The difference between FEELing not-up-to-it and BEing not-up-to-it

So, I’ve noticed more and more, lately, that there often is a big difference between how I feel and how I am — what I feel like I am capable of doing, and what I actually am capable of doing.

When I am tired and disorganized and don’t know what happens next, I feel like I can’t deal with anything. And I tend to drop what I’m doing and go do something else (or do nothing at all).

When I am rested and organized and I know what comes next, I feel like I can do anything (well, within reason), and I move forward with my plans.

The main ingredient is really rest. Feeling strong and together and energized keeps in in the action. When I am feeling weak and de-energized, I try to get myself out of the action.

This is how, so many times, I have gotten so close to my goals, then dropped out at the last minute. This is how I have “sabotaged” myself time and time again, over the years. It’s no big mystery. It makes perfect sense. It is the ideal recipe for bailing — and then looking back on my life and thinking, “If only….”

Well, I’m tired of thinking, “If only…” I need to follow through. I have some big deadlines happening over the coming days, and I’ve promised myself I would move forward with them. That means, in the midst of all the crazy activity, I need to stay well-rested. I need to take breaks. I need to eat right — which I have been doing more, eating a lot less junk food and more healthy food to keep me going.

Ironically, switching to healthier food has put me in a bit of a funk, because it’s not this steady stream of cheap carbs and sudden sugar rushes. That’s the thing about getting off junk food — you go through a bit of a withdrawal, not having those regular sugar spikes. And doing less caffeine also takes it out of me, as necessary as it is. I’ve got to keep my mind clear and hold firm to my resolve — which means not giving in to the desire to stuff myself with really bad food… all the while reminding myself that the withdrawal is for a very good purpose.

In a way, it’s really bad timing, to go through junk food withdrawal at the same time I’ve got these big deadlines. On the other hand, it’s the best time of all. I just need to remember that just because I feel like I’m running out of steam does NOT mean that I’m not going to be able to finish what’s in front of me. There’s a big difference between feeling a certain way and being a certain way — and that’s more and more clear to me as time goes by.

Having a lot to do requires a lot of energy, and it’s easy for me to get run-down. Fortunately, all that energy is renewable, provided I eat right and get enough rest.

Speaking of which, it’s time for a little nap. I’ve had a big morning. Time for a little siesta. Then back to it…


Engaging Anyway

September 14, 2012

Vacation is treating me well, I have to say. The weather is gorgeous, the condo is great, and the beach was amazing last night. We got here late – off to a delayed start, no surprises there — but we had some time to get something to eat and then crash on the beach. We must have slept for at least an hour. I was exhausted, and I could barely keep my eyes open. I have been pushing really hard at work for a number of weeks – and I got sick in the meantime, too – so small wonder that I’m shaking-tired, my stomach is in knots, and I look like I have permanent dark circles under my eyes.

I’m hoping this coming week will change that up a bit. Just being able to rest will be great… though with a spouse who suffers from intense panic-anxiety, it’s constant work to keep stabilized and even-keeled. All the drama about little things… things not being placed in the right way, things not being done in the right sequence… it’s surprising what some folks get hung up on. Oh, well. I think it’s biochemical – no logically thinking person would get this bent out of shape about how a towel is hung in the bathroom.

I’m on vacation, after all.

So, we’re having some friends come to visit later today – one of the friends is very much like me – even-keeled and very “grounding”, as they say. Another one is like my spouse – always on hyper-alert, very uptight about every little thing, and always looking for something that’s WRONG that they can take on and fight over. The third friend, I’ve only met once, by my spouse knows them, and they seem cool. We’re going to hang out and just chill for a few days. That’s the plan, anyway.

Last night I had an interesting conversation with the strung-out friend over some housing issues they’re having. They’ve been having trouble finding a place to live for a couple of years, and they’ve been bouncing around, here and there, living out of their truck (they have a big-ass pickup with a cap on it that they have a bed and all their earthly belongings in) and looking around for other options. They’ve had a bunch of opportunities come up, but they keep deciding that’s not good enough. They say if so-and-so offers them something, then they’ll have to offer something in return, and they don’t want to get into that. Yada-yada-yada. And winter is coming. There’s not a lot of time to screw around.

This person seems to think that they can hold out indefinitely and the perfect thing is going to come up. I’m going to have a talk with them when they come around this weekend. They have got to quit acting like they’ve got all the time in the world. Because they don’t. They seem to think that “the universe” – whatever that is – is going to provide for their every need perfectly. They keep talking about “the universe” like it’s a benevolent parent who wants to make sure they’re taken care of and all set.

News flash — “the universe” (at least, the one that I live in) doesn’t work that way. It’s all very nice and wonderful to think so, but from what I’ve seen, you’ve got to get involved in your own life and take responsibility for your own decisions and do what you can when you can – not wait around for some invisible Force to step in and save you from everything. Interestingly, this friend was treated really badly as a kid – they were beaten and shuttled around between family members and foster homes and probably have a history of tbi in the mix. (When I say “interestingly” it’s not to make light of their hardship – I think it’s just an important piece of the puzzle they are.) They’re also dyslexic and have a really hard time reading. And they’ve got major ADHD. Those are some more pieces of the puzzle.

The puzzle that they are seems to be living in some fantasy world – like maybe they did when things got so rough for them as kids and they had nowhere to hide but in their own mind. They seem to be all hung up on the idea that something outside of them needs to come and save them – that they can’t figure things out for themself. I think that’s a big piece of it – they don’t seem to want to figure things out. Because it might get messed up as it does so many times. And then, no matter how hard they try, they will be back at square one.

Now, in the midst of all of this, the place where I see them needing the most help – and not always asking for or using it – is with communicating with people. I think they’ve got huge problems following what others are saying, they have a hard time comprehending, they jump around a lot, and by the end of the conversation, they have wandered off in different directions and are in a different cognitive “neighborhood” than when they started out. It looks and sounds so familiar to me – like I’m looking at myself, from the time before I got help for my TBI issues. It’s crazy – all the faking it through, all the bravado, all the halting interactions, the jumping around, the inability to hold conversations and make real decisions… it sounds eerily familiar. It reminds me so much of how I was before. Really, truly.

And I wonder how I got past all that. Because I really was locked into that for years and years. For over 40 years, actually. That’s a long time to be locked away in that prison of non-comprehension and confusion.

The way I got past all of it, when I think about it, was doing the exact opposite of what I was used to doing – I started reaching out to others and engaging. I started extending myself and taking a chance at sounding stupid, so that I could have actual conversations with people. To be perfectly honest, I had gone most of my life without having actual conversations with anybody – it was just nodding my head, repeating back to people what they’d said to me, and pretending I got it, when I was actually losing much of what they’d said to me, in the past few minutes. It got me by, but it was a really shitty way of living. And it only helped others, not me. In fact, it didn’t help others, either, because they were talking to a ghost. They were talking to someone who didn’t even exist.

When I started working with my neuropsych, however, that really started to change. To be completely accurate, a lot of the “work” we did each week was just sitting and talking – me saying stuff that probably sounded like I was half insane, and them sitting there just listening and responding to me like I had good sense. They didn’t call me on the crazy stuff I came up with; they just let me talk. And eventually I built up some skills in having a conversation with another person that I could actually participate in. I learned how to engage.

And what a difference it made. I can’t even begin to say. Between those weekly conversations and my regular blogging, I gradually learned how to put thoughts together in a relatively coherent way that had something to do with reality, rather than some fantasy concoction in my head – some fantastical interpretation of what was really happening and what it all meant.

Crazy. I mean, it was just nuts, the way I used to live. It had nothing to do with actual reality – it was all about my own internal interpretations of what was happening and what people were saying to me.

And that’s exactly where I see this friend of ours living. That’s the “cognitive neighborhood” where they live. And it’s where my spouse lives, as well, with their anxiety-driven interpretations of how everything that’s out of place, everything that isn’t perfectly to design, is a sign of imminent danger — and it needs to be fought against and overcome right away – right now – no hesitation – just strike hard and fast – and rule with shock and awe. It holds you back, it stops you from interacting with the world. It keeps you from engaging with your life, and it keeps all the best ideas from showing up and becoming reality.

That’s what happens inside our heads. We all do it. We all get pulled into that, at some point or another. And all the while, the chance at having a peaceful, happy life is draining away, as our anxiety and interpretations of What’s Happening pull the plug out of the tub of our presence of mind.

If you’ve been following this blog at all, you can probably guess what I’m going to suggest next – that these are issues with the Autonomic Nervous System – the constant activation of fight-flight that keeps us on edge and keeps us from being present, even intelligent, in our daily lives. It’s our histories of trauma, our mass of experiences with being beaten, abused, violated in some way, neglected, mistreated, dismissed, and generally treated like ever-loving CRAP that puts us in that state of mind, and keeps us there indefinitely, when our lives are filled with drama that we cannot control.

It’s when we grow up that we get the chance to control the drama – or at least manage it. But if we’re so accustomed to (and comfortable with) the drama that we feel out of place or we feel like strangers to ourselves if it’s not around, then we end up re-creating it, over and over and over again, and we keep ourselves stuck in that place where we cannot think on our own and act, only react. We end up in that place where we are our own worst enemies – even when we think we’re being our best friends.

And there you have it. At least, that’s my neat little sum-up of how it works. In the case of this friend, I can totally see it. They’re so strung out on anxious drama, that they can’t even think. All they can do is find reasons to doubt every option they have – and poke holes in it. Till their whole life looks like a loosely woven wicker basket they’re trying to use to carry water.


People sure are funny… Except it’s not funny when your life is hanging in the balance and you don’t have a clear view to how to get the hell out. Which is where this friend is, right about now. So, maybe I’ll get to talk to them, maybe I won’t. I’m going to try. Because winter’s coming, and they have GOT to get their shit together. They can’t keep living like this, living in some fantasy world about how things will be so great, if the impossible happens. Life is full of contradictions and hard choices. We always have to make trade-offs and we always have to deal with things that are less than perfect, and anything but ideal. The way I’ve found to deal with all of these, is to step up to life and really engage with it – get involved, don’t hold back, just get in there. I can’t afford to think about what other people think of me. It’s just not worth my time and energy. Anyway, people are so self-obsessed that they probably don’t notice half the stuff that I do, and if they do notice it, they probably have a completely different interpretation of what it means and what it’s about.

So, I’ve just gotta engage, no matter what. I’ve just gotta keep going, and make it all work. Just keep at it, never give up, never give in to the fears and hesitations. Acknowledge them yes, but keep moving forward.

The past two years have done wonders for helping me get me to that place. I’m not perfect at it, and I’m still learning, but I’m a hell of a lot better now than I was just a few years ago. A lifetime of holding back and not being able to stand on my own, make my own decisions, speak my own mind, and have actual conversations with people, is gradually giving way to something else, something different, something new.

And I’ve got to keep on keeping on. I’ve got to keep moving forward. I really feel like I need to talk to this friend and let them know A) they’re not alone – I know exactly what it’s like, and B) I have discovered some tools that have helped me a whole lot, and might actually help them, too. They have to know they are not alone. I used to operate like they operate – every single day of my life. And they have to know that I figured out a way to live that works for me. With the help of a handful of people who know how to not make fun of me, how to not beat me down, how to not treat me like shit, I have come a long way. If anything, I hope that I can get this friend to trust that I’ll be able to do the same for them.

Winter is coming. There’s no time to wait. Life wants us to engage with it. So, let’s engage.

Without music, it’s a little too loud

I’m a little cranky today. Haven’t been sleeping much, and I’ve got a bunch of things I have to get done asap. People are a bit irritated with me. Others are not, but enough are, that it’s bothering me. I’m hungry and tired and frustrated, and I just don’t know how I’m going to get things done.

I’ll get them done, of course. I pretty much always do. Sometimes I’m later than I — and everyone else — would like me to be, but it’s still no fun having things pile up and feeling stressed over everything.

It’s just that old insecurity coming up — the constant worry that I’ll overlook something, or I’ll miss something, or I’ll think I’m doing a really great job, only to be told, “No, you’re not.”  Makes me want to weep, and since I’m not the sort of person who’s okay with being weepy, that impulse just makes it worse. Pisses me off. And I feel even worse than before.

Oh, screw it. Put some music on. Get settled. Have something else to eat/drink, and do what I can to the best of my ability.

Yes, get some music going. The noise in my head is way too much to take. I’ve always been a quiet-type of person. Sure, I have my rowdy streak, and when I get going it can be hard to rein me in. But when people describe me (as I’ve heard them), they usually say something about me being quiet.

What they don’t know, is that inside my head, it’s very, very loud. There are a ton of competing senses, observations, debates, confusions, excitements, and all manner of various distractions that keep my head going. It’s practically a shouting match, at times. Squabble, squabble. Yes, it’s a very noisy place in there.

It’s always been this way. When I was a kid, I externalized a lot of that stuff, and I drove everyone around me crazy. Seriously. I was this wired little monkey who couldn’t keep still. If Ritalin had been available I probably would have been so drugged… But let’s not think about that…

Anyway, I do have a lot to get done, and it’s not going to get accomplished by sitting around feeling sorry for myself or dwelling on my insecurities, etc. I’ve started tracking my overall energy level with a graph that shows where my energy is at, based on my number of things to do, how well-rested and well-fed I am, and how my moods are. Somehow, having a visual of where I’m at makes a huge difference to me. It motivates me to get my chores and such done, so I can free up the energy to do other things. It puts my to-do list in some sort of visual context with my whole live experience, and it shows me how/when I can improve my situation — by taking care of things I need to do.

It’s good.

It keeps me focused, with forcing me to keep a list of things I need to do/get done. If I don’t actively keep track, I lose track. And the voices/messages rattling ’round in my head, telling me I’m no good, I’m lazy, I’m ineffective, I’m clueless, just get the better of me.

Getting out of my head is key.

And putting on some good music is a start.

No, it was NOT self-sabotage

I’ve been thinking a lot about my past history with different things I’ve taken on — jobs, hobbies, projects… And I’ve been thinking about how so many times I’ve been unable to complete things or stick with them long enough to have a track record of success that lasts more than a year or two.

All my life, ever since I was a kid, I’ve been told – in one way or another – that I was responsible for my failure to complete. I was responsible for my inability to stick with things. I was the person who was making all my screw-ups happen. And the fact that I never followed through meant that I had a secret wish to sabotage myself.

Okay, here’s the thing – I have known a lot of psychologists and people in therapy over the years. I’ve known a lot of people in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, and I’ve know a lot of people who were actively addressing childhood abuse issues. What I’ve heard from them, time and time again, is psychological explanations of why it was that I could never manage to follow through or hold steady with jobs or relationships or undertakings long enough to get established and have a foundation of success. Those explanations have been largely about some deep-seated inner loathing of myself… some secret desire to somehow punish myself for things I experienced as a child and thought I’d brought upon myself… some hidden wish to destroy the things I worked so hard to build up, because I hated myself and didn’t think I was worthy of success.

I’ve heard all sorts of explanations, ranging from suppressed memories screwing me up… to past life trauma… to this-life trauma… to mistreatment at the hands of my parents/other adults… to cultural oppression of men and women through roles enforcement and peer pressure… to plain old laziness and not being a grown-up.

And you know what? I’m pretty sick and tired of all that talk. Because when I consider my job history in light of my history of TBIs, and knowing what I now know about how TBI affects general wakefulness and processing speed, which affects attentional capacity and resistance to short-term interference, which affects performance… it all adds up to a neurological situation that is about anything but willpower and character.

I wasn’t able to carry through on my school projects in high school and college because I couldn’t be bothered to try.

I haven’t been able to piece together a single position at a single company for longer than 18 months because I secretly want to wreck my chances of making a living.

I haven’t been able to sustain my attention and focus on myriad projects I’ve started and then dropped because I was lazy or unmotivated or it was all too hard for me.

It happened for exactly the opposite reasons.

Here’s how things would always (and I mean always) happen:

  • I would get started with a new undertaking. Very excited. Totally psyched.
  • I really, really wanted to do my best, so I would dive into my work and really apply myself.
  • I would be in a state of hyper-alertness, thanks to the stress of facing something new.
  • Eventually I would settle in and get familiar and comfortable… and the pressure would be off.
  • When things started to feel familiar (and I was really tired from pushing so hard), I would start to lose the edginess and I would start to make stupid mistakes.
  • People around me would be taken aback by my “sloppiness” and start to chide me.
  • I wouldn’t realize at first that I was messing up, then I’d realize it and I would start to doubt myself.
  • I would start to worry and get anxious and spend a lot of time second-guessing myself, using up a lot of energy and cognitive resources fretting about things getting messed up.
  • Things would get tighter and tighter and harder and harder to handle, and eventually I would need to just leave, to take the pressure off. Quit. Back out. Abandon ship.
  • Once I was out of that situation, the pressure would be off, and I’d be out looking for the next adventure.
  • I’d find it, dive in head-first, and be off to the races.
  • And the cycle would continue. My resume would read yet one more job left, one more position ditched. And I’d have to explain to the next people that I didn’t really want to join them for a year, and then leave.

Now, when I was 30, I could get away with talking myself in and out of job situations. But I’m pushing 50, and it’s just ridiculous for me to continue on this way. I might have continued on indefinitely, actually, had I never learned about TBI and the effects it has on how your brain works.  And if I’d never put 2 and 2 together about the anxiety business and my energy levels and things getting messed up NOT because I wasn’t trying hard enough, but because I was trying really, really hard, I would probably have stayed stuck in that loop.

And I’d still be thinking that I had some sort of psychological complex that was about me having poor self-esteem and not feeling worthy and loathing myself.

But that mis-perception is almost as damaging as the TBIs, themselves. Because it has me believing something about myself that just isn’t true, and which takes up so much of my time and cognitive resources trying to figure out and fix something that is not true at all. Second-guessing myself is a huge time-sink that sucks the life out of me. And second-guessing myself over lies people tell me about myself is a dramatic waste of time.

I do NOT have a shitty self-image. I do NOT have a self-destructive streak that causes me to self-sabotage on a regular basis.

I DO have a neurological situation that demands that I go about things in a certain way — conserving my energy and managing my anxiety and being objectively mindful of my performance on a regular basis. And when I don’t actively monitor my cognitive situation and make regular adjustments to allow for my situation, it can cut into my cognitive capacity and pull the rug out from under my performance.

It’s not about some psychological condition. It’s about neurological circumstances. To think that I’ve been walking around for so many years, thinking it was me that was the cause of my problems, rather than a neurological situation that wasn’t recognized or actively managed…

To think that countless other people might be walking around with that same virtual monkey on their backs — a monkey that doesn’t even exist.

What a shame. What a crying shame.

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