There’s a whole lot there

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It's amazing what all goes on in there

So, yesterday I was supposed to go to a screening of a movie that a friend of mine created. I was listed as one of the contributors, since I provided an idea that they used to really build out the plot. I even got a credit πŸ™‚ And the screening last night was to give everyone who contributed the chance to see the product of their creative inspiration.

I was planning on going, but yesterday morning, I bailed. I’d actually been leaning towards bailing for the past week, as things have been very busy at work and I am behind on my sleep. I probably could have gone — that is, if I had remembered it was actually last night, instead of Monday evening. But for some reason, I had it in my head that it was on Monday. So, when bailed, I bailed for the wrong date.

Oh, well. At least I got back in touch with the filmmaker before the date had passed. That would have been embarrassing.

Anyway, there was no way I could have gone yesterday. My sensory issues were acting up, and I felt very “off” all day. Like I was walking around on another planet or something. Off  balance. Jumpy. Spaced out. Feeling like I’m in a fog. Very sensitive. And in pain. My back and hips are giving me problems again – I may need to adjust the seat in my car some more.

Being around other  people was not an option. And anyway, my spouse was out of town last evening, so I had a lot of time to devote to myself and my reading. I found some really great articles online that I printed out, and I took a lot of time to think about them. One of them is a huge challenge for me, because it’s full of formulas and physics, which I don’t understand and can’t follow. I’m going to read it again today to see if it makes any more sense to me.

The interesting thing about formulas and calculations, is that I can look at them and not understand what they’re saying, but I still feel like I “get” what they are about. It’s like there’s a part of my brain that understands in a non-verbal, implicit way, what the formulas and calculations are about. I couldn’t recreate them to save my life, but reading them, they make sense. At least, to my thinking, they do,

So, last night was good. I got to spend a lot of time with myself and in the deafening silence that is my brain crunching through new information. My spouse says they can hear the gears turning in my head, sometimes, and I have to stop thinking so hard around them, because it’s too “loud”. Ha. So, the old machinery is still working πŸ™‚

One thing I’ve noticed is that the way my brain works is very different from most people’s. It has been that way since I was a kid, and while it does not make it easier for me to interact with other people, it does make it easier for me to interact with information. Data. Formulas. Calculations. I can look at something and “get” what is going on there. Even though I cannot always articulate it or explain it or even replicate it, there is a sort of visual processing that goes on in my mind/brain that can process data at a glance and identify patterns in it.

I cant’t explain how it works, or even why it works, but it works. And I have  come to realize that much of the difficulties I have had over the years in school and work interactions have had to do with me trying to fit my thinking style into an approach that other people understand and can relate to. It’s a trap. Because when I try to wedge my non-verbal thinking into a verbally oriented way of processing information, I lose the very thing that makes me strong and capable.

I’m not sure if TBI has anything to do with altering how my brain works, but I do know it has a LOT to do with me trying to make myself into something and someone I am not. TBI makes my thinking rigid. It blocks my ability to see multiple possibilities. It makes me inflexible and I get stuck in a thinking rut that’s very difficult to get out of. And the ultimate result is that I think there is something wrong with ME and how my brain works, when the real problem is how I am thinking about myself and what I’m expecting of my brain.

I think maybe this is what my neuropsych has been trying to communicate to me, lo these many years. I have been so rigidly focused on being and thinking ONE CERTAIN WAY that really doesn’t suit me as well as the variety of ways I have to choose from. Now, years later, I’m getting it.

And it’s good.

So, that’s the deal for today. I am having a blast, reading these new papers, and I am also having a blast mapping out the ideas I get from them. I have a bunch of papers I downloaded over the years when I was really digging into scientific papers for the sake of idea density (I read a book about the Mankato Nun Study which discovered that having a lot of “idea density” in your  language/thinking correlated with reduced symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia, and with my history of head trauma, dementia has been an ongoing concern for me). I have a ton of papers on TBI and related subjects, many of which I have not actually read in depth. I just scanned the abstracts, and that was good enough for me at the time.

Now it’s very different, and I look forward to digging into them again.

Oh, and there are the several works I’ve been working on that I think could really help people better understand TBI and the after-effects, so that we can treat the right underlying issues, instead of chasing the symptoms around the block and back again.

There’s a lot going on with me, these days. And it’s good.

Onward.

Back on track…

Back in the regular world today, after being out of it for the last week. The trip to families went extremely well. Better than expected. Better than ever. It’s hard to believe how difficult it was for me in the past, compared to how it was for me, this trip.

How amazing, that the changes I’ve been making — getting regular exercise, tracking my daily activities, actively monitoring and managing my days — have made such a dramatic difference. I think, really, just understanding that I have issues, to begin with, gives me something to work with. It gives me a baseline against which I can compare my future progress. And it lets me see the progress for what it is — nothing short of amazing.

In all honesty, I never ever thought I could have that much fun with my family. I never thought I could communicate as well as I did, or that I could relax around them as much as I did. You have to understand — for as long as I can remember, I have been an uptight, frazzled mess around my family, and I had all but written them off for good, many times in the past. I just never thought I would be up to dealing with them.

And for good reason. They’re a handful — all of them. And if I’m not careful, I can get overwhelmed and completely overtaken by all the activity. My parents are physically rough — they’re not abusive, but they are heavy-handed, and the back-thumping of my mother has long been a problem with me. I’ve secretly (or maybe not so secretly) wondered if I would ever be able to be around them.

The thing is, though, this time, I was able to be around them. And I was able to weather the constant storm that is the inside of my parents’ house. I was able to relax and be with them, and just chill. And even when I did get overwhelmed, as I did more than a few times, I was able to step away, calm myself down, and get back in the fray in no time.

How amazing. The sensory issues I’ve always had around them were not in over-abundance, as they tend to be. The overwhelm that I frequently feel with them, was not so much in evidence that it derailed me. I was able to carry on conversations with people, spend some quality time with my nieces and nephews, and really connect with everyone in a way I’ve never been able to do.

So, now I’m back into my regular life, trying to recuperate enough to get back to work. Work. Blech. I’d rather lie around and read or listen to music. I’d rather draw or paint or write. But no, I must work.

And this is where I’m going to put some of my new energy to work — figuring out how to really work well, in this coming year. Including the last few days of the current year. Work intelligently. Manage my energy, just as I did with my family. Be smart about things and set priorities. And not get too caught up in stuff that is passing and is not specific to my Life Goals.

I’m thinking about this… thinking… and doing. I didn’t do such a good job of it, today, but I’m tired from the travel, and I have a little bit of time, till I have to hit the ground running. This will take more work. And a deeper understanding of what I want to do with my life and accomplish in the world. I’m getting back, bit by bit, and it feels good.

The plan is to get back, yes. But also to move past. Up. Beyond. Onward.

Doing it differently this holiday season

I did something quite unusual last night — I went Christmas shopping by myself at a much slower pace than usual. I didn’t manage to buy everything I set out to, but I got everything I could, and I got through the experience in one coherent piece — and I was able to get my nap after I got back.

Normally, this time of year is marked by team-shopping with my spouse. They contact everyone in the family and find out what people want… or we talk about what we think people want, and then they make up the list. We take the list, hop in the car, and head out to stores that look like good candidates, then we slog through the process of elimination, muddling our way through… with me getting so fried I either completely shut down and become non-communicative, or I melt down and fly off the handle over every little thing.

We usually spend several evenings like this, ’round about this time of year, and we’ve both come to dread it a little. My meltdowns had become more extreme over the past few years, and this year we were both really dreading the whole Christmas shopping business — to the point where we are going to be late(!) with presents for family members in other states. That’s never happened before. We were always good about it. But my meltdowns screwed everything up.

We both recognize that doing a lot of social things, this time of year (when work is actually getting more crazy, what with year-end and all), takes a huge toll on me. Even if it’s with friends (especially with friends), all the activity, all the interaction, all the excitement, really cuts into my available energy reserves. And then I get turned around and anxious… and I either regress to a cranky 9-year-old state, whining and bitching and slamming things around… or I melt down, start yelling, freak out over every little thing, and start picking at my spouse over things they say and do, to the point where neither of us can move without me losing it.

What a pain in the ass it is. Of all things, the uncontrollable weeping bothers me the most. The yelling bothers my spouse. It’s embarrassing for me and frightening for them, and neither of us has a very Merry Christmas, when all is said and done.

So, this year we did things differently.

We split up for the day and took care of our respective activities.

My spouse went to a holiday party that was thrown by a colleague of theirs who’s married to an attorney who deals with financial matters. I was invited, too, but we both realized that it would be pretty dumb for me to try to wade into the midst of 50+ actuaries and tax attorneys and their spouses who were invited to the shindig… and try to hold my own. Certainly, I can keep up with the best of them, but marinating in such a heady soup, especially with everyone hopped up on holiday cheer (eggnog, red wine, punch, etc.) and all animated and such, would have been a recipe for disaster.

So, I didn’t go. Instead, I took our shopping list and headed to the mall to stock up on what our families had requested. We had written down in advance all the names and the specific gifts we were going to get, and we had also written down where we were going to get them. That list was my lifeline. Especially in the rush and press of the mall, which sprawls out in all directions, with satellite stores on either end.

I’m happy to report that I actually did really well. I made a few tactical errors — like not parking in the first lot I came to and walking in. But that turned out okay, because if I had parked in the first lot, it would have been all but impossible to get down to the other end of the mall. I studied the list carefully ahead of time and used a highlighter to mark the stores where I’d be going. I also kept my focus trained on the task at hand — even if it was just sitting in traffic. I also walked a lot more this year than other years. I found one parking space and used it for two different stores. And I didn’t hassle with finding a space that was as close as I could get to the building. I took the first decent spot I could find, and then I walked to the store.

Imagine that — in past years, I was possessed with finding parking as close as possible, and I would move the car between stores, even if they were only 500 yards apart.Β  This year, I just walked the distance. Even though it was cold, for some reason the cold didn’t bother me, and it actually felt good to be out and moving.

I think that my 5 monthsΒ  of daily exercise has paid off, in this respect. I think part of the reason I was always consumed with driving everywhere was that I just wasn’t physically hardy. I was kind of a wimpy weakling, in fact — though more in thought than in body, but a wimply weakling, all the same. But having a good physical foundation — even just from doing an hour (total) of cycling, stretching, and light lifting each morning — has made a significant difference in my willingness and ability to walk between stores.

It might not seem like much, but the walking (instead of driving) between stores part of the trip actually made a huge difference in my overall experience. Walking between stores — stopping at the car on the way to stash my presents — helped me break up the activity and clear my head. It got me out of that in-store madness, the crush and the rush, and it got me moving, so I felt less backed-up and agitated. And that let me start fresh at the next store.

That was good, because the first store was a friggin’ nightmare. It was one of those big-box electronics places, that supposedly has “everything” but really didn’t. It was exhausting, combing through the stacks of movies and music, only to find everything except what I needed. The lighting was awful — extremely bright and fluorescent and glaring. People kept bumping into me, or walking so close I thought they would run me down. But the worst thing was the acoustics. Everything surface was hard and echo-y and the place was overwhelmingly loud, and every single sound was at least partially distinguishable, which drove me nuts. I’ve noticed that acoustics have a lot more impact on me than light, when I’m out shopping. The store was one big cauldron of loud, indiscriminate noise, and my brain kept trying to follow every sound to see if it mattered. I couldn’t function there. Not with the place full of people — and very agitated, anxious, aggressive people, at that.

I eventually went with a gift card and got the hell out of there. I doubt I’ll ever go back when it’s that full. When the place is low-key and all but empty, I can handle it much better. But at this time of year? Not so much.

Walking back to my car chilled me out. Sweet relief.

At the second store — a bookstore — I started to feel pretty overwhelmed. They had long lines, and the place was packed — which is good for the retailer, but not so great for me. I spent the longest amount of time there, in part because I could feel I was getting overloaded, and I stopped a number of times to catch up with myself and remind myself what I was there to buy. My list was getting a little ragged, at that point, what with me writing notes in the margins and taking it out/putting it back in my pocket. So, eventually I just pulled it out and held onto it for dear life. I must have looked a little simple-minded, but I don’t care. Everyone else was so caught up in their own stuff, anyway. My main challenge there, was not getting trampled by Women On A Mission — many of them carrying large bags and shopping baskets that doubled as ramrods to get through the crowds.

One cool thing happened, though, when I was taking a break — I had a little exchange I had with two teenage boys who were talking about some book they’d heard about. I was just standing there, pretending to look at a shelf of books, just trying to get my bearings, when I hear this one young guy tell his buddy, “I heard about this book I should get — I think it’s called the ‘Kama Sutra’ and it’s, like, about sex, and it’s got these pictures… and it’s really old… like, from India or something.”

Well, I perked up at that, and suddenly very alert, I looked over at them and said, “Oh, yeah — the Kama Sutra, man… You should definitely check it out.”

They kind of looked at me like deer in headlights, and they got flushed and flustered and stammered something about not knowing how to find it. It was about sex, and they didn’t know how to ask someone to help them. I so felt their pain…

I confidently (and confidentially) pointed them to the book-finder computer kiosk, where they could type in the title and it would tell them where to find it in the store.

“Dude, you should totally look into it. It’s got lots of information — and pictures — and it’s been highly recommended… for hundreds of years.”

They got really excited and headed for the book-finder kiosk. Here’s hoping they — and their girlfriends — have a very Merry Christmas.

That little exchange got me back in the game, so I took another look at my list and managed to find the handful of books and music and calendars I wanted to get. I headed for the line and just chilled/zoned out. I didn’t get all tweaked about how long it was taking; I listened in on a conversation for a while, till I realized it was mostly about death and health problems people were having.

Oh – and another thing that helped me keep my act together, was the 4:15 p.m. alarm that I have set on my mobile phone. 4:15 is usually when I need to start wrapping up my day at work. I need to do a checkpoint on the work I’m doing, start to wind down, and begin keeping an eye on the clock, so I don’t get stuck in town past 6:00, which is what happens to me when I don’t watch my time after 3:30 or so. I have this alarm set to go off each day, and it went off while I was in the store, which was a blessing. I had completely lost track of time and I was starting to drift, the way I do, when I’m fatigued and overloaded and disoriented.

It startled me out of my fog, and I knew I still had a bunch of things on my list to get, so I refocused and started thinking about what I would get at the next store, so I could just march in and do my shopping without too much confusion and disorientation. After I paid for my books and music and calendar, I debated whether to have my presents wrapped for free, which might have saved me time in the long run. But I couldn’t bear the thought of having to interact with the folks who were doing the wrapping. They looked really friendly and gregarious — Danger Will Robinson! Warning! Warning! Even a friendly conversation was beyond me at that point.

I realized I just wasn’t up to that, and I must have looked like an idiot, standing there in the middle of the foyer, staring at the gift-wrappers for about 10 minutes, but who cares? Everyone was so caught up in their own stuff, they probably didn’t notice me. And if the gift-wrappers were uncomfortable with my staring, they didn’t show it… too much πŸ˜‰

Anyway, after I managed to extricate myself from that store, I headed for my last destination. Again, I didn’t sweat the traffic getting out of the lot, and when I got to the final store, I parked at a distance from the front doors and walked in through the icy cold, which was good — it cleared my head.

Inside, I consulted my list again and headed directly for the section that had what I needed. Halfway there, I remembered that I’d meant to buy a very important present at the first store, but I’d totally blanked on it. I started to freak out and got caught up in trying to figure out how to get back to that first store and not lose my mind in the process.Β  Then, I slowed down and stopped catastrophizing, and in my calming mind, it occurred to me that — Oh, yeah — they probably carried that item at this store, so I went and checked, and sure enough, there it was – score! I didn’t have to back to big-box hell. At least, not that day.

I found some more of the presents on my list, and although I didn’t get everything I needed, I made a decent dent. My partner can come with me and help me sort out the other items either today or tomorrow. Or possibly when we get to our family — they usually have some last-minute shopping to do, and they can cart us around with them. And I won’t have to drive.

By the time I got home, I was bushed. My spouse wasn’t home yet, so I called them — they were on their way home and were stopping to pickup some supper. I said I was lying down for a nap, and they didn’t have to wake me when they got home. Then I took a hot shower to get the public germs off me, laid down, and listened to Belleruth Naparstek’s Stress Hardiness Optimization CD. I had a bit of trouble relaxing and getting down, but I did manage to get half an hour’s sleep in, before I woke up in time for dinner.

My partner had a pretty good time at the party, but they said it probably would have been a disaster for me — so many people, so much energy, so many strangers, and unfamiliar surroundings. I concurred, and I showed them what I’d bought that afternoon.

We’d both done well. We both missed each other terribly, but we did get through the afternoon without one of those terrible holiday incidents that has dogged us for many, many years. Like Thanksgiving, which went so well, this Christmas shopping trip actually felt normal. It didn’t have that old edginess that I always associate with holiday shopping. It didn’t have the constant adrenaline rush. In some respects, it feels strange and unfamiliar, but you know what? If strange and unfamiliar means level-headed and low-key and plain old sane, and it means I can keep my energy up and pace myself with proper planning… well, I can get used to that.

Yes, I’ve done things differently this year. And it’s good.