At last… the walk

Funny, how everything can sneak up on you…

So, my plan to go for a walk this morning got postponed. I realized that I needed to start work on some important day-job stuff that is due in a couple of weeks, so I dug into that, and three hours later I realized that I wasn’t making the kind of headway I wanted to, so I gave it a rest.

Which was good, because my brain is *fried*. I had an incredibly full day yesterday, with a training I attended in a nearby city. Between the 90-minute drive in, the two-hour training, the urgent errands I needed to take care of while I was there, an introductory phone call to a possible business connection, the two hour drive home, and then dinner with friends out in the country, an hour’s drive from home, and then another hour driving back home, I spent about 5 hours driving, three hours on very mentally taxing stuff, and then even more time talking through some heavy stuff that our friends are trying to navigate — and there was a business/logistical aspect of that, too, which was more mental effort.

Come to think of it… no wonder I was baked, this morning.

So, yeah, my plans for a walk got hijacked by work-work stuff that needed to be started. And the deeper I got into that, the more I realized how much work remains to be done before this massive deadline. And then the panic sets in. And then the frustration starts to mount, and then the wheels start turning about how much I have to do in other areas of my life, and before you know it, my head is going a mile a minute in circles — or rather, it’s headed downhill at top speed, headed for the cliff, with me all caught up inside it.

And the panic starts to set in…

And then I get depressed, and I start to feel so incredibly weighed down by all the burdens of my world, and I begin to feel like there’s no hope, no chance of ever getting or doing better, and why should I even try? Why indeed?

I sat outside for a while, getting some sun and feeling better in some ways. My balance is WAY off, today — with so much activity, I’m jammed in high gear, which wears me out and makes my vertigo zoom to the outer regions of charts. I can’t spell, I can’t type, I can’t hold a pen, I can’t dial a phone, I can’t keep my balance unless I’m moving in a specific direction at a high speed, or I’m holding onto something… and I feel like CRAP.

After a while of hanging around outside getting some sun, eating some lunch, feeling like crap, and then getting bit by mosquitos, attacked by biting flies, and stung by a wasp (my bad – I walked near its nest), I finally had enough, so I took a hot shower and went to bed. I just sank into the oblivion of silent darkness, with my earplugs in and my light-blocking curtains pulled tight. I had the air conditioner on to put a chill in the air, because I sleep better when I’m not hot, and I just let it all go. After I had an hour’s rest, I went out for my walk, got my head together, and came back home to make dinner.

All I can say is, thank heavens for that nap.

This is my new thing — closing my eyes and just letting it all go… letting go of any thoughts, any tension, any ideas, any hopes, any dreams, any aspirations, any anxiety, any nervousness, any plans… just proverbially taking 1000 mg of Fukitol and dropping off the edge of the cliff to oblivion. Just saying “screw it” to everything — the good and the bad, the positive and the negative — and letting myself sink into complete darkness.

I mean, frankly, sometimes the “good” stuff is a bigger hassle than the “bad”. So many hopes, so many aspirations, so many interdependencies, so many people “rooting for me” and all that. Things were so much easier when I was a chronic under-achiever who spent their weekends hanging out, lying around on the back porch, sleeping in the sun, going for long walks in the woods, and being satisfied with a decent meal. Okay, so I was on a perpetual roller coaster and my moods were insane, and I was always on edge about something, so it wasn’t all hunky-dory. But thinking back, I can’t say it was a terrible thing, to live like nothing hung in the balance with my decisions.

Now things are very different. I own a house. I have several projects which are high profile and have a lot of people depending on them. I do a job that only I can do. And I’m the sole breadwinner for my household. Ugh. Days like today, I truly wish I didn’t matter at all.

But you know, when I think about it, the fact of the matter is, I really don’t matter that much at all. Yes, I have my hopes and dreams and the things I want to accomplish. Yes, I have my friends and associates and dependents. Yes, I have my work and goals and “deliverables”. But in another hundred years, it may very well be as though I never even existed. All the drama, all the worry, all the ambitions… in time, they all disappear and dissipate into the ethers. And what have we got to show for it? Nada. Zip. Zilch. We’re gone. And the memory of us is not far behind.

I know a lot of people who are horrified by that prospect. They want to be remembered. They want to be memorialized. They hope and hope to become a cherished memory in the minds of others.

Why? What difference does it make? Our “legacies” are never what we intend them to be, and we invest all this time and effort in “leaving our mark”, when the best thing we could probably do for posterity, is to leave no mark at all — just let them live their lives as best they can without the intrusion of our “legacy”. All that talk and fluffernutter about “creating change”… please. It seems to me it’s just a convenient way for us to distract ourselves from our existential anxiety — the simple fact that one day we will not be here anymore, and nobody will ever notice we were ever here.

I think about mortality a lot, this time of year. The leaves are starting to turn and fall, and things that were so alive during the spring and summer are starting to die off. Worms and snakes are crawling out onto warm road surfaces to keep out of the cold, and they’re either drying up or getting run over by cars. Among the larger mammals, the older, slower ones and unwary members of the new generation are getting hit by cars and dying by the side of the road.

Crops are being brought in and fields are being mowed for perhaps the last time of the growing season. Summer is ending. In another week, it will be official (work-wise, anyway). And we will launch into our busy-ness driven flight from our existential angst through to the holidays.

Again.

Yep, I’m a little depressed, these days. I always get this way around this time of year. Another year has passed. Another batch of hopes and dreams unrealized. Another year of laboring to feed the gods, without a heck of a lot to show for it. Just survival.

On the brighter side, though, in 2014, I am on track to have several large outstanding debts repaid – which will save me close to $700 a month. That’s not small potatoes, and it’s going to be pretty friggin’ awesome to have it all squared away. The first of the problem debts, which is close to $450/month, will be repaid in January of 2014 — sooner, if I can rustle up a couple of thousand bucks, which might be doable, depending. The second of the problem debts will probably take the full year to lay to rest, but I might be able to get that squared away sooner, especially if I can find a better job that pays me well.

In any case, there is a light at the end of that horrible tunnel. And the difference an “extra” $450/month can make, is nothing to sneeze at.

Looking back, I can be pretty proud of myself, having kept it together as long as I have, under these conditions. For three years, I was shelling out about $1500/month for debt settlement payments, which cut very deep and put tremendous stress on my spouse and myself. Yes, I do realize that that’s more than some people bring home in a month. Hell yes, I realize it. It was a direct result of me losing a good job, thanks to a mild TBI in 2004, and then living off credit cards for years, before it all caught up with us, and we had to choose either trashing our credit to bits and settling our debts at a great rate of about 40 cents on the dollar, or living in a perpetual cycle of indentured servitude and avoiding credit card companies calling every other week. We took a gamble and made the tough choice and went down the debt settlement road. When it was happening, it was hell. But now that it’s going to be over in another year’s time, it was so worth all the pain and suffering and threatening calls and hair-raising visits to claims court.

We have been seriously strapped for years. All sorts of things fell by the wayside, including vacations, new clothing, car repairs, dentist visits… you name it, if it could be cut or postponed, it got cut or postponed. Now we’re settling up and leveling everything out, and it feels pretty friggin’ awesome. So, that’s good. It’s something to be happy about, in the midst of my autumn depression.

So, I look for what I can, and I do the best with what I’ve got. If I’m feeling down, I’m feeling down. There it is. I can still keep on with my life, not give up, but stay steady and keep my eyes on the prize of finally being DONE with things I detest and hate. And I can spend a little time thinking about where I want to be and go instead. There are a lot of possibilities for me. I just need to not get overwhelmed.

But in the case I do get overwhelmed, I can always go to bed.

Don’t forget your sunglasses

Summer is here. That means the days are getting longer and the sun is getting brighter. It also means you may be getting less sleep than you did over the winter, so you might be more susceptible to stress.

If you’re like me, really bright light for a really long time is very stressful. And if you’re like me, the more tired you get, the more you’re affected by that stressor. And that makes me anxious. Agitated. Prone to freak out. Not good.

If you’re like me, you’ll make sure you always have your sunglasses with you. Even if I’m just stepping out for a quick errand, I try to always put on my sunglasses, because I’m never sure what I’m going to encounter along the way — bad traffic, mean people, unforeseen events — that might throw me into a tailspin.

The last thing I need, is being unnecessarily stressed by the bright light.

So, I make sure I wear my sunglasses.

A Perilous Relief – Conventional Wisdom About Risk-Taking/Danger-Seeking Behavior

Risk-taking or danger-seeking behavior, especially in teenagers or at-risk individuals, has intrigued, worried, and frustrated scientists and mental health professionals for aeons — perhaps as long as humans have walked the earth, and there were friends, family and/or hunting party members to be concerned about the welfare of “crazy bastards” who took more risks than most.

In the past, actions like walking up to a mastodon and launching your spear at it point-blank, scaling the face of El Capitan without ropes, or putting every penny you own on the line for a long-shot bet or a chancy investment, were equated with a sort of “death wish” or the desire to do self-injury. Such behavior was (for good reason) considered illogical, even pathological. That professional view has changed, but some residue of it remains, culturally speaking.

I’ve also heard risk-taking behavior explained as a form of self-sabotage or a kind of self-abuse, based in an individual’s general lack of understanding about (and/or desire to flee) deep-seated emotional issues. Surely, the person who races funny cars in their off-hours must be running from something. Smokers and heavy drinkers who cannot help but be well-aware of the dangers of their habits must be in denial. And surfers who court their own destruction in 30-foot waves above razor-sharp volcanic rocks that are just beneath the surface of the boiling sea certainly must have “unresolved issues.”

On the other hand, I’ve heard danger-seeking described as a form of self-aggrandizement, as a way to prove one’s evolutionary superiority over social/biological competitors. Whether it’s competing in freestyle skiing… or “playing chicken” in speeding cars on a pitch black night… or jumping from skyscrapers with a parachute, you’re essentially “showing off” to “get girls” or prove to the world that you’re the superior specimen. And dude, on a certain level, it tends to work.

At a basic, physiological level, I’ve heard risk-taking described as a form of addiction to adrenaline highs, which arises from the brain’s continued experience of adrenaline rushes in the face of extreme danger. It’s a conditioned activity, I’m told — one that arises from the complex biochemical cascade of stress hormones and bodily “cowboying up” which happens over and over and over again… until the body, mind, and spirit just can’t live without the high.

Now, I myself, have a history of danger-seeking and risk-taking behavior, in both my personal and professional life. I’m not one for extreme sports; in fact, few things entice me less than bungee jumping or skydiving. The idea of stock car racing appeals to me… until I calculate the likelihood of getting into a fiery crash, whereupon my enthusiasm dissipates considerably. But in my own unique way(s), I have courted danger and taken risks that others considered foolhardy, and I have done so with gusto and glee. In some cases, the chances I took worked out well for me, resulting in either professional and personal financial advancement or the increased esteem of my peers — or both. In other cases, I narrowly escaped possible disaster, and I was lucky to get out of the situation(s) in one piece. In still other cases, I fell flat on my face — sometimes hard — and lost a great deal in the process.

A Perilous Relief – Table of Contents


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A Perilous Relief – Introduction

Risk-taking or danger-seeking behavior has been a puzzle of human experience for generations. Certain individuals repeatedly tempt fate with foolhardy and clearly risky behaviors. They make seemingly rash choices that endanger everything they hold most dear, including life and limb, friends and family, and future prospects for survival. But why?

Explanations by scientists and mental health professionals have often been psychological in nature, and recently with increased understanding of genetics and neuro-chemical processes, additional biological explanations have emerged.

While these new developments shed new light and add more facets and texture to our understanding of why some people actively choose to endanger their own survival, it’s my belief that yet another oft-ignored aspect of human experience plays into the risk-taking behavior equation: namely, painful sensory overwhelm. Further, it is my own belief (and experience, based on personal practice) that the use of “analgesic fear” can be used to control and manage pain and other sorts of sensory overwhelm.

Drawing on my own life experiences with chronic pain, sensory overwhelm, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, fear, and verifiable threats to my personal/professional survival, in this paper I will illustrate how I have repeatedly used risk-taking and danger-seeking behavior as a way to not only minimize my own physical/mental/emotional experiences of pain and sensory overload, but also optimize my personal and professional performance in the process.

A Perilous Relief – Table of Contents


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A New Paper – A Perilous Relief

I’ve been head-down for the past several days, working on a paper called “A Perilous ReliefOn the physiological foundation(s) of risk-taking / danger-seeking behavior“. It’s an offshoot of my recent readings about how fear and anxiety have different effects on the body (especially on pain), how self-induced stress can have an analgesic effect, and how this research of mine can explain some pretty puzzling and problematic behaviors I exhibited over the past couple of weeks. I think I’m onto something here — if only for my own edification.

I’ll be posting excerpts from the paper, as I complete them. I wrote about 50 pages, in the past several days (I probably should have gone for a walk on Sunday, but I got to writing, and I got carried away). Eventually, when the work is finished, I’ll make it available for download and/or in print format. I will probably charge something for it, in hopes of getting some financial support for this blog and my research. It’s an ongoing project, but I’m hoping to have it finished within the next few weeks.

About “A Perilous Relief

This paper is a personal study in my own risk-taking and danger-seeking behaviors from a physiological standpoint. It explores my individual history of risky and dangerous choices not only as a way to pursue an “adrenaline high” or avoid emotional pain and dampen the effects of post-traumatic stress, but also as a highly effective way of coping with and mitigating my lifelong chronic pain and sensory issues and enabling me to function more effectively in the demanding world around me. It details:

  • select instances of my past and present personal/professional risk-taking (some of which had near-disastrous consequences),
    the often painful “sensory backdrop” which lay(s) the contextual foundation for my impaired choice-making,
  • the role that anxiety has played in the things I do and the choices I make and my overall physical experience,
  • how deliberately entering into fear-inducing, high-stakes situations not only cuts the pain that is my constant companion, but also helps me think better, perform better, be better... thus not only easing my discomfort but bolstering my self-esteem and enhancing my overall life, and
  • how continued cycles of anxiety–pain–fear–pain–anxiety–pain–fear–pain can create a feedback loop that systematically drains my personal resources and feeds into a downward spiral of diminishing returns, even as I am convinced that my performance is improving.

One of the important pieces of my own puzzle, is that I am a “high functioning” multiple mild traumatic brain injury survivor. Since the age of 7, through the past 35 years, I have sustained at least five (possibly more) head injuries which have had a noticeable impact on my physical, cognitive, behavioral, emotional, and social landscape. Nevertheless, neuropsychological testing has shown that I score around the 99th percentile of the WAIS-III verbal comprehension index. My intention is to use the heightened abilities I have been given to explore and explain the deep limitations I experience and describe my coping strategies and their outcomes, for the benefit of myself and others.

It is my hope that in reading this paper, individuals, health care providers, mental health practitioners, authority figures, and law enforcers of all kinds may come to a broader understanding and appreciation of why some of us take risks (and take them so frequently without apparent regard for our own well-being) and develop more productive ways of managing potentially damaging behaviors — behaviors which in fact provide experiences that are essential to the peak performance of certain highly sensitive individuals.

A Perilous Relief – Table of Contents

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