Dangerously dizzy… but life won’t wait

I’ve been increasingly dizzy, the past few days. My left ear is squishy and has been making its presence felt. Pressure in my head, and fatigue… I haven’t had good sleep hygiene, for the past few weeks, and it’s catching up with me.

It’s a scary thing, because it’s so disruptive for my daily life. I have things to do and stuff to accomplish, but if I stand up too quickly or move too suddenly, the whole world starts to rush and spin and I get very sick on my stomach. It also makes me extremely irritable, so I snap out at every little thing, which makes me very difficult to deal with at times.

The only thing that really saves me, is being totally focused on what I’m doing, and not moving much while I’m doing it. Working at the computer is a perfect solution for me, because I have to sit up straight and stay focused on the screen in front of me.

The only problem is, it’s Saturday… a few days before I take off on my marathon trip to see family… and I have a whole lot to get done. Dizziness puts me in more danger of falling or having an accident. If I’m not careful, I can get in a lot of trouble. The last thing I need this holiday season is another concussion — most of my adulthood injuries have coincided with holidays, when I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off and wasn’t paying proper attention. I was fatigued and disoriented… and I fell or had a car accident. Not good.

Yes,  I need to be very, very careful, in everything I do.

I think a big part of the problem I’m having right now is the impending holiday rush. The prospect of driving through several states to see multiple families, over the course of nearly a week is making me a little nervous, and that’s setting off my schedule and my focus.

I have been doing really well with keeping to my daily exercise, which helps.  I just finished my morning workout, in fact, and I feel noticeably better than I did before it. I worked up a sweat and got my heart pumping, which in turn moved the lymph through my system to clear out the grunge. I love lymph. So basic, so essential, so useful. Without it, I’d be in a heap of trouble, and I count my blessings that I don’t have lymph drainag problems, like folks with edema do.

Anyway, I’m feeling better, and I have a full day ahead of me. But I’m pacing myself. And I’ve blocked off time this afternoon to sleep. I haven’t had a good afternoon nap in weeks, and it’s taking its toll. If I don’t nap at least once over the weekend, it catches up with me — and that’s what’s been happening.

And now I’m really dizzy, with a lot of stuff to do, and I regret doing chores last Sunday, instead of taking my nap. I had three solid hours to myself, to use as I pleased, and I frittered away the time on futzing around and doing little chores that took longer than I expected.

Ah, well,  so it goes. At least I’m aware of my dizziness, so I can accommodate it and work with it. When I’m really, really dizzy, I find that keeping my posture ramrod straight and moving very slowly and deliberately helps tremendously. Also, if I sleep a lot and drink plenty of fluids and avoid sugar, that helps, too. I’ve taken medicine for vertigo, but it didn’t help a bit. Anyway, it turns out the medicine is really just for nausea that results from vertigo, not the vertigo itself — at least that’s what the PCP I had at the time told me. Come to think of it, they could have been wrong. They were a bit of an idiot, by average standards. (And it was a scary six months in my life, when they were my primary doctor.)

But now I’ve got a pretty good PCP, and I trust them a whole lot more than the last several I went to. Trusting your doctor is good. It simplifies a lot of things, in many ways, not least of which is the office visit experience.

But more on that later. Right now, I need to stay focused on my dizziness.

Tracking back over the past week, as it’s gotten steadily worse, I have been looking for what I’ve been doing differently that has contributed to this. The one thing that I’ve been doing regularly, that is very different from before, is that I’ve been eating pieces of chocolate to keep myself going. Not just chocolate, mind you, but those little Dove chocolates with peanut butter in the middle. I thought that the peanut butter would give them more staying power, but what I’ve noticed over the past week is how much sugar is in those little puppies.

Zoinks! Who eats this stuff regularly?! They’re dangerous! Sure, they give me a little pick-me-up when I need it — like driving home late from work when it’s very dark, I’m very tired, and I’m having a hard time seeing. But I’m finding that when I eat one, I crave another one about 10 minutes later — like I spike, and then I crash and am worse off than before, so I need another “little” piece of candy to keep me going… and my system gets totally fried by all the sudden, extreme ups and downs.

Which contributes to my fatigue… and apparently my dizziness.

Not good.

So, while I’m doing my errands today, I’m going to remove the chocolates from my car — just throw them out — drink more water, eat more fruit, and be very, very careful when I’m out and about.

The last thing I need is another accident or fall.

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Solutions-Oriented TBI Recovery

I’ve been having a pretty good month, so far. Actually, the goodness goes  back to late November, when I planned and completed a very successful Thanksgiving. It wasn’t successful in the “worldly” sense — it was successful interpersonally and individually. I managed to make it through the holiday without a meltdown, without a breakdown, without total loss of all control, and with a presence with those I was with that I cannot remember ever having had at that time of year.

Now the next spate of holiday activity is coming up. Two families in several states await the pilgrimage of my spouse and myself. It’s going to be even more rigorous than Thanksgiving. Twice as much driving, four times as many families, probably about 20 times as much activity. And this, over the Christmas “break” when everyone will probably be on the road.

I’m being smart about it, planning ahead, pacing myself… Not taking on too, too much at work, but managing (sometimes just barely) to keep up with my workload. Just thinking about it all makes me flush with excitement/dread. But that’s the nature of the game we play at the company where I work, so if I don’t like it, it’s my own danged fault for staying in it… or it’s up to me to change it.

I’ve  been having some pretty amazing revelations, too, with regard to my recovery. I’m reading again, which is a miracle in itself. I’m also able to sleep 8 hours at a stretch, now and then (last night was such a night). And I’m actually awake before 11 a.m., thanks to the daily wake-up exercise routine. I’ve also discovered that, even if I am planning on doing some exercise in the morning — like outside chores that promise to wipe me out — I still need to do my exercise routine to wake myself up, before I do anything else. No compromises, no shortcuts.

My neuropsych has been, well, psyched about my recent breakthroughs. The fact that I’ve been able to manage several extremely challenging travel/family situations in the past five months… the tremendous progress I’ve been making at work… the exercise and the better choices… the difference in my outlook and how I do things, each and every day… not to mention the revelations that I’ve had about what I’m truly capable of… it’s just floored them. Part of me wonders if they’re really amazed, or if they’re just trying to encourage me. But I trust them and their judgment, and I believe them when they say they’re just amazed at my progress.

It’s true. I have been making incredible progress. I have Give Back Orlando to thank for that, as well as my neuropsych and the materials I’ve been reading. One of the main ingredients that’s been critical in my rebound from teetering on the brink of financial ruin and homelessness (I’m not kidding), a few years back, has been the approach I’ve taken to my recovery. Ever since I realized I needed to recover — to rebound — from my fall in 2004… not to mention a lifetime of multiple periodic concussions… I’ve been focused not only on understanding the nature of my issues, but also devising solutions for the issues that are tripping me up.

Indeed, when I look back at my concussive life — starting when I was a young kid, on up through my late 30’s — I can see a pattern, an approach, that has served me well in rebounding from my falls and accidents and knock-out attacks. That pattern/approach was temporarily hidden from me, after my fall in 2004, so I literally forgot how to recover. But when I started getting back, I started to get back into this pattern, and it is helping me as much now — probably more, since I understand the underlying issues — as it did when I was trying to get through my childhood and adolescence and young adulthood after my different injuries.

I could post a laundry list of all my issues — and I probably will in a later post — but I haven’t got time for that right now. Suffice it to say, I’ve got a raft of them. Tens of them. And they cause my trouble on a daily basis. Now, looking at them all by themselves (which I tried doing, a few years back) just gets way too depressing. Seeing my issues for what they are — serious and threatening to my way of life and everything I hold dear — is necessary, true. But if I’m going to recover and rebound, I have to focus not on the problems they cause me, but the solutions I develop to deal with them.

If you’re interested in figuring out how to recover and rebound from your own issues — whether they’re TBI-related or some other sort of cognitive-behavioral bugaboo, like PTSD — I’m happy to share what I do — and have done for as long as I can remember — to get a handle on my issues and overcome them, day after day. (Note: Clearly, I’m human, and some days are better than others, but this is what works best for me — and I have a very successful and fulfilled life to show for it.)

Here’s the approach I take:

  1. I figure out what I want to do. I establish a goal or a desire I wish to fulfill— Like getting out of the house in time to make it to work by 9:30 a.m. I write down what I’m going to do.
  2. I plan my approach and try to prepare as best I can — I collect everything I’ll need for the day, the night before, set my clock early enough to get up, and talk myself through what I’m going to be doing to get out the door at a decent hour. I write down the steps I’m going to follow, in the order and time I plan to follow them.
  3. When the time comes to accomplish my goal, I make a point of focusing completely on it, and I do my utmost to achieve it. I also write down the things I did, and if I don’t make my own goal, I write that down, too, and make a brief note of why it didn’t happen. — As in, I get myself up, do my exercise, and prep for the day. I make a note of what I did all along the way — not lots of notes, but little notes so I’ll remember later. If I can’t manage to get out the door, I make a note of why that was (such as, I miscalculated the amount of time it would take me to eat breakfast, or I forgot that I needed to take out the trash and clean out the back of my car) so I can go back and think about it later.
  4. Over the course of the day, I continue to write down the things I am doing, if they are working or not, and I also look back at how my day started, to put it all in context. If my late morning arrival at work threw off the rest of my day, I can see how it all comes together, and I can also shift my schedule a little bit (like take some things off my plate) so I can catch up with myself again.
  5. At the end of the day, I take a look at how the day went, and I make a note (mental and written) about the things that stopped me from achieving what I wanted to do. I think about this as I plan my next day — if I’m not too tired, I can sometimes head future problems off at the pass. For example, if I was late getting out the door on that morning and it screwed up my day, I can look at what I’ve got going on the next morning, and make changes accordingly. Like double-check my list of things to do, and do them ahead of time. Or set my clock earlier, so I have more time to get things done.

I do this every day, just about. Yesterday, I was really late for work, and I didn’t get to do some things I was  supposed to, because I had forgotten to do some essential chores the night before. I realized, over the course of the day, that I was very tired from a full and active weekend, and I did not rest enough over the past two days. I also realized that when I get tired, I tend to push myself even harder, so I needed to not drive into work today, but work from home. Working from home lets me move at my own pace AND it lets me get an afternoon nap in, which is very important — especially with the holidays coming up.

And all along, I consult my notes. I don’t try to make them all neat, but I do try to make them legible and leave room for other notes in the margins ans I go through my day. Making notes of why things didn’t work out is actually more for consideration throughout the course of the day. I don’t spend a huge amount of time with neatness and completeness. The point of writing it down is more for developing mindfulness around the things I did not manage to get done when I planned to. And giving me a point of reference, when I’m starting to get overwhelmed, as I tend to do.

All in all, the system works for me. It’s solutions-oriented, and the only reason I pay attention to my problems, is so that I can overcome them. I refuse to be held back by these issues, which can be dealt with systematically and logically and logistically. If I have certain problems with fatigue and overwhelm, I can take steps to head those problems off at the pass, or address them in the moment they come up.

This orientation towards goal-oriented solutions is the only way to go for me. It puts my issues in a context that is empowering, rather than defeatist. It also cuts them down to size, by breaking them into smaller and smaller pieces, which I can take, one at a time, to overcome them. When I look at the mammoth iceberg of issues I have — all together at one time — it quickly becomes overwhelming. But if  I break them down into “bite-sized” pieces and tackle each one at a time, AND I attack them with the purpose of achieving the goals I set for myself each day, I can make some real progress.

And I have. And I continue to. Almost by accident — but with a lot of great help from a few key resources — I have come up with a blueprint for addressing my TBI issues, one at a time. And it works. The proof is in my life, which just keeps getting better.

Waking up early again

I got to bed at a decent hour, last night – 10:30 p.m., which is actually early for me. I’ve been trying to do a better job of getting enough sleep, but it’s been problematic. Here and there, I’ve done well — I got more than 6 hours of sleep a few nights in a row. Then I got 7 hours one night, and I even slept a whole 8 hours this past Sunday night. I thought I was on the good foot.

But now my erratic sleeping pattern is back to its old tricks, and here I am again, with all of 5 hours of sleep under my belt.  It’s very frustrating.

Looking back at what I did right before I was able to sleep through the night, I can see what I did right:

First, and probably most importantly, I exercised. I was physically active and moved a lot – sometimes to the point of being totally wiped out at the end of the activities. But then I just rested a bit and got back in the swing of things.

I didn’t drink coffee late in the day. I had a juice or a drink of water or a piece of fruit. I didn’t have coffee after 4:00.

I didn’t get on the computer after 6 at night. I got all my work done in the morning, and I didn’t get all charged up by the glowing screen later in the day. The light emitted from computer screens is very similar to daylight, which tells the brain that it’s daytime, so it needs to wake up. Not good, if you’re trying to wind down for the day.

I ate early — before 7:00 p.m. I had a meal early enough in the evening that I had time to digest it before I went off to bed. I also didn’t eat too much.

On the days immediately before the nights when I was able to sleep the longest, I was physically bushed. Done for the day. I wasn’t just mentally tired. I had been really active, and I had eaten and lived well all day long.

Now, on the days when I’ve had the most trouble, I did the opposite of everything above. I didn’t have any real exercise at all. I ran around a bit and did errands and took care of business, but by and large, I spent the whole day working in relative physical inactivity. A I spent the majority of my hours in front of the computer, till late in the day. Last night, I was coding until about 8 p.m., and then I ate late — around 8:30. Also, I had a cup of strong black coffee around 5:00 in the evening, which helped me wake up in time for my therapy session but probably threw off my sleeping cycle.

One of the other things that has differed between the good sleep days and the bad ones, is that on the good sleep days, I have stuck with a structured schedule. I had specific things I did at specific times, and when I was done with those activities, I was either completely done, or I put them aside to do later. I didn’t sit around thinking about them in the hours when I wasn’t working on them, and I didn’t jump up to go work on the computer when I thought of something “smart” (only to find out later that it wasn’t).

If I was working, I was working.

If not, I was “off duty” for the day.

This comes back (yet again) to the importance of structure and discipline. Knowing how to draw lines between activities and keep myself on-point. Having the discipline to say, “Okay, I didn’t get everything done that I intended to, but here’s what still needs to be done, and I’ll take it off my plate for the day and put it in a list to tend to the next time I work on this…”  instead of hanging onto a task, long after I’ve stepped away from it, and trying to consciously “work on it” in my head while I’m doing other things. That’s a very inefficient way to work and live, and it is actually counter-productive, because the parts of my brain that do best at working on a problem when it’s not in front of me are subconscious and can’t be controlled or steered by conscious will.

It also helps to not get so tired throughout the course of my day that I can no longer tell how tired I am… and what I need to do about it.

It’s a tricky thing, this “energy management” business, but it’s got to be done. I neglect it at my own peril.

Well, enough sitting at this computer. It’s time to get some exercise.

When in doubt… sleep

Last night I officially wore too thin.

It was not a good night. After what felt like an impossibly long day, I just fell apart and broke down around the time I should have been going to bed. I got into a fight with my partner and shouted and slammed doors and stormed off and wept bitterly for about an hour.

This morning I feel hungover and groggy and stupid for having let everything get to me.

Note to self: When it’s all getting to be too much, stop trying to think things through and just get some rest.

Looking back, I can see how everything just piled up on top of me. The session with my therapist, that left me feeling like an idiot. The challenge of keeping functional at a job I’m only going to be at for another week. The pressure of learning specific skills I need to have, when I start my new job(!) in a little over a week. The insecurity I feel at stepping up my career path at this dream job of mine, which is a continuation of what I had been doing back before I had my fall in 2004. I’m terribly concerned that I’m not going to be able to hang in there and do the work. And I’m worried that my TBI stuff is going to get in the way.

But instead of paying attention to all that and slowing down and taking care of myself, I’ve been pushing myself harder and harder. My “Perilous Relief” has now swung around to bite me in the ass, and I melted down. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t pretty. And now I feel like crap.

This is something I really need to pay attention to. I haven’t been getting the kind of sleep I need, lately. I’ve been too busy, too wrapped up in all kinds of important stuff, too worried, too everything. I’ve been driven by my anxiety, my insecurity, my bubbling borderline panic.

Letting that get hold of me is no good. And it just makes my headache more intense. I need to pay attention to my warning signs… and do something about them.

So, what are my warning signs?

Being 150% convinced that a new project is something I must do.

I find myself starting to come up with new projects to work on that suddenly infuse me with all sorts of energy and fascination. I come up with things like creating 6-week courses in online job-seeking skills, or writing a full documentation set for a favorite software program that needs more detail, or launching a new career as a technical translator. In actuality, those projects are ill-conceived and not practical. They appeal to me on a high level, but I do not have the stamina — or the sustainable interest — that is necessary to make them “fly”. And I don’t usually think them through well enough at the outset to realize that there’s a whole lot more detail and involvement in them than I’m ready or willing to devote myself to.

So, I end up canning the ideas in the early implementation stage… and I get down on myself for having gone down that track.

In reality, what I am really doing is infusing my tired brain with energy. It has nothing to do with my life’s work or my chosen path. These new projects are just ways to invigorate a brain that’s pulsing a little more slowly than I’d like.

Not bothering to sleep.

The more tired I get, the harder it is for me to sleep. Funny how that works… I have been so caught up in running here, there, everywhere, tending to stuff, tending to what needs to happen, that I haven’t slowed down long enough to get some rest.

That’s bad. Fatigue is a huge stressor for me and it turns my triggers into hair-triggers.

Going too fast.

I have been kind of going a mile a minute, lately. I’ve been cramming in all kinds of extra activities into my days — running errands, writing emails, doing chores, picking up extra projects. Some of it has been really important, of course — like getting my new job situation lined up. But some of the other stuff has been non-essential — like trips to the library to get books I don’t need to be reading. I’ve been careening from one activity to the other, instead of taking my time. And that’s caused me to make little mistakes along the way, like forgetting to do certain chores and forgetting to send the emails that I do need to send. Little mistakes throw me off and turn into larger issues.

Not self-assessing.

It doesn’t really take much for me to self-assess each week. Or even each week. But I’ve been avoiding it like crazy, and it’s not helping. I’m not keeping tabs on my different issues, so they get out of hand, and I literally forget that I’ve got problems in certain areas. It’s just not good. Ironically, knowing what problems I’m having alleviates them. But ignoring them and pretending they don’t matter just makes them worse. Some people (who I say belong to the “think happy thoughts” school) say that you shouldn’t “give any energy” to troubling conditions, as though paying attention to them makes them worse. But in actuality, not paying attention to them makes them so much more problematic, than if I blithely disregard them.

So, what do I do about all this?

First, start self-assessing again.

Pay attention to what’s going on with me.

Second, get some sleep.

Real sleep. In the pitch-black guest bedroom at the back of the house.

Take looooong naps on the weekend.

Make sure I start going to bed no later than 10:00 p.m. each night.

Enlist the help of my partner to make sure I do this religiously, until I’m caught up.

Listen to my guided imagery to help me with restful sleep.

Deprioritize everything that is not essential, until I am caught up and am feeling better.

Third, stick to my plan.

I actually do have a plan for my life and work. I have specific steps I am going to follow to set things in order and keep myself on track. And I need to abide by it. Stick with the program. Don’t deviate. Just follow it through, one step at a time. Having a specific, expressed plan of action takes the pressure off the part of me that gets anxious about unknowns. And sticking with the plan makes my life a whole lot simpler — and less stressful.

Fourth, write… write… and write some more.

Writing really soothes me a great deal. It helps me focus, it helps me get in touch with what’s going on with me, it helps me keep my act together. I just need to write in ways that are structured and on-p0int. For many years, I kept journals that were rambling, stream-of-consciousness explorations of my inner world. They seemed to make me feel better, while I was writing in them, but in actuality, they were a kind of drug that numbed me to my troubles. They didn’t help me overcome them; they actually got me mired in them even more — I filled them with perpetual, rambling detail that was meaningless to everyone except me in that moment.

The kind of writing I need to do now is very pointed, very lasered, very specific to the real world I experience around me. It’s not all meant for public consumption — I have a number of writing projects behind the scenes that will probably never see the light of day in my lifetime, if at all. But the discipline of writing in a deliberate, structured way is good practice for my life.

In a way, I think that writing is my spiritual practice. I’ll have to write more on that later. But for now, it’s time for me to get on with my day. Take care of some errands I need to do, and prepare for a day of work at a job I’m phasing out.

I actually have a lot of really wonderful things happening in my life. But if I’m not rested and fully functional, all the wonderful things become a terrible burden for my little brain, and the sweet nectar of life gets gooey and a little rancid.

Yes, yes, yes… When in doubt… Sleep.