Another Simple Day

Back to basics

Well, I simplified my day yesterday, and no animals were harmed in the process.

I went back to sleep in the morning and got another couple of hours rest, then after I woke up, I laid in bed and checked in with friends on my smartphone. If it weren’t for my job, I would not have a smartphone. I don’t have the money to have one of my own, I don’t generally see the need for them, and I’d just use my computer for Facebook and email and whatnot if I didn’t have one. But the smartphone makes it so much easier to keep in touch – especially via FB. So, I do. When I need to.

Even when I don’t need to, I am getting in the habit of reaching out, just to stay connected with people. Usually, I keep to myself and isolate. A lot. But having social media makes it easier for me to keep in touch. I also have made a point of taking out the “friends” on FB who drag me down, are negative and whiny, and I’ve liked a bunch of positive motivational pages, as well as amazing pictures pages, so I have a steady stream of optimism and encouragement and downright beauty in my life on a regular basis.

It really is addicting, the beauty and joy. In the best of ways. Whenever I’m feeling down and lost, I check in with FB, and the pictures of nature or the positive sayings lift my spirits. If nothing else, they get me out of my own head, which is a dangerous place to be.

I’m feeling better this morning than yesterday. It was a little rough at first, but I got myself up, had some breakfast, moved around a bit, had some vitamins, a warm drink, and some Advil. Now I’m working on my cup of coffee, slowly… thinking about how I want the rest of my weekend to be.

I was feeling incredibly low, on Friday night. Just burnt out and wiped out from drama at work and how hard it has been to actually connect with other job opportunities. This is a tough job market, if you don’t have easy-to-plug-in skills or a degree, and that’s me. I have been doing what I do for a long time, but I’m not some easy-to-pin-down, cookie-cutter worker bee anymore. And I don’t have a degree and all sorts of certifications, so that disqualifies me in the running, from the get-go.

I was reading an article last week, about how the automation of job searches is passing over some really great candidates. I think I’m falling into that category, and I suspect that I’m getting passed over because I don’t list any degrees on my resume. The thought has occurred to me to just make something up and lie about my qualifications, to get past the automated “gatekeepers”. People would probably believe me, too. But with my luck, I’d get caught. And anyway, I can’t live with that hanging over my head.

All that thinking and reading about how bad things are didn’t actually help me. And it really dragged me down. I get locked into one way of thinking a lot, which is not good, and then I get stuck. It’s worse when the one way is depressed and suspicious and anxious.

So, I broke it up yesterday and got out and did things. I wrote down a lot of my frustrations and got them out of my head and onto paper, and that made me feel much better. Then I took care of some chores and just tended to the day-to-day, and that felt better, too. I moved, I took action, and I did a few things for my Big Project last night, that I’ve been meaning to do. It felt good to finally check them off my list.

By the end of the day, yesterday, I was feeling much better. In spite of simplifying my day, I got a lot done, and I made steady progress. And I even had time to watch a little television before I went to bed.

An interesting thing happened last night as I was getting ready for bed. I looked outside, and it looked like it was still evening, with the sky still light and the world around me still lit up. I could hardly believe it — it was nearly midnight, and it looked like it was 4 p.m.

I went downstairs and walked out on the back deck, and the full moon was bathing the whole world in a bright silver light. It was much milder last night than it’s been in weeks, and the stars overhead were phenomenal. So, I pulled on a couple of layers, got my hat and gloves and a flashlight, and I went for a walk.

The evening was so quiet, the roads were empty, and the moonlight was just amazing, flooding the world with silver light. Everything was lit up, and shadows of great trees sprawled across the road in sharp, craggy relief. Outdoors it was totally silent, except for the sound of distant traffic and the rustling of little creatures under the autumn leaves in the woods along the road. It was as though the whole world were there for me alone, with all my neighbors either tucked in and lights-out for the night, or staying up late with all their house lights on.

What an amazing walk it was. I wanted to keep going, but I was really tired and I hadn’t had a nap yesterday. I needed to get back, and not so far off in the distance, I could hear coyotes calling. So, it was probably best that I head back. The coyotes in this area don’t usually bother people, but why take a chance of surprising them at midnight.

Back home, I could feel myself so much more relaxed after my walk. Just having the silence and the space and the room to move — all under the brilliant moon and stars — what a gift it was.

Which brings me around to the topic that has been on my mind a lot, lately — gratitude. I’ve realized that with all the changes at work and all the reorganizational challenges, I’ve lost sight of the good that’s come with the changes. There are a number of things that have gone away, that we’ve lost — a lot of autonomy and freedom to move and make our own decisions, as well as the amazing commute that was a real blessing when I had it. In the midst of seeing all the things that are wrong, I’ve lost sight of the things that are right.

A part of me has been stubborn about admitting that some things are right, because part of me thinks that will validate the stupidity that seems to reign supreme, and somehow make it alright. It’s not alright, and there are some serious issues at play in that place, but when I focus on the bad, it blinds me to what good I can find. And it drains me. It doesn’t only hurt the company (which many folks at work would actually like to hurt), it also hurts me. It saps my energy, it taints each and every day with bilious resentment, and it makes the already difficult things that much harder to handle.

And that will never do. So, I’m finding a new way of approaching thing — Seeing the bad (the awful, actually) and seeing how it can lead me to something new and different. There are so many different options available to me — new paths to explore, new ways of interacting, new ways of working, new projects — why get dragged down by the sh*t, when I can be looking to a new way, a new approach, a new chapter of my life?

Indeed, the fact that things are so bad right now, can actually make my life better. I can see them for what they are, not fight and resist and resent them, but simply see them for how they are — plain and simple. I don’t need to complicate matters with all sorts of mental gymnastics that keep me locked in place because I’m gyrating through all kinds of emotional drama. I can simply — very simply — see things as they are, accept that they suck, objectively move on to what is next in my life, and be grateful that they provided the impetus for me to do more with my life.

It is taking me a long time to move along to what’s next, but maybe that’s for the best. Maybe I have not been thinking about things as expansively as I should be. Maybe I have not been considering all the options in front of me. Maybe I really do need more time – and I need to stretch.

These are all things that have been rattling ’round in my head for some time, now. Plain and simple, I’m in a kind of a holding pattern, and I need to find ways to use this time wisely. I’m not sure that making myself more “plug and play” is the answer — I’m capable of more than that, and being slotted into a cookie-cutter position is not going to do it for me.

The thing I also need to remember is that I have a number of different projects in the works, and some of them are really taking off. So, if I start a new job, that’s going to suck a lot of time and energy away from my overall “supplies.” Yes, it will stress me and “wake me up” and make me feel alive again, but long-term, this is not sustainable, and it’s a recipe for eventual pain and suffering.

So, simplify, simplify. Keep things basic and focus on the fundamentals. Apply myself in intelligent ways, and don’t get caught up in distractions that feel like they’re “taking the pressure off” when they’re just distracting me and interfering with what I should really be doing.

When I think about it, I have plenty to keep myself occupied, plenty to add meaning and purpose to my life. I can let the job situation just BE, for a while, focus on other things, and think about where else I want to go with my life.

It’s all good. I just need to stop complicating things for the sake of the drama adrenaline rush, and let myself be grateful for what I have.

It’s not all about what I’ve lost. It’s also about what I’m gaining.

And another simple day is waiting.

So, onward.

Beyond the stigmas of brain injury

I’ve been thinking a lot about why I keep this blog. Someone who’s been a reader here for a while has commented that I spend too much time over-analyzing and thinking about brain injury, and that I should just be thankful for what I have, live my life and get on with it.

That’s been a challenge for me to digest, probably because there’s some truth to it. It’s partly true that I do spend a lot of time thinking about brain injury and how it affects me, and sometimes it keeps me from just living my life. At the same time, one of the driving forces behind keeping this blog is the deafening silence out there about brain injury, from a personal point of view. When I first came to terms with the fact of my history of TBI, it was all but impossible to find *anything* personal about TBI — there were just a bunch of “scientific” sites, many of which were selling or promoting something — with objective, impersonal information.

And I felt completely alone.

I still feel alone, but a lot less so, since I’ve been blogging about TBI. Something about just writing this all down and putting it out there, is not only cathartic but also helps me put things in perspective. I don’t have many friends or social interaction outside of work — I get too tired to maintain friendships for any length of them. And I don’t keep in regular touch with my family, in part because they exhaust me with their attitudes and their choices and their drama.

More than anything, fatigue has changed the face of my life, since I fell down those stairs in 2004.

And there doesn’t seem to be any relief in sight.

But I digress.

One of the things that a few people are saying that I really agree with, is that it’s not concussion/TBI that’s the problem. It’s mismanagement of concussion/TBI that gets us in trouble.

The Concussion Blog is one of those places where this is talked about. The blogger/author there talks about management from the perspective of an athletic trainer. And I talk about managing TBI/concussion from the “inside” — the personal perspective of someone who is dealing with TBI on a regular basis. I do this because I want to demystify the world of concussion/TBI recovery and put human face on something that usually pulls people into the shadows to hide “until they’re better”, which doesn’t happen nearly as often as we’d like.

When it comes to TBI, there are tremendous stigmas attached. Not least of which comes from inside our own heads. We become different people. Our lives can be turned upside-down. It may look like there is no end in sight, and we can lose hope. Simple fact of the matter is, it is not easy, dealing with TBI, and that’s just a fact we need to accept and work with.

For many, this can be tremendously unsettling, and we may want with all our might to just put it behind us and get on with our lives, not worrying about what was before, but trusting that we will get the help we need as we go on. That help may be from within, from God, from family and friends, or from an agency or rehab. We don’t want TBI to stop us, and we want to just have the best life possible, without staring at our navels all day long.

For others, the many phenomena around TBI may be a source of fascination, even compulsion — some might say obsession(?). When something nearly takes you out, and it’s so big and undeniable, it can be a source of intense scientific interest. Sometimes people turn to studying the very thing that nearly killed them — like people who have close calls with snakes or sharks or other threats as kids, and then become scientists who study them.  I fall into that category — especially because I was raised around scientists and I grew up spending a lot of time with my grandfather, who was a college professor in natural sciences.

For other people, they may never be able to put TBI behind them, and they may struggle for years and years — alone, misunderstood, discriminated against, and marginalized… and never fully understanding why. It’s my hope that some of what I write reaches those people and helps them feel less isolated and alone. Life can be rough on all of us, and TBI folks especially.

The biggest problem that I can see is the isolation and the feeling that nobody understands you, nobody can help you, nobody gets it, and you’re just a freak who’s good for nothing. When you feel that way, it’s easy to let others marginalize you and mistreat you, which does not help your ability to self-advocate and get the help you need. And it just feeds the vicious cycle that pulls us into the progressive downward spiral of TBI. So things can get a lot worse, before they get better. If they get better at all. What happens inside our souls after TBI, can be even more harmful than what happens inside our heads.

So, if I come across as egotistical, self-consumed, and perseverating… it’s all in the interest of being real about my own condition. I don’t want over-analyzing TBI to stop me from living my life — and in fact, it doesn’t — but I also don’t want to pretend that everything is hunky-dory and there are no issues in sight. For years, I was totally focused on barrelling through all the hurdles along the way and leveling every barrier to my success. But lately, I’m just too tired to keep up that charge. And I’ve got to get real about my situation.

So, that’s it for today. I hope it has done someone somewhere some good.

Onward.

First steps – next steps – one at a time

So, I’ve reached a milestone with my project — a big piece of it is done – and a few days before originally planned, which is great.

Now, I have more to do later today, but first I will take a break.

The wild thing is, there are a number of non-optional things I need to do – that’s right. Non-optional. Required. Time-sensitive. But I have a hell of a time getting them started. I can be a total head-case at times, which really only hurts me.

I know that. But I just can’t seem to start those things. I HAVE to answer emails from project teammates. I HAVE to get back to them with details and responses. But I avoid doing so like the plague. As though that’s going to help me.

So, to get started, I make a deal with myself — I will only answer ONE of the many people who have emailed me. Just ONE. No more. At least for starters. I will demand only that of myself.

The thing is, once I get going, and I get warmed up with answering that “one and only” person, then I actually feel like answering everyone else. And I start to enjoy myself, remembering the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction that comes from following up and making contact with people.

That is a huge stumbling block for me. I am just not comfortable with people a lot of the time. Even more-so, I am not comfortable with the prospect of dealing with people. That’s what stops me. The prospect. Once I get going, I feel so much better, I get into the swing of things, and I really enjoy myself.

But the dread… oh, the dread…

Some days, it is insurmountable.

Like yesterday. I had a bunch of people contacting me, needing feedback, but I focused on the other tasks I had, and I didn’t get back to them till this afternoon. Once I got going this afternoon, though, I realized just how much I enjoyed it, and I was sorry I hadn’t done it sooner.

No time to waste on regret, however. At least I did what I did, and I hope the results will be good.

So, yeah — in order to take many steps, I need to take the first. Just do that one thing. Just make a deal with myself to do ONE thing, and not require anything more. Make the rest optional — and then I will want to do it.

Weird, how that works. But at least it works.

Now, onward…

Beautiful day today

Uppsala, Sweden – I’ve never been there, but it’s a nice picture

And I got my exercise this morning, to move things around a bit in my cells and wake them up. It’s been a few days since I really exercised, and it feels good to do it. I’m tired, I’m behind on my sleep, and I have a big afternoon ahead of me, but at least I got my exercise in. That’s something.

I’m going to have to watch my energy again today — I need to make sure I do not get too overwhelmed. I’m going to a big picnic with some folks I work with, and I’m feeling a bit of anxiety and pressure over it. I usually just work-work-work with these folks, but today we’re going to relax and play. Who knows? It might actually turn out well.

But I’m concerned that I might get worn out by the experience and end up melting down tonight and taking it out on my spouse — which is what sometimes happens when I am socially active and expend a lot of social energy.

So, I’ll just have to pay attention. And if I get too tired and too turned around, I’ll just step away for a moment, breathe, and head back to the party when I feel better. I also don’t have to stay forever — we have some other plans for later this evening, so I have an “out”.

The main thing is to just enjoy the day. It doesn’t have to be a huge deal. I can just relax and enjoy myself. Who knows, I might even have fun…

The thing to remember is that I do have backup plans. I have coping strategies and tactics I can use. Breathing is a big part of it. Just breathing steadily and staying aware of what goes on around me. And not filling my head with all sorts of messages about not being able to handle social situations… not being able to make it through a day of activity without losing it.

I know my spouse is a little concerned, but I can’t let their concern stop me from trying again. They have social anxiety that’s even more pronounced than mine at times. Between the two of us… but today I need to focus on the positives, be grateful for this amazing weather, and just relax… and enjoy.

The irony is…

Of all the people to ask for help and turn to others for assistance, I’m the last person who actually likes to do it. I hate to ask for help, in fact. I also hate having to consult with experts and see professional assistance with anything. It’s beyond frustrating and it feels humiliating.

So, when doctors assume that I’m malingering, or I’m trying to get attention, it’s the ultimate irony. I would much rather suffer in silence than have to discuss any of my issues with anyone.

But for some things I have to seek help. I just dislike being dismissed or categorized as a “faker” when I try to reach out and get some assistance.

I’m talking to my neuropsych today about this godawful tendency of mine to not be able to stop myself from saying and doing things that hurt others or make them feel uncomfortable. I’ve done it more times than I can count, and it’s actually been quite disabling, because in the face of uncertain circumstances when I don’t dare offend or hurt others, I keep my mouth tightly shut and don’t speak up. On the other hand, when I’m not careful, I tend to say and do things that get me or others in trouble.

Things like mouthing off to police officers or chasing them down to give ’em hell because they (rightfully) pulled me over… or keeping on talking when every fiber of my being is telling me to SHUT UP, and I’m pissing off people increasingly by the minute… It’s been a problem for a long, long time. And it’s really held me back in many ways.

I just don’t want my neuropsych to dismiss this or make light of it. It’s a real problem, not something I’m making up to get attention. And it would be nice if I could get some help without having to grovel for it.