride. It takes a while for me to get to this point, but I can be disciplined when I put my mind to it, so…

I’m figuring out the best way to exercise in the morning. I have to do at least something every day. Ride the exercise bike. Lift weights. Stretch. Do something. I work with people who are a whole lot healthier than the folks I worked with before, and it’s inspiring for me to see them being healthy and happy.

I’m also getting the logistics down. Learning my way around. I’m figuring out the best routes to drive to work… knowing when to get off the freeway and when to just hang in there, because traffic will ease up in another mile or so… finding my way around the building… getting to know the ins and outs of everything.

So, it’s starting to really come together, and I’m incredibly grateful for this.

Speaking of routine, it’s time to get ready for work.

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A regular week — hooray

………………….Please do!

Well, I learned my lesson, last week. I worked extra hours to make up for the time I was missing when I took the day off on Friday. And it was not fun. I really enjoyed my three days off – it was bliss. At the same time, when I was at work, it was extremely difficult, and I don’t care to repeat the experience. I did enough years of 12-14 hour days, and it’s time for me to be done with them.

So, the next time I take a day off work — a week from today, when I travel to see family members I have not seen in several years — I am going to make up some of the time, but not all of it. Plus, I was given an amazing gift of two days’ pay, totally out of the blue. So, I have some extra wiggle room. And I’ll now have money for gas.

I’m settling into my routine, now. I get up early, I exercise and have my breakfast, then I read for a while and write and think. It’s heaven. I am thinking in a much more focused manner, nowadays, which is nice. I’m just focusing on getting clear, on simplifying my thought patterns, and fine-tuning the way I reach conclusions.

This might sound heady and what-not, but for me and my TBI recovery, it’s really important. I believe — based on watching my life and the messes that I’ve been bogged down in, over the years — that many of my troubles happened because I was not thinking properly. My cognition (being able to pick up clues from the world around me, sort them out, and do the right thing with what I figure out) has been totally screwed up.

It’s been screwed up because my senses have been off. My wiring has been frayed and connected wrong. When I fell in 2004, I had no idea how badly I was hurt — or that I’d been hurt pretty badly a bunch of times over the course of my entire life. I had no concept of how much my brain and my thinking had been affected by all those TBIs (9, by my last count — possibly more, because my memory is so spotty in so many places).

But my wiring was screwed up, which stressed me out.

And when I am stressed, it’s hard for me to handle a lot of sensory input. I get extremely sensitive to sound and light and touch, and my system is so busy trying to sort out the sensations and keep myself from freaking out, that I can’t think clearly about the “higher level” stuff. At all.

So, calming down my system so it’s not so stressed out, has been a big part of my recovery. Just taking the edge off the stress has become a top priority for me. That helps me think, because it tones down the sensory issues, so my brain can actually figure out how to do things — and do them better. It’s a whole lot easier to think, when your body isn’t screaming in pain over every little thing.

Y’know?

The other thing that’s done wonders for me, is starting out slow and methodical with everything I do, building up the right habits to follow, one step at a time, and then repeating those steps over and over and over, till they become ingrained habit that I don’t have to think about anymore. Making a list of steps to follow in the morning when I get ready for work, and then sticking with that list for six months, made all the difference. Even when everyone around me said I really shouldn’t need that list, and they got upset seeing me use it, I still stuck with my list, and it trained me to do things in a specific way that I am still doing today, years later. It routinized my daily life — the parts that should be routinized — so I don’t have to think about them.

I’m in the process of re-routinizing my life again — a new schedule for my daily work. A new direction and focus for my mind. And I know that this is the right thing for me to do, because going back to how things were before was brutal. And it sucked. So, I’m not doing that again. Not if I can help it, anyway.

Speaking of new routines, it’s time for me to get ready for work.

Onward.

Hard work – and stress – paying off

Yeah, it’s paying off 🙂

I don’t want to sing the praises of stress right now, because I don’t want anyone getting the idea that I think stressing yourself out is a great idea. I will say, however, that the added strain of working long hours, this past week, is paying off — in terms of a full day off work, so I have an uninterrupted day to do some things I’ve been wanting to do for a while.

I’m getting my neck worked on. The left side is very sore, and the tightness there is translating to a right hip that feels arthritic. I know it’s not arthritis — it’s muscular, because of the location of the pain, but it’s keeping me awake at night, and it’s making my life more difficult.

I’ve been trying to do physical therapy and acupuncture, but the results have been slow. I need to have someone just work on my neck and get my back and shoulders loosened up. Kind of fast-track it.

I also worked out this morning more than I have in months. I actually got on the exercise bike for 10 minutes. I rode easy for 5 minutes, then I did a few 30-second alternating intervals of fast/easy, and I finished up with 2 minutes of slow and steady. Then I lifted slightly heavier weights than I have been, in the past – fewer reps, more weight, with tons of attention to form.

And it felt great. Just working up a sweat felt great. It’s been a long time, since I really pushed myself — partly because I’ve been having headaches when I push myself while exercising. I do have a slight headache now, but I can live with it. I’m just drinking extra water and stretching my neck and shoulders.

I’m also taking some time to get on Facebook and reconnect with my friends there. I miss my coworkers from my last job. Well, some of them, anyway. I think the thing I miss most is their predictability. My brain and system got used to dealing with them, and it developed behavioral habits that I came to depend on, to add structure and meaning to my life.

One thing I do NOT miss about them, is how young and frivolous they can be. I really could tell that most of them were 20 years younger than me, and it’s nice to not have to deal with them anymore.

I’m also getting my head on straight about my new job. Turns out, the crowd I’m working with is about 10-15 years younger than me, which has also turned out to be a bit of a pain. Their priorities and interests are completely different from mine, and frankly I can do without every singe conversation centering around who’s getting pregnant, who’s having kids, what their kids are doing, if their kids are sick, the dance recitals, the summer vacations. There are a few folks there who don’t live their lives around “little ones”, so I’ll need to seek them out more actively. The team I’m working most closely with is quite focused on child-rearing, and I’ve got nothing to offer there.

So, I’m going to take some time today and over the next few days to do some heavy-lifting thinking and really dig into some of the writing I’ve been doing, lately. I’ve got a handful of projects I’m working on, and some of them are very demanding, mentally. It’s like I’m going down a rathole of abstract concepts, and each one leads a little bit deeper in. So, it feels like I’m “flying blind” into the abyss… and I love it.

I’m the only one who knows the details about the abstractions I’m exploring. I’ve tried to explain them to others, but I haven’t had much luck communicating. They’re “thought experiments” of sorts, just exercises to tweak my thinking process and help expand my working memory capacity.

The main thing with these thought experiments, is that they really excite me and delight me. So, there’s a real motivation and impetus to explore. To expand. To see how much I can extend my own abilities. Of course, I need to balance this out with plenty of rest and recovery, so the connections I’m building in my brain have a chance to “set” before they’re tested, again.

That’s what the past week or so has been about. I really pushed myself cognitively for a few weeks, back when I was changing jobs and everything was in flux. It was a great way to both take my mind off the stresses of my daily life transition, and also get some new types of activity going on in my brain. I really need that — new activities that test me.  Sometimes I may overdo it, but that’s where rest and recovery come in.

And it’s good. It’s all good.

So, stress… I’ll write more about that later. I am a firm believer in periodically applying stress to test the system, then backing off to let the system recover and recuperate. I believe that’s what makes us stronger — for me, with my TBI symptoms, I need to be careful about over-doing it. Obviously. But if I can realize — and remember — that added stress is the source of my issues, and then take the edge off when I need to… it doesn’t have to doom me.

The main ingredient is mindfulness. And responsibility. And being realistic about my limits and working with them so that I can expand them, rather than trying to avoid/deny them and then shooting myself in the foot.

It’s really a balancing act. And now it’s time to balance out my day with some reading, juggling, and a bit of relaxation.

Stabilized now… and rebuilding

Okay, I’ve been at my job just a few days shy of two weeks, and I’m getting settled in my new role and routine.

I’ve actually been able to get about 8 hours of sleep each night, most of the nights since I started my new job. Some nights I only get 5 or 6 hours (like last night — I woke up a little before 4 a.m., which gave me about 5-1/2 hours), but it doesn’t kill me like it used to.

So, this is good. And I’m settling into this new routine quite well.

This is an amazing opportunity I’ve been waiting for, for quite some time. It’s a chance to get myself stabilized with my rest and activity, to focus on my health, to get myself re-oriented towards what matters most to me — and spend the time working towards those things. I feel so fortunate, really. After so many years of struggling and battling and being pretty miserable, I’m finally at a place where I have some peace. And I can catch up with myself.

The biggest hurdle right now is distraction — losing sight of what matters most to me, and getting pulled off in a bunch of different directions that have no purpose, other than to distract and entertain me.

I gave up my smartphone when I quit my last job, so Facebook and social media have consumed a lot less of my life, in the past few weeks. That’s as it should be. I really don’t need to waste a bunch of time on the prattle that goes on there. Seriously, it is almost worse than useless. It’s actually a real problem, because what I get back is nowhere near what I expend on it.

It’s good to be done with that.

This new turn of things is a huge opportunity for me in so many ways. It’s also a chance for me to better manage my time. I’ve noticed that when I have tried to get places on time, the harder I try, the later I get. It’s very frustrating. It’s almost like the more I try to hit the gas, the harder I pump the brakes. So, I need to take a different approach.

So many different pieces of the puzzle of my life are coming together — largely because I now have the time to relax and step back and clear my head. I’m not perfect, by any stretch, and I’ve made some errors of judgment that have stressed me out a lot and tweaked my anger. I’ve had some blow-ups, and I’ve had some stresses from thinking about things wrong, so I need to do something about that.

But this will sort itself out, I am quite sure. I just need the time and space to get settled.

That’s happening. It has a chance to happen now.

And I’m taking advantage of that chance — like my life depends on it.

Because… well… it does.

Onward.

Finding the energy

I’m about the last person who likes to admit that I don’t have the energy for something. It’s like a dirty little secret I carry around with me, that I rarely, if ever, discuss with others. When I tell people I’ve run out of steam and I can’t manage to do something because I’m beat, they often look at me like I’ve lost my mind – how could I run out of energy before the day is through? How could I fizzle out when everyone else is going strong?

Yah, well, they must not know what it’s like to work their ass off at just about every little thing that comes across their path. That’s what it pretty much feels like for me, day in and day out — a whole lot of energy being expended on things that others just take for granted. Everything from getting out of bed in the morning to making breakfast to figuring out what to wear, takes a monumental effort.

And it’s not that I’m coming up with anything exotic. I eat the same breakfast each morning. I have my routine that I follow. I have five work outfits, which I wear on the same days of the week. It’s all very boring and predictable, but it’s super easy to deal with, first thing in the morning when I am getting ready for work. Especially when I’m tired, this predictability is very important. Even when I’m not tired, having the same routine each day relieves my brain of the need to have to think through everything.

Now, the problem is, I don’t want to have fatigue run my life. And it’s seriously bothering me, that I’m so down and dragging all the time. So, I’ve been on a quest – of sorts – to find a way to tap into the energy that I know I have in my system — in my cells, in my muscles, in my bones — and put it to better use. I feel like I’ve been wrangling with details and annoyances and surprises and problems for so long… all my life, really… that my system is a bit tangled up overall. And I have the sense that within me there is a LOT of stored energy that I just can’t get to for some reason. It’s out of reach — because my way of living has been so geared towards troubleshooting and damage control, that I’ve been more focused on fixing what’s wrong, than making things right.

So, on this quest, I have been looking around for ways to free up the energy. Morning exercise is probably the best way I can think of. The thing is, I need something I can do every single day, the same way, but the exercise routines I did before led to over-training and over-use, and I ended up feeling bad — no, crappy — and also getting strains and pulls that held me back. With those kinds of exercises I was doing — lifting weights and bodyweight exercises — I needed time off to recover.

And that interrupted my daily routine.

So, I needed to find something new…. which I did, totally by accident last week.

I have a new exercise routine — the Five Tibetans — which I have been doing each morning for about a week and a half or so. There’s a video of it at the top of the page, but the version I do it not quite as formal as that. Basically, I follow this fellow’s description and instructions: The Fountain of Youth – http://members.ozemail.com.au/~clauspat/spincop.htm. It’s actually made a huge difference.

Now, I don’t know about the fountain of youth claims, but I do know this: since starting to do this each morning, I am feeling world’s better, and I actually have more energy, I’m less tired, and I am doing things that I didn’t feel like I had the energy to do before — like get up at 6 a.m. and go for a walk under the moon and stars.

The best thing is, the exercises don’t take a long time to do, but they are sufficiently strenuous that my muscles are a little sore, and by the time I’m done, I’m warmed up… even a little tired. Then after I make my breakfast and recover, I feel a whole lot better, and I’m ready to take on the day.

This is pretty much what I’ve been looking for — a simple, predictable way to warm up my body without undue stress and strain and a whole lot of time. For folks who spend hours at the gym, God bless. But I have a lot more important things to do with my time than work on my form and get a good pump going. I’m busy. Pumping iron for hours and hours each week, while appealing to part of me, is just not practical for me at this point in my life.

Now, while I’m not sure about all the chakra and energy body stuff that goes along with this, the simple fact is, The Five Tibetans are exercises I can do easily and without rushing myself in the morning. And since I started doing them each morning, I have to say my energy has really improved.

It’s pretty amazing, really. I feel a lot more stable and calm, and I don’t feel thrown off by things all the time. And if these exercises will help restore my youth, so much the better. I’m a skeptic by nature, but I’m seeing results I can really relate to, so I don’t need to over-think this. Just do it. If it works, great. If not, move on to find something that does.

It seems to be working. And it seems to be doing exactly what I need to do — unlock the latent energy that’s in my system so I can access it and use it through the course of the day. I can do this simple-style, or I can do it complicated like the guy in the video. Either way, it’s helping me, so that’s fine. So long as I’m feeling more energized and more able to keep up with everything around me on a daily basis, I’m going to keep doing this. Apparently, doing it over the long-term has been hugely beneficial for people, changing their energy levels as well as their confidence and self-image.

I could do with improvements in all those areas.

So yeah – I do believe that there is a ton of energy we all carry around inside our cells, our muscles, our bones, our minds. Tapping into it and unlocking it is the first order of the day, for me. I am so sick and tired of my own personal energy crisis, and I’m so sick and tired of being told a million different things by a million different people. I found something that works for me. And that’s okay.

Onward.

 

Seven hours and a splitting headache

So, I got seven hours of sleep last night — two hours more than I’ve been getting, for the past several days. I would expect to feel better, but I woke up with a splitting headache. It’s probably a change in barometric pressure, which tends to bother me. The weather is turning stormy over the next few days, so headaches are part of this season for me.

Not to worry, though. It doesn’t stop me from doing things. It’s just an annoyance. I’ve had headaches for so long, I often don’t even notice them, unless they’re affecting my vision or making me sick to my stomach. But even those, I can work through. I can’t worry about it. I just have to keep going, regardless, and get where I’m going.

I’m starting to loosen up a bit — knowing that I can now move on to another job, and that I’ve got some good skills to trade on, as well as connections with a number of good recruiters, I feel a lot more relaxed. Also, some of my business ideas are coming to fruition, and that’s very exciting. I feel like I’ve been stagnant for so long… just biding my time, hassling through all that crazy work overload with my current employer, never quite able to stem the tide of Things That Need To Be Done… never getting a break, even when we do reach the finish line… That constant level of stress and busy-ness for its own sake… it’s really taken a toll, and I’m now really seeing that clearly.

But it’s all going to change. That’s for sure. I’m getting my ducks in a row, putting my house in order. I moved a bunch of books off my bookshelf last night before going to bed, to make room for other things that are tucked away. I’m mapping out the path I want to head down, and I’m figuring out the steps I am going to take to get there. It’s very clear to me, what I need to do. And as I actually do it, even more becomes clear. It’s really good, this whole process. And it’s bringing me back to life.

Stagnation is the worst. When I get stuck in a rut with work and activities and the same routine, day in and day out, it makes me crazy. To some extent, I need to stick to a basic framework for my life — the essentials I can put on autopilot, like getting up and washing my face in cold water, brushing my teeth, and then making my breakfast of a cup of coffee and a fried egg. I also exercise a bit — stretching or lifting — and I think about my day. Having a loose framework for my daily routine is good. I just can’t have it get too rigid, or I start to lose interest.

It’s a fine line between automating my life so that I don’t have to think about every little detail, and getting stuck in a rut. Routine is so important for folks with TBI, but it doesn’t come without its “occupational hazards”. If we’re not staying engaged and interested in our lives, it can really hold us back. So, we need to find something within the framework of that routine that really invigorates us.The whole point of having a routine, is so you can devote more energy to the complex things, not just the simple everyday stuff. So, you need to fill in the gaps with things that bring you satisfaction and happiness.

My life, of course, is often invigorated by some unexpected and complex event or another. Things never stay the same with me for long. There is usually something not going according to plan… some unexpected turn of events… or something falling through the cracks. Or there is a pleasant surprise or a change of direction that I didn’t anticipate (not always bad). When I have my routine in place and it’s balanced and healthy, I can roll with those changes. When my routine is just a rut that isn’t bringing me anything interesting, and I’m bored out of my skull, just slogging away at the grind, it makes it harder — and it often feels impossible. Even worse, is when I’m feeling like I’m not in control of my own life, and I’m being victimized by the changes around me — like the job changes of the past several years.

The thing that makes routine less invigorating is getting enough rest. When I am not rested, and I am just pushing through without any mindful engagement in my life, everything feels like a chore, and it’s a total drain.  When I’m not rested, even the best things in life don’t interest me, and I take everything for granted. When I am rested, though, I can really get actively involved with my life, and I feel like I’m really making progress.

That’s kind of where I am today. I’m feeling pretty strong, despite my sleep deficit. It’s Friday, and I have a bunch of exciting things ahead of me for the next few days. I’m organizing myself and re-setting my direction, and it feels absolutely awesome. It’s like I’m free again. I’m still in that terrible job, and I still have a ton of boring-ass crap I have to do, and nothing is certain, but things are loosening up. I can feel them. Positive change is coming, and I’m ready for what comes. My head is hurting less, now, but either way I feel like this is going to be a pretty great day.

So, yeah – onward.

Sweet relief – the end is in sight…

So, I’ve been out of sight for a number of days, buried in my work-work, and those two massive deadlines that finished up yesterday. Well, “finished up” is a bit of a stretch, because no matter what, there is always some other detail to manage.

But the bottom line is, I closed out the lion’s share of the work on Monday, after breaking my back – and shoulders – and wrists – and head – from sitting and working very intently for most of my waking hours for weeks on end. That final push started last week, and it’s been a roller coaster. Most things have gone right. A few little things have gone wrong. Of course, people are focused on the little things that went wrong, despite the mass of big things that went right.

We’re all just very tired, I guess.

And we are that.

This is a good way to close out my tenure at this job. Now that these two deadlines are done, I can start looking in earnest for another job. I’m going on vacation next week — taking the whole week off to go somewhere with plenty of nature, open water and sun… and nothing that I have to do, other than relax. I’ll probably give a lot of thought to where I want to go next, but I won’t start talking to recruiters again until after I get back. Then I can take my sweet time… and look forward to getting away from the situation I’ve been in. I’ve been steady and loyal through all kinds of crap, for the past couple of years, and now things are at a place where I can move on.

Part of what makes it possible for me to move on, is that I’ve put in place a lot of best practices that other people are now doing as though they’ve always done them, and there was never a different way. I’ve coerced/convinced people to standardize many of the things they do… put systems in place that will help them do their jobs… create and enforce deadlines for things that were chronically late for years before I got there… and I’ve helped to establish policies that are just good practice (but were nowhere in sight when I first started there). I think the fact that people think things have always been done this way, is the biggest testament to my success. I changed things for the better at this job, and the changes are so pervasive, people don’t even remember how it was before. Even if people don’t realize this fully and I don’t get full credit for hanging in with everyone, secretly pulling my hair out as I explained to them for the 80th time why we need to do things a certain way… the fact remains that I’ve made a positive difference. And that’s something I can take with me and feel good about — even as the rest of the crowd descends into panicked anarchy over organizational changes.

Politics. Yeah. I am so over them. That’s why I need a contract. More money, less politics. I just want to show up, do the best job I can, and not have to worry about who I impress and how I phrase things. Please. I have better things to do with my life and energy, than fiddle with all that static fluff.

I also need a job where I can go home at the end of the day and not take it with me. During the past weeks, I have had late conference calls with folks in Asia every few nights, and troubleshooting till 11 p.m. each night is not my idea of a fun time. It also keeps me from getting decent sleep, which is a real drain. With this job, I’ve been so invested, so intent on making a difference, that my health has suffered, and I’ve definitely aged. Not good. I can reverse that trend with some changes, but I need to get out of this situation and stop the 14-hour work days first.

It’s wild – I have been pushing so hard for so long that I almost don’t know what I’d do without being on an “electronic leash” 24 hours a day. Three years isn’t forever, but it’s felt like it, and it’s more than enough time spent on a company that frankly doesn’t give a crap about me or my future. In fairness, they’re not a welfare provider. It’s not their job to make sure I’m doing alright. That’s my job. It’s their job to provide me with opportunities and let me move into the ones that suit me best. But once upon a time, the company was small enough and close-knit enough that the organization truly gave a damn about how people were doing, they recognized contributions, and they stayed out of our way and let us do our jobs.

Now, it’s just some big monolithic profit center. That’s fine for some, but I need something that recognizes the humanity of employees — and doesn’t use that humanity against them.

Vent, vent… I’m not saying anything unique here. I am seriously tired, so I need to focus on how to get un-tired. That will happen next week. And this week, too, I think. I can take some time to unwind a bit, catch up on some things that are outstanding, and figure out how to get my life back.

Normalize… normalize… I need to return to my “ideal performance state” — with all the pieces in place that support me in my daily work:

  • Routine
  • Lists of items that must be done, ranked in order, so I don’t waste a lot of time
  • Regular bedtime
  • Good food
  • Lots of water
  • Regular exercise

I’ve been doing pretty well with the food business, cutting out morning carbs (I have an egg instead), and keeping my junk food intake to a minimum. I snack on raw almonds now, instead of candy bars, and I have been drinking plenty of water. I haven’t been moving as much as I need to, but that’s changing now that I’m done with my deadlines. I started out this morning with a lot of aches and pains and creaky bones and limited motion. But I did my exercises and light lifting as soon as I got up, and within 20 minutes I felt a whole lot better.

I have also been working with my activities lists, and that’s been helpful as well.

And I can now get back to my routine, which is the key to how I can do so much in so little time. Other people would drown in the work I’ve got going on — a full-time job doing the work of three people, another side project which involves producing something every week by a certain deadline, a new project / business venture that I’m firing up, and of course this blog. Routine and lists of what needs to be done are my secret weapon. And all things considered, I am incredibly productive through it all. Not always well-rested, but still productive.

Well, speaking of being productive, it’s time for me to get on with my day. I have reached the end of these two massive projects, and as soon as I catch up on my sleep, I’m going to feel great about it. Right now, I’m way too wired and fried, to fully appreciate what I’ve accomplished, but logically I know it’s a big deal, which nobody else in my group could have pulled off as well as I did. I’m headed back into the office in an environment that’s just bubbling with political intrigue, and I’m thinking about reading Marcus Aurelius to give myself some perspective and remember that these kinds of situations have been happening for eons, and it’s nothing to get worked up over.

I’m wrapping up my tenure there, and it feels good. I’ll put the finishing touches on everything, collect all the relics of all the work I’ve done, so I can show it to headhunters, and I’ll secretly say my good-byes to the people in the place I’ve called my home-away-from-home for the past 3+ years.

It’s poignant and it’s bittersweet, but it’s time.

Is it ever time.

Onward…!

TBI Recovery: Getting used to the highs and lows – Part 2

For many, many years, I have swung from one extreme to the other — from euphoria to panic to depression — with intermittent periods of balanced moderation, where I caught my breath before going back into the fray. I’ve long sought out work situations which were crazy and stressful and stupidly health-endangering (which passed for “challenging” in the job-spin-speak of the tech world), because I needed that constant pump to keep myself going. TBI can slow down your processing speed and make you feel like you’re half asleep, so those stressful times passed for “wakefulness” and made me feel more alive.

In hindsight, I realize that I was pretty much a ticking time bomb and that it was only a matter of time before I hurt myself badly enough to be ejected from the “everyday world”. I have had multiple mild TBIs over the course of the years (at least 9 that I can recall — and there have probably been more that I can’t remember). So, the effects have been cumulative, and sure enough, back in 2004, I had another fall that eventually put me out of commission.

The past years have been about weaning myself off that need for drama and stupidity. I’ve become increasingly aware of how much damage it does to me, and I’ve been acclimating myself to the idea that I don’t actually need it all, like I used to think I did.

Now I feel like I’m in a good and centered space, where I don’t have to have it, but at the same time, I do need challenge. And even moreso, I need to be able to respond to challenging situations with a level head and a clear mind.

Looking back at my life when it was still dictated by after-effects of all those TBIs, I see how much my life was comprised of reactions. Just reactions. Not measured responses that were determined by me, according to what was best and right at the moment — but knee-jerk reactions dictated by fear, anxiety, panic, external circumstances, and others’ expectations. That’s no way to live. Surely, there must be a better way.

So, I’ve been headed down that road, of late, looking for ways to live better, live more fully, and to have the kind of life I want to have.  I think about the things that hold me back, the things that I have done that have held me back, and the habits of thought that have prevented me from moving forward. And it becomes more and more apparent to me, as I think about it, that no outside circumstances have been The Culprits in my limitations, rather it’s been my own reaction and my own experience and my own choices that have held me back.

Now, certainly, things like getting clunked on the head a bunch of times, being hounded and bullied in school, being mistreated by both my parents and teachers alike, and being raised without much money in a household turned upside-down by a drug addict sibling and their associates, certainly didn’t help. But those things didn’t keep me from doing the things I could have done to help myself. It was the patterns of thought in my mind that held me back — as well as the biochemical reactions to circumstances which short-circuited my choices and actions.

All those years, I certainly did take a beating. But plenty of people take beatings and get up and go back at it, like nothing ever happened. Not everyone interprets setbacks as signs of permanent disability. Granted, I wasn’t surrounded by people who were positive, pro-active thinkers who knew how to free their minds. But at any given point, I did indeed have the capacity to pick myself up and keep going, but the thoughts in my mind and the biochemical sludge in my system short-circuited a lot of the good that could have happened.

My constant biochemical state of intense fight-flight (which was made more intense by what I thought was happening — and never adequately questioned) made it all but impossible for me to imagine all that I was capable of doing, and over the years, and after all the injuries — especially the last one — my possible world became smaller and smaller and smaller, and I made myself less and less capable, in my own mind, of truly following my dreams.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Over the years I have done some Big Things, and I have had some big accomplishments that have gotten me awards and recognition. But these were all substitutes for what I really wanted to be doing. My One Big Dream that I had since I was seven years old, never “panned out”, and year after year, my resolution to do something about it drifted farther and farther from my reach.  Until I just about gave up on it.

These days, things are very different for me, and I realize just how much biochemistry has to do with what’s held me back. And at the same time, it both absolves me of prior blame, and it also offers me the opportunity to change things.

Because now I understand how those things work. I understand how TBI has prompted me to take risks over the years and keep myself in a constant state of stress. I also understand what a toll that has taken on my life over the years, and I’m now resolved to do something about it.

In order to do so, I need to get a grip on my autonomic fight-flight response, which is what I’ve been doing, slowly but surely. I am now moving into the next stage, where I am testing myself a bit, here and there, to get myself familiar with how it feels to be on the verge of panic, and then walk myself back from the edge with the tools I have. I’m stressing myself just a little bit, here and there, to inoculate myself against the stresses. Some call it “exposure therapy”, and maybe that’s what it is. Having read about exposure therapy, it strikes me as more intense than what I’m doing. I don’t want to force myself into a seemingly dangerous situation and then have to sweat it out. No thanks.

What I am doing is similar to doing interval weight training — I’m doing “stress intervals” — intentionally stressing myself for a short while, then backing off and taking a good break. I know I’m going to push myself hard — and I also know I’m going to let up. So, there’s not that impending sense of doom that comes when I can’t see an end in sight. I know there’s going to be an end, so I can push myself — sometimes pretty hard — and not get freaked out about it.

This gets me used to the highs and lows. And it helps me feel more comfortable with the sensation of those highs and lows.

See, that’s the thing – it’s not the highs and lows that get me. It’s my internal reaction to those highs and lows — the physical sensations of high energy or low energy trigger a dumb-ass (and extreme) reaction from me that sets certain behaviors in motion and put me into a certain mindset. Some examples:

  • I get back from a long and grueling trip to see both sides of my family, and I decide that I’m a worthless piece of crap who will never amount to anything. I’m physically and mentally and emotionally exhausted from a temporary situation, yet for some reason I’m convinced that I’m permanently damaged beyond repair. Accordingly, I slack off on my work and do nothing productive with myself for days, even weeks.
  • I work too hard and sleep too little, and I end up having a full-on blow-out/meltdown that fries my brain with a flood of raging emotions. Afterwards, I am exhausted, and it takes several days for the biochemical load to clear from my system. All during that time, I feel stupid and numb and dull and once again am convinced that I’m permanently damaged beyond repair.
  • I am incredibly excited about something that’s happening in my life. The sensation of all that adrenaline pumping through my system feels an awful lot like danger — it feels just like it used to feel when I was being hunted down by the kids who bullied me in grade school. Consequently, I stop doing what I need to do, to make progress with my goals. I also look for other things to work on that are less “stressful”, and my project falls behind.

All of the above are problematic, but it’s the last one that’s the burner. It’s the thing that’s kept me back, time and time again, and it’s the one I need to really focus on addressing.

So, to that end, I’m deliberately putting myself in exciting and tiring situations, getting used to how they feel while telling myself that this is just a feeling, not an indication of what’s really going on. And then I take a break. I have all but cut wheat and cheap carbs out of my diet to reduce the “junk load” from my system — which in itself is a little stressful, but has great benefits. I’m also doing things like taking cool showers to get my stress response jump-started for just a few minutes in the morning, and I’ve changed up my morning routine a little bit to heighten my attention.

And all the while, I’m using the techniques I’ve learned for balancing out my ANS and keeping the fight-flight response within a manageable, non-tyrannical range. I do it both — stress and relax. Intermittently. Not constantly, because that would be counter-productive, but at intervals.

I have to say it feels incredible. It’s tiring, at first, and taking cool showers instead of hot, is definitely an adjustment. But it’s really helping.

TBI Recovery: Getting used to the highs and lows – Part 1

One of the things I’ve been actively doing, over the past months, is getting use to the highs and the lows that are just outside my comfort zone. I’ve struggled a great deal with panic and anxiety over the decades, which I believe has been connected to a hefty dose of post-traumatic stress (or PTS). The classic symptoms of “disturbing recurring flashbacks, avoidance or numbing of memories of the event, and hyperarousal” have been a regular part of my life for as long as I can remember. The strange thing is, my flashbacks and numbness have been related to events that many others would not consider that stressful — making a fool of myself in front of other people, having bad choices of words, doing stupid things, making poor decisions that got me in hot water with authorities (including the police), and so on.

I’ve been flashing back on things that others would consider “just embarrassing” for a long, long time, and I’ve been intensely stressed out over it, avoiding situations, and on edge (that is, ON EDGE) for as long as I can remember.

Until, that is a couple of years ago, when I really started to come out of my TBI fog and things started to fit together for me, better and better, like they never had before. To be clear, I didn’t just magically come out of my fog for no apparent reason. I did the following, which all helped:

  • Got myself on a daily schedule of doing specific things at specific times in specific ways, so I didn’t spend a lot of mental energy figuring out how to do things. This allowed me to develop the objective, observable 100% certainty that I could get myself up and cleaned up and dressed and out the door each morning in a predictably good way. It took the pressure off my mornings and let me relax about the details — because I didn’t have to think about them. At all.
  • Exercised on a regular basis. For several years running, I got up and lifted weights and did some light cardio, the first thing in the morning before breakfast, each and every day. I never wavered from that. It was my morning routine, part of what I Just Did, and the jump start to my brain and body made me feel worlds better than I had in a long, long time.
  • Started cooking more complicated meals. I have been the main cook in my household ever since my spouse got very ill about six years ago, and it made a great deal of difference in both our health. I got into a bit of a rut, and ended up making the same things over and over. When I started cooking more complicated meals, it pushed me to work on my timing as well as my sequencing. And it make our diet more varied, which was good.
  • I learned to relax. This took some doing, but with some guided imagery tapes that I combined with rest/nap time, I have slowly but surely acquired the ability to relax. And for the first time, I know how good it feels to do that. Up until a few years ago, that was not the case.
  • I started sitting za-zen (my own version of it) and doing conscious breathing. My version of za-zen involves just sitting and breathing, sometimes a short while, sometimes longer. I have come across a number of pieces of scientific literature talking about how this helps to balance out the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and get you out of fight-flight. It helps stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and get you back to a place where you’re not tossed about by every wind that comes along.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve changed how I do things — some of the things, like regular exercise and za-zen, I stopped after a while. I guess I just got bored with them and felt like they were keeping me from doing other things I needed to do. I also let them get rote and boring, and they stopped being any kind of a challenge. I need to be challenged, or I can’t keep my interest piqued. It’s a shortcoming of mine, I know, but that’s how I am.

Currently, I’m back at the regular exercise. All I have to do is look at my skinny little forearms (typing isn’t nearly enough exercise for them) and look at myself in the mirror to realize that I need to do something about this sad state of affairs. Also, my endurance is way down for doing chores outside, which is not good, either.

I’m also taking a za-zen type of practice into my everyday life, using it in my 90-second clearing approach to really take the edge off my everyday experience. I haven’t completely abandoned it. I just needed a new way of using it in ways that got me going in my life, instead of taking me away from life — as sitting za-zen will do.

As for the exercise, after laying off for a long (too long) while, I’m doing more strengthening in actual movements that I do on a daily basis — not the isolated types of movements that focus on a specific muscle group and are useful for bodybuilders. I’m building overall strength, not just specific muscles.

I’m continuing to do my rest/relaxation thing, stepping away from work during my lunch hours to listen to guided imagery and relax — sometimes sleep, too.

And these several pieces are important for what I’m doing now, which is pushing myself a little beyond my routine to challenge myself and keep things interesting. I’m training myself to handle my highs and my lows, and not let them get to me.

To be continued…

Setting the stage for change

Gotta get a move on!

I’ve noticed something over the past months – I am spending more and more time in bed. Not sleeping. Not resting. Just lying there. This has coincided with me getting less and less sleep. I’m thinking there’s a correspondence.

I’ll go to bed, but then I will check Facebook or my email or some other thing on my smartphone (which isn’t very smart). I’ll wake up, but I’ll lie there for half an hour before I get up. I used to throw myself out of bed, back when I was having a lot of problems, because it was the only way I could get going, and I was so light-headed and dizzy from TBI-related issues that if I didn’t throw myself out of bed and hit the ground running, I wouldn’t be able to function. I had only two speeds – hyper or off.

Now I seem to have gone to the other extreme. I take my sweet time going to bed. I take my sweet time getting up in the morning. I get that I need to rest, but when am not getting to bed before 11:30 each night, and then I end up late for an important meeting at work because I lay in bed for 45 minutes after the alarm went off, “resting”, it’s an issue.

It’s not even about getting enough sleep (though that would be a plus). It’s about just being able to live my life to best. I haven’t been doing that. I’ve been coming up with all sorts of excuses and reasons why I don’t do better, and none of them make any sense to me.

What to do to change this?

Well, I know how I’ve changed other things — by self-talk and visualization and “pre-experience”. I have taught myself how to experience events ahead of time, so I remember things I’m going to do in the future, which I am in danger of forgetting (like stopping off at the store to buy food for supper before I come home) — I envision myself as I approach the store in my car, I imagine how it feels, what I’m thinking about, what’s going on around me, what I’m doing as I am leading up to the thing I’m supposed to remember, and then I imagine myself (and experience myself) remembering to stop (or do whatever I need to do). I don’t just visualize, I actually pre-experience the event. And then when it actually happens, I actually remember (most of the time).

This is what I have to do now – set up the signals that tell me I not only need to go to bed, but I really want to. I’ve got to get motivated. Inspired. I’ve got to get myself into a mindset that will take me beyond the limitations I’m living under right now. There’s a whole lot in my life I need to change, and that change won’t come easy. There’s a lot of work involved, and it won’t happen overnight. But I do believe it can happen. I believe I can make it work. With time. With a lot of tries and re-tries and learning along the way.

So, now I’m setting the stage for change. I’m looking at my life and seeing what I want to move beyond the present limitations. The job situation, for one. My level of physical fitness. The quality of my thinking. And my general quality of life. I’ve gotten way too caught up in feeling bad about things that I don’t have to feel bad about, and I just need to shift into work-mode to change that. I’ve gotta re-find my spark, rekindle the fire that I know is there but seems to be waning. It doesn’t need to wane. I can find ways to bring it back. I’ve done it before, and I can do it again.

And bring it back, I shall.

Onward.