And good morning to you, too, bird

nuthatchA little nuthatch came to see me this morning, as I sat at my desk. My study overlooks the bird feeder, which I just filled up yesterday. The birds have been in a feeding frenzy ever since,with the squirrels gathering below to pick up sunflower seeds and other feed dropping from the birds’ excitement.

The birds often come to see me, flying up to my window and landing on the sill or one of the cross-pieces to look in and cheep at me. When they’re hungry, and I haven’t filled the feeder, they come to remind me to give them seed. When I have fed them, they come by to just say “hi”.

This morning was a “hi” time. A sudden flash of feathers and a light thunk as the bird landed at the window. In a split-second, they’re gone… but not before I see them and say “good morning”.

It’s nice to get a second chance from these little creatures. They have not been around for several months, thanks to my laxness with feeding them. They gave up on the idea of feeding here, and they didn’t bother to come and catch my attention. All the chickadees, juncos, nuthatches, cardinals, jays, and sparrows all flew away to better stocked locations. I think they were just disgusted with me, quite frankly.

Lost cause.

But then I filled the feeder again, and now I’m back in their good graces.This is the kind of memory-less absolution of transgressions that gives me hope. The birds don’t hold a grudge. They don’t nurse their hurts. They don’t store resentments for later and then come back to make me pay for what I’ve done. They may give up on me, now and then, but they come back when I get my act together. And we can start over again, with them stopping by my window, now and then, to say “good morning”.


No troubled history.

Just the infinite now.

While grocery shopping tonight, I’ll have to pick up more seed. And get some suet. Winter is coming, and the birds know it. I’d like to keep as many of us alive, as possible.

Including our friendship.

Taking better care

Because I want to be here for a long, long time

In the aftermath of my recent dr. appointment, I’ve decided I need to bump up my exercise routine slightly. Start lifting slightly heavier weights. And see how that goes.

Yesterday, I did just that — I put 5 lbs more on my dumbells and had a good workout. At the time, it didn’t feel like was pushing myself all that much, but today I’m stiff and sore, so I know it had an effect.

So, this morning I did an easy workout and focused more on my leg-lifts, which are as much about improving my balance as strengthening my knees. Vertigo has been a big problem for me for the past weeks, and I’m finally getting to a point where I can walk around without feeling like I’m going to throw up. And I did my leg lifts with just a little bit of wobbliness.

There’s progress. It’s also progress that I didn’t push myself too much this morning. In months past, I would have just made myself continue the heavier workout, but this morning I was smart and backed off. I just need some movement, not a big Workout, to get my day going.

Now I’m back to thinking about the last three weeks and how it’s tweaked my TBI issues way more than they’d been tweaked in the past couple of years. Maybe it’s a sign of progress, that I’m able to wade into situations that set me off, and get through to the other side in one relatively intact piece, albeit shaken and sick. Or maybe it’s a sign that I just pushed myself too hard over crap that was someone else’s creation, and that it’s really not worth the pain and suffering.

Maybe it’s both. Could be. I do have to ask if it’s really worth getting into those kinds of situations, but ultimately, there’s a pretty good chance that those kinds of situations won’t be going away entirely, even if I do move on to another job, so being able to handle the hassle is a skill I need to refine. If nothing else, this has been a really good learning experience, and now that I’m on the other side of it and getting more rest, I can take a look at it all from a more sane point of view, and learn from it.

Looking back on all the frantic stuff

Let’s take a look at that checklist again:


[x]  Excitability!check – I’ve been in an uproar for three weeks running, and it’s gotten old. The weird thing about it, is that it feels so justified. I feel like I have every right to be excitable. When I stop to think about it, I realize that it’s TBI talking, not reality, but it doesn’t change the experience itself — that ongoing adrenaline BLAST that just won’t let up. That firecracker response to every unexpected even that came up. Geez, how depressing, really — seeing myself react so stupidly to stresses I used to thrive on. I was on a tear for three weeks running, and I wasn’t proud of it. Once upon a time, I could be thrown into these situations and would come out on the other side stronger and better than before. Not this time. At least, that’s not how it feels to me.

[x]  Everything feels like an effort – check — God, did it ever. I mean everything felt like such a goddamned effort. From extracting information from people to just getting all the tasks squared away and taken care of. What a frickin’ chore it all was. I felt like I was running through quicksand, the entire time. Chasing after the elusive goal, running from the tigers in hot pursuit of my tail. I still do feel that way, to some extent, although the quicksand is more like wet sand now. I’m not drowning in it, but I’m still struggling to make progress. And that feeling that everything is just a trial and a pain in the ass has extended out to all the other projects I have going on. I had hoped that when this situation was through, I could go back to getting things done in good order, but now I feel even less capable than I did before this whole sh*tstorm started.

[x]  Feeling unsure of yourself – check — BIG check on this one. See above. People kept trying to bolster my self-confidence, telling me, “You can do it,” and part of me believed it, but for chrissake, I had really good reason to be unsure of myself, because there were so many pieces in the puzzle, and there were so many things that could have gotten missed, and in fact they did get missed. I mean, really obvious things that were right in front of me, that I was sure I had figured out… they slipped right by me, and I had to scramble at the 11th hour to get them in place. “Why do you question yourself?” they asked me. Duh — that’s why. Personally, I feel that people who aren’t unsure of themselves are often complete idiots, but that’s not in synch with the dominant paradigm, where everyone has to be so self-confident and self-assured all the friggin’ time. Please. Who the hell comes up with these ideas? Positive psychology proponents? Or Wayne Dyer? Tony Robbins? Who? Sometimes I just need a break — and I need people to admit that, every now and then, a healthy dose of self-doubt makes for better decision making and better performance. This aspect of my issues is not all bad, all the time.

[x]  Feelings of dread – check — Yeah, pretty much all the time. Dread about the project, dread about my life, dread about the job, dread about all the other things I wasn’t getting done, dread about my marriage, dread about, well, everything. And dread about what was to come later — that this was just a precursor to more of the same later. It wasn’t until I gave up hoping for the best, that I started to feel better. Just accepting the dread and accepting the sense that this and all the other projects that I’d ever have to do with these people were doomed, somehow made it more tolerable. But what a thing — to find relief only from giving up hope.

[x]  Feeling like you’re observing yourself from afar – check — It was the weirdest thing… that sense that I wasn’t even all there… The feeling that a part of me had stepped away and was watching myself flail through that project… not like some mystical out-of-body experience where you’re floating in space above your body, but like I was sitting in a small, dark, stale-sweat-smelling, trash-littered, popcorn-covered-sticky-floor movie theater in a rundown mall on the outskirts of an old depressed steel town, watching myself hack through the underbrush on the movie screen in front of me. I felt so disconnected from my life, from my mind, from my body, from my whole experience, and it wasn’t even until afterwards, when I could get a little distance, that I realized what a surreal experience it was.

All in all, I have to say that some of the issues above were specific to the project — they got set off in an irrational fashion because of the stress and the pressure. But others were generally applicable to my overall situation. Feeling unsure of myself is, I believe, just a logical result of having been in so many situations where I was SURE (and I mean 100% ironclad, absolutely positively SURE) that I was on -track, only to realize — often at the 11th hour — that I was only 80% on, and the remaining 20% was landing me in hot water.

In fact, if anything, that lack of sureness may have been what saved me, because it kept me from being too cocky, too brazen, too eager to take things for granted. It’s when I get into thinking that I’ve got everything covered (when I don’t) that I get into real trouble.

And if there was one thing that probably got me through, it was that lack of sureness, that constant re-tracing of my steps to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

Now, the thought had occurred to me that I might have been perseverating on certain details — like re-checking the code for the 209 attachments distributed across 56 web pages over and over again. And I did kind of fixate on some of the small details, and that threw me off in my planning and time management. But if I hadn’t revisited those 209 attachments a bunch of times, they would have turned out like crap. They would have broken. And then I would have been totally screwed. So, all things considered, I think I did okay.

And here’s the thing about TBI that really strikes me — some of the issues we have are based in unrealistic thinking, while others are based in actual experience that arises from TBI. The sense of doom that I had, the depression I had, the excitability… that was based in unrealistic thinking that got “stuck” in my mind. But the self-doubt was based in actual experience. And it can be pretty damn’ difficult to tell the difference at times.

It might have been different if my neuropsych had been around to help me think things through, but for this one I was on my own. Who knows how it might have been, had they been around? Maybe they would have made things worse, by trying to talk me out of my self-doubt and trying to get me to be easier on myself. Easier on myself could easily have led to screwing things up. I had to push hard, and it took its toll. And they might have tried to minimize my difficulties, telling me I wasn’t really having all that trouble. They’ve done that a bunch of times, and it really bothers me when they do. As though I’m making all of this up… That’s just even more demoralizing — to have someone gloss over your difficulties as though they don’t matter and you don’t actually have to do anything about them… just tell yourself a different story about your experience.

It might have been helpful to have a sounding board to bounce all this off of… then again, maybe it was best that they were away. I don’t think I could have handled being told that it wasn’t as bad as all that.

Anyway, now the project is over and I am getting my life back. I see my neuropsych on Tuesday, and we’ll see how they respond to my experience. I’m kind of dreading talking to them about it, because they do tend to minimize my experience and tell me that it’s not as awful as I think it is. I appreciate the sentiment, and I’m sure they’re trying to help, but this time I had a terrible, awful time of things, and I need that to at least be acknowledged.

But that’s neither here nor there. It’s off in the future and who knows what will happen?

Anyway, in the spirit of restoring normalcy to my life, it’s time to take out the trash and rake up some of the leftover leaves from last winter.


Yup, wrong again. And right again.

Feeling like you're out of options?

Okay, so the past couple of weeks have been an exercise in … well, everything. I’ve been working my ass off since March 26, really cooking along at this project, trying to explain to the people around me why I actually need to work at this (hint: it’s not because there’s anything wrong with me — people just have no friggin’ idea what it takes to do this job and get things done) … then I tried to take a day off a week ago Saturday, got sick as a dog the next day… and I’ve been slogging along like a manic drone, just trying to get everything done that needs to get done. And I’ve got another five days to go till the bulk of it is out the door.

Then we have Phase II. Good times.

But in retrospect, I can see how I made this a ton harder for myself than I “needed” to. My first mistake was to underestimate the amount of work. The second was to not lay out all the moving pieces and figure out how they were all going to fit together. I just assumed (BIG mistake, as usual) that things would work when they were put together. But I should know by now that I work with a bunch of folks who love their shortcuts and they love to just get crap done and off their plates, with no view of the future and no consideration for anyone past their own little cubicle-verse. It’s not their fault. They’ve been working for a relatively small company on relatively small projects for the past 10 years. Now they’re being asked to build enterprise-class applications that will be reused over and over and over again in a thousand different ways before all is said and done. They’re not lazy (well, some of them aren’t). They just don’t quite get it. Yet.

It’s not my intention to blame them for the fundamental instability of this whole thing. That’s my bad. Because I know better, and I can work around them when I put my mind to it. I just didn’t do that. And I waited too long to get a jump on things. Because I was too busy being pissed off at the other folks, to actually dig in and make my life easier.

It took me about a week to get my sh*t together — on Sunday/Monday when things started getting really dicey at home, with me being woken up at 3:30 a.m. by someone in an uncontrollable weeping anxiety-induced rage attack who just couldn’t handle having to learn some new things about the new computer I hooked up over the weekend. I mean, just total meltdown — all because things weren’t working the way they wanted them to.

And at 4:00 a.m. as I realized I was NOT going to get the full night’s sleep I really needed to be viable and competent at work in a few hours, it occurred to me that I was probably acting just like this — and I decided to stop.

So, I did. I just buckled down and got down to work. And seriously folks, I have done some super-human work in the past week. Of course, it’s not done yet, and I have a bunch of outlying issues to deal with, thanks to my poor planning and whiny-ass behavior, but I have done a truly stellar job. And I’ve managed to eke more cooperation out of colleagues who are not only down the hall but all over the world, than I realistically expected to get.

It’s all working out.  At a price, sure, but it’s all working out. And these are lessons I’m not likely to forget next time. Or maybe I will.

Looking back on the past couple of weeks, I try to find the ways that I could have made my life easier. And I look for my blind spots. I think back to my list of 84 ways TBI can make your life really interesting, and I think about the things that have contributed to this situation. Viewing the list, it looks like a ton of issues have all come up:

[x]  Impulsiveness – check
[x]  Aggression (verbal/physical) – check (my apologies to my coworkers)
[x]  Raging behavior – check (again, my apologies to my coworkers)

[x]  Trouble being understood – check
[x]  Trouble understanding – check
[x]  Trouble finding words – check
[x]  Trouble communicating in generalcheck

[x] Agitated, can’t settle down – check
[x]  Angerrrrrr!!! – check
[x]  Anxiety – Feeling vague fear, worry, anticipation of doom – double check
[x]  Depression, feeling down – check
[x]  Excitability! – check
[x]  Everything feels like an effortcheck
[x]  Feeling unsure of yourself – check
[x]  Feelings of dread – check
[x]  Feeling like you’re observing yourself from afar
17. Feelings of well-being
[x]  Feeling guilty – check
[x]  Feeling hostile towards others – check
[x]  Impatience – check
[x]  Irritability – check
[x]  No desire to talk or  move – check
[x]  Feeling lonely – check
[x]  Nervousness – check
[x]  Feelings of panic – check
[x]  Rapid mood swings – double-check
[x]  Restlessness – check
[x]  Tearfulness, crying spells – check
[x]  Feeling tense – check
[x]  Feeling vague longing/yearning – check

Day-to-Day Activities
[x]  Being overly busy (more than usual) – check
[x]  Feeling like you can’t get moving, you’re stuck – check
[x]  Feeling like you can’t get anything done – double check

34. Altered consciousness
35. Aura or weird reverie, trance
[x]  36. Trouble concentrating – check
[x]  Trouble making decisions easily – check
[x]  Trouble reading – check
[x]  Analytical skills suffer – check
[x]  Trouble telling what’s real or not – check
[x]  Being easily distracted – check
[x]  Being forgetful, can’t remember – check
[x]  Nightmares – check
[x]  Worrisome thoughts – check

Physical – Eating
[x] Food cravings – check
[x] Eating less / more than usual – check
[x]  Heartburn / indigestion / upset stomach – check
48. Losing weight

Physical – Head
[x] Headache(s) – check
[x]  Stabbing pain(s) in your head – check

Physical – Hearing
51. Hearing music others don’t
[x]  Ears ringing (tinnitus) – double check

Physical – Pain
[x]  Backache or back pain – check
[x]  General body aches – check
[x]  Joint pain or stiffness – check
[x]  Neck pain – check
[x]  Touch feels like pain

Physical – Sleep
[x]  Waking up too early – check
[x]  Being fatigued / tired – check
[x]  Difficulty falling asleep – check
[x]  Waking up during the night
62. Sleeping too much

Physical – Vision
[x]  Trouble seeing at night – check
[x]  Being sensitive to light – check
[x]  Double/blurred vision
66. Spots, floaters,  or blind spots

Physical – Sensations
67. Your skin feels like it’s crawling – ironically, not
[x]  Feeling like you’ve gained weight – check
[x]  Sensitivity to cold – check
[x]  Sensitivity to noise, sounds – check
71. Smelling odors / fragrances that others don’t smell

Physical – General
[x]  Feeling dizzy / have vertigo – check
[x]  Your heart races or pounds – check
[x]  Hot flashes or sudden feelings of warmth – check
75. Losing consciousness / fainting
76. Metallic taste in your mouth
[x]  Muscles spasms or twitching – check
78. Muscle weakness
79. Seizures
[x] Nausea – oh yeah – check
[x]  Sexual desire feeling “off” – check
[x]  Skin breaking out / acne – check
[x]  Hands or feet swelling – check
84. Vomiting  – wish I could

So, it’s been an eventful couple of weeks. And times like this I’m not sure if my issues are directly TBI-related or just life in general. Everybody feels this way at times — but all at once? See the image at the top of this post for a 1,000-word replacement description of how it’s felt.

All I can say is, I’ve been in countless situations like this in the years prior to my most recent TBI, and while I didn’t particularly care for the experiences, I never had this level of off-the-rails panic, anxiety, aggression, frustration, etc. And being aware of the fact that I have not been handling this well has not helped me at all. That is what’s been the most dispiriting of all. Just that feeling of not being able to handle sh*t, not being on my game, not being able to handle anything — at the get-go. And really beating myself up over this whole thing. Like it’s an unredeemable mess.

But what I need to remember is that NOTHING is an unredeemable mess. It’s just not. So long as I keep going, so long as I continue to observe and learn and find workarounds — and don’t isolate myself from outside help — and I can manage to accept myself and not get rigidly locked into thinking that I have to be one way and one way only, then I can make room for more in my life — more experience, more wrongness, more rightness — than I would have, if I were completely focused on everything being perfect all the time — OR ELSE.

In the spirit of being truly human, here’s OceanLab with a song that fits my life pretty well this morning. Just beautiful.

So, the thing is, when I look back on my life, the hallmark of my experience has been being wrong — over and over and over again. I have been wrong so many times, I have all but give up on “getting it right the first time” as is so popular and lauded by our dominant paradigm. I mean, countless small details escape me. Or I’m so focused on paying attention to the small details, that the big main ones get lost in the shuffle. And when I try to write things down and keep track of them that way, I rapidly lose my place and everything gets even more jumbled up.

What a mess things can be.

Then again, in the spirit of “failing early, fast and often” as a paradigm for continuous, incremental improvement, I absolutely utterly excel. I don’t know anyone who fails early, fast and often as much as I do. And when I think about it, it seems to me that the ideal of getting it right the first time is pretty unrealistic. You’re going to fail, if you live life right. And you’re going to fail a lot, if you don’t hold back. That’s what I do — I don’t hold back. I dive right in. And I learn as I go. If I don’t, I’m screwed.

Maybe that’s one of the benefits of having had so many concussions/mild TBIs — I’ve acquired the ability to adjust rapidly to being utterly clueless in countless situations. Seriously, friends, when I’m in high-stakes situations, my impulse control generally goes right out the window, and I often end up in the midst of a terrible, terrible mess. The only redemption for me is to dive deeper, drive harder, and hack my way through the weeds, till I come out on the other side. I’m in the underbrush as often as not, and since I usually can’t tell what I don’t know till I get there, I often end up standing at the edge of a proverbial cliff with the local law enforcement at my heels — complete with barking dogs and loaded guns.

Such is my life of adventure.

Good thing they dumped their fuel!

Of course, a lot of this I could avoid, if I could just calm myself down and think things through rationally up front. And I often can do that. But every now and then, I get hit with something like this project that totally blindsides me and throws me off. I get angry. I get aggressive. I get hostile. And I get physically ill. I go into a tailspin, and I have to pull myself out of it quick, before I end up like an F/A-18 fighter jet crashed in a Virginia Beach apartment complex courtyard.

Of course, I’ve got plenty of experience doing this. I’ve messed up more times than I can count — and if my memory were better, I’d have lots of great stories to tell. The problem is, I don’t always remember the things that have happened before — if someone sits with me and talks them through, I can often piece together what once was. But when I’m on my own and there’s no one available to talk to  — and when I don’t take the time to sit myself down and intentionally work my way through the scenario and get my head on properly — things get ugly. I just didn’t do that, this time. I was too busy being pissed off about the timing of this and being upset with my boss and my boss’es boss who signed me up for this jungle march.

I really need to watch more adventure movies. Old movies about WWII. I should also go back to reading military histories like I was before. They really help me.

Yeah — what ever happened to me reading my big book of Samurai legends? I recall that it was helping me immensely before. Did wonders for my attitude and outlook. Gotta dig that book up and start reading it again. Like a Bible of sorts. Yeah, do that, why dontcha.

After I finish the work I’m doing today. No, wait – while I’m finishing the work I’m doing today. The stories are short, so I can read them in the midst of my slog through the jungle — the jungles of this project, and the jungles of my brain.

The thing I have to remember through all of this is that it’s a learning experience. Everything is a learning experience. Without exception. The difference is with me — will I make the effort to learn what I need to learn? Will I have compassion on myself for screwing up and find ways to redeem myself, even after the worst sort of behavior possible? Will I have the wherewithall to adjust and adapt — often in mid-stream — so that I don’t get hung up on rocks like a cruiseliner sailing too close to some Mediterranean island?  What will it be? Will I decide that my brain is too broken to handle anything well, or will I realize that my brain is constantly relearning how to do things — over and over again, sometimes the same lesson repeatedly — just like everyone else who bothers to pay close attention to their life?

What’s it gonna be? Am I gonna settle for being wrong, over and over again? Or will I see this as a chance to figure it out differently and get it right the next time — over and over again?

It’s up to me. I have a choice. So, it’s time to make the better choice of the two. And it’s time to get back to work.


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