Quiet is good

Long walk, down a country road…

I’ve had a very quiet few days… when I’ve been at home, that is.

This past week has been crAYzy, and I’ve spent my time at home relaxing and just enjoying the quiet.

Interestingly, these days, I don’t have much interest in going online, when I’m not at work. I think it’s about just being all maxed-out with the computer — all day, every day — and really enjoying not having to type anything…. or be in front of a humming electronic box, when I don’t have to.

So, I’ve been spending time reading and thinking… sketching out some ideas I’ve been having, and just working through a lot of logical problems in my head.

That’s my new thing — exercising my brain on “problems” I invent, and then try to solve. Some of the problems are very practical and everyday — like, how best to organize people at work to get all the jobs done, without completely frying their systems. Some of the problems are very abstract — like, what do we really experience, and how do we know what we know?

It’s good practice for me. And it gets me thinking in all new ways.

It keeps me honest and it keeps me humble. And it also keeps me on my toes and reminds me to take care of myself and my brain. I tend to wear myself out a bit, when I think too much about things.

That’s another thing I’m working on — patterns of thinking that move me forward, instead of wearing me out. What’s the best “cadence” for me? How do I best function? When is the best time of day for me to “do thinking”, and how can I organize my day, so that I can put my brain to work on different problems, and still have a life?

I think I have some good ideas around this. I pace myself. I also think up to a certain point, then step away and do something completely different. Like today — I read about a new type of computing, and then I cleaned the bathrooms. My spouse has mobility issues and cannot get down to floor level, or lean over to clean under the commode basins, so that was my “quest” for this morning. I promised myself I wouldn’t spend more than 30 minutes on the task, because I have really bad recollections of being forced to clean toilets when I was a kid, and I am also sensitive to the cleaning supplies. So, I worked as quickly and as efficiently as I could, and I was done.

And then my mind was clear again to go back to what I was reading before, and come at it from a new angle.

Now I’ve been reading and researching and thinking for another half hour and it’s time to go for my long walk again. I walked for 2 hours yesterday, and I got some great ideas, along the way.

Time to walk again — this time in a different direction. Who knows what will come to me then?

And this afternoon, while I have the house to myself, I’ll take a nap, then get up and do some chores… make some supper… and get a good night’s sleep.

I’ve got a good cadence going. Last night I actually got in bed before 11:00 p.m., and I got over 8 hours of sleep.

It’s amazing what a little balance will do for you. That, and exercise.

Onward.

Paying attention. Closely.

I woke up early today – 5:30. I just woke up. It’s just as well, because I have a lot to do today, and I want to make some progress with some personal projects, before I launch into a lot of busy-ness. I’m going to a wedding later today, which I’m both dreading and looking forward to.

I’m looking forward to it, because there will be a lot of interesting people there, and I’ll have a chance to meet people from all over creation who I normally don’t get to meet.

I’m dreading it it, because there will be a lot of interesting people there, and it will likely be a non-stop social event.

I’m going alone, because my spouse is sick and can’t sit for any period of time without having a coughing fit. There’s no way they’re going to make it through a ceremony without interrupting everything. Medicines don’t work. Cough suppressants don’t do the trick. It’s better to not even chance it. They’ve been sick for weeks, now, with this virus that’s going around, and it’s no friggin’ fun for them. Nor for me. It’s pretty wearing, to watch the one you love struggle with being sick with no lasting relief in sight.

Anyway, I am gearing up for the day, running errands and taking care of business beforehand. The ceremony isn’t until the evening, so I have all day to get things organized, as well as take a nap – that’s going to be important.

The whole social thing is a source of stress and anxiety for me. It’s been a source of stress and anxiety for me at work, for the past couple of weeks. Everyone at work seems so … together. They know how to focus their statements and not trail off or wander around with their thoughts. It’s wild. How do people do that? It’s like they don’t have any other competing ideas rattling ’round in their heads — or they know how to organize their thoughts really well.

I, on the other hand, feel like pretty much of an idiot. I ramble. I blurt things out. I don’t make a simple statement that people can react to. I’m kind of all over the map at times. I feel like I’m swimming in this vast sea of information and trying to pick and choose what to talk about is a challenge. I guess I’m just a lot more like a sponge, taking it all in and putting it in order. I suspect that because of my past experience, I just have a lot more information to integrate — and my present experience is like drinking from a firehose, where all the information around me is just rushing in and flooding me out.

Crazy.

Well, I wanted a chance to work on the social aspect of my life… the time-keeping side of my life… to improve my ability to productively and capably deal with people. I asked for it, and now I have to learn it.

I can do this. I can do this. I keep telling myself this. Sooner or later, I’ll believe it. But right now, it doesn’t much feel like it.

So, I’ve got to get some supports together. Read some articles on how to organize your thoughts… strategies and ways to make the most of what I have, instead of getting all freaked out and worrying like crazy over every little thing. The worst thing is getting concerned… and feeling like there’s something wrong with me… that I’ll never be able to do this… that I’m defective, broken, a loser….

But if I can get some ideas, some training, and I can practice… I stand a chance of turning things around. I can’t get all bent out of shape about a temporary state of being. I have to remember where I come from — I’ve been working with computers for a long, long time. And I haven’t had to actually communicate with people, per se, as much as I’ve had to interact with machines. Machines are easy. There’s no timing involved. There’s no awful consequence if you mis-speak with a machine. It doesn’t care. It just tells you “No, that didn’t work – do you want to try again?” And you can try again.

But with people, it’s a different story. And at work, I feel like people are looking at me oddly because I’m not as fluid as I’d like to be. Plus, I’m kind of muttering to myself when I’m stressed and tired. I do that, when I’m overwrought. So, I guess I’d better learn to rest up and collect myself when I can. Because it’s no good creating the perception among folks that I’m just not up to the task.

Or that I’m crazy.

If only people had just a little bit more imagination and could accept differences among people. But honestly, they generally don’t. I think people tend to be somewhat neurotic and insecure about themselves, so they look to other people to make them feel better. People generally look to me to feel better about themselves, so I think they just expect me to be all together. Back before I had my TBI in 2004, I was a rock. I was steady. I was the kind of person you could go to and feel better — instantly — about yourself. I’m not bragging. That was just my MO. It’s how I rolled.

Then after 2004, all that fell apart… and it’s been a real struggle for me to get back at least part of that — for myself and for others.

So, this new job is chock full of new opportunities, and I’m paying close attention to where I need to improve and learn new things. Organizing my thoughts while I’m speaking is one of the things I need to study and practice. I really need to work on this. I get flustered and lose my place. But I’m in a position now where I’m going to be in a lead role in projects, so I can’t let that persist. I need to step outside the old comfort zone of hanging at my computer, and go talk to people. Connect with them. Make the rounds. Catch up and check in. Just get out of my cube and network.

And work on my thought organization. Because people are starting to look askance at me. Am I being paranoid? Maybe. I’ve got to get that out of my head and just learn some skills.

I’ve got to learn other things, as well. Fortunately, I can learn a lot of this stuff on my own time – and I’ve got a system in place for learning it. I’ve collected a bunch of details about the projects I’m going to be working on, and I am going to go into the office a few hours early each day to focus on memorizing them. Product lists. Feature lists. Process flows. Flow charts… Software I’ve used in the past, and now need to learn how to use better…. I know I am better at learning and retaining information, first thing in the morning, so I need to get into the office early and get a jumpstart on things.

The other benefit of going in early, is that I miss a lot of the heavy traffic, so I get there even faster.

So, that’s one thing I can do — get an early start to the day and spend the time focusing on learning what I need to know and do.

I’m already feeling better.

Here’s the thing — new job, new life. Totally new way of doing things. I need to give myself room to learn and grow — and really step up. For years, I’ve been working with systems, which I could only learn by sitting down in front of a computer and typing away, ignoring everything going on around me.

Now, I’m working with people, and I need to get into the flow. I need to gather information from different places and really study up. I can do that now. I can read much better, and I can retain information, and I have my tricks to help me remember.

The main thing is, not getting thrown by insecurity and anxiety and having that affect my credibility.

So, it’s good. It truly is. And it’s getting better.

And now… for my next trick —

When it works, it’s like magic

Two nights in a row of 7+ hours of sleep — I’m feeling pretty positive today, especially since my spouse gets back from their business trip this afternoon. The last two days have been quiet, and I’ve gotten a lot done on different projects, but it’s just not the same, when I’m all alone in the house.

I’m looking at my list of things I was supposed to do, this weekend, and I have had to do a lot of shuffling, because I miscalculated the amount of time just about everything was going to take, and I also got distracted and caught up in things that weren’t even on my list — but should have been.

The yard really needed to be worked on, and the driveway really needed to be cleared out. No question about that. The only thing is, it took me a full day of strenuous activity to get that all in order yesterday, and then I was wiped out — barely had enough energy left to make a late supper and watch some t.v. before going to bed a little before midnight. I didn’t even have the energy to clean up after myself, as I usually do before bed. I just left the dishes in the sink and the living room in disarray, to take care of this morning.

I watched Game 3 of the World Series last night, but I had to turn it off, because I get really amped up by the game and the competition, and then I have a hard time sleeping.

Last night I did not have any trouble getting to sleep. Once I got down, I was down. And even when I woke up at 3 a.m., as I often do these days, I was able to get back to sleep, which was pretty awesome.

Today is another gorgeous day, and I have a few things to do before I head to the airport. One of the things is something I can only do when my spouse is not around, because it is loud and involves power tools, which drive them crazy. I have a few hours to do this work, which I am hoping will be enough time. I have really thought it through, from start to finish, and I am pretty sure about the exact steps I’m going to take, so it should go pretty smoothly.

This is my new technique for getting things done, and it seems to be going really well — based on my past experience (and I have to have past experience for it to work), I envision the process of doing something. I imagine myself doing it, I “feel” myself going through all the steps, and I envision the results of my work. I imagine when and where I might encounter issues, and I figure out how I will solve them. I probably spend about 10 times more time thinking things through than doing them. But when I do it, the results are usually 10 times faster than if I had just waded in and hacked around at what I was doing.

The key is to get started. To take action. To not get stuck in my head while I’m thinking everything through. That’s a real danger with me – I tend to get a bad case of “analysis paralysis”, which stops me from taking the next logical step. But I need to prove out the validity of my suppositions and give them a whirl, to see if I’m on the right track — and adjust anything if necessary.

And when it works, it’s like magic. Everything flows smoothly — like butter — and it almost seems as though there was “nothing to it”. I know differently, though — a whole lot of time and effort and thought and energy goes into making it all look easy. So long as I don’t get stuck in my head.

Unfortunately, Analysis Paralysis is where I’ve been stuck with one of my projects for about 6 weeks. I was making really great progress, then I stalled. Got stuck. Flamed out. I totally fried my system, because I was going-going-going about 200 mph for months on end, with this one project. Yeah, I made incredible progress. But I also fried my system, to the point where I was having almost constant tremors, I was exhausted all the time, and I was borderline delirious.

I kept it together on the outside, but people close to me were worried.

So was I.

Anyway, I’ve reset my internal system, rebooted, and I have a much better plan for how to move forward — just do a little something everyday. Not a ton of things. Not everything. Just a little something, here and there. That way, I can make the most of my time AND not overwhelm myself with All The Things That Need To Get Done.

Speaking of which, it’s time to get going, test out my current plan to see if it works and then finish this one job… to make room for the next bunch of things I need to do.

Onward

The Perceive, Recall, Plan, Perform (PRPP) System of task analysis

This post is a placeholder for a discussion on this topic.

I just found it, and it could be useful. I think it’s similar to other approaches I’ve taken, but I could use a refresher with my general approach to my daily life — especially the challenging situations.

DESCRIPTION

The Perceive: Recall: Plan and Perform System (PRPP) is a process-oriented, criterion referenced assessment that employs task analysis methods to determine problems with cognitive information processing component function during routine, task or subtask performance. The PRPP System is for use with adults and children who have difficulty performing daily or episodic tasks. It is suitable for adults and children of either sex and from any cultural background.

It sounds formal and complicated and it sounds like it’s used in a therapeutic situation, but it may come in handy for me in my daily life. So, I’m not counting it out.

Keep it simple. Or else…

I’m discovering an interesting phenomenon with this blog… that correlates with other facets of my eventful life:

The tendency to complicate things and overwhelm myself. I am naturally inclined to break things down into little tiny pieces and focus on those individual pieces so intently, that the sum total becomes vastly complex, and I get overwhelmed with all the detail.

For example, I started this blog with the simple intention of recording my daily experiences as an MTBI survivor. Just to tell about what it’s like, so others can see how it is to live with a broken brain that doesn’t do justice to their brilliant mind.

Pretty soon, I feeling like I wasn’t offering enough “quality content” and I got caught up in doing all sorts of research and reading and going off on tangents to try to better understand something I was writing about. Comprehension and deeper understanding are admirable goals. All good, right?

Not so much. Because after a while, I started to lose track of what I was trying to do/say. And I ended up getting down on myself for losing my way. My brain couldn’t keep up with my mind, and I ended up in a vicious loop of diminishing effectiveness.

I go through this process with planning. I do it with doing. I do it with everything, from understanding personal relationship issues to parking the car. I get all enthused and discombobulated and turned around and swamped and confused and upset and discouraged with myself, and it takes a toll on my self-esteem. But then I regroup and figure out how to move forward, by breaking down steps into little tiny pieces and doing each one properly. But I need to be able to discern what is a reasonable level of complexity to indulge.

Here’s how the loop goes, in linear terms:

  1. I decide on a simple goal (recording my daily TBI-related experiences)
  2. I start work on that goal
  3. I make good progress, right out of the gate (I posted a whole bunch of stuff and found good info to share)
  4. I start thinking about how I can take it to the next level (I looked at some of my past posts and thought about what more I needed to know/say about them)
  5. I identify a bunch of different tangents to explore (TBI experiences, returning Iraqi vets’ experiences, more details on symptoms, medical research, psychological research, all sorts of research…)
  6. I go off on a tangent and explore that (I start reading up on impaired self-assessment)
  7. I get pulled into reading about other tangents (I start reading up on sleep deprivation, PTSD, military policy, alternative cognitive rehabilitation, alternative healing, complimentary healing modalities… etc.)
  8. I take notes and make outlines of what I want to write (I outlined at least three separate pieces I want to work on and identified various projects that move me.
  9. I get all motivated and fly into action on a handful of these things (I created of my headache journal, with several versions available, not only as PDFs but as coil-bound books, as well)
  10. I think about everything else that needs to be done, and I get overwhelmed with all the work involved (promoting my projects is a full-time job in itself).
  11. I get swamped by the details (I have pages and pages of planning, all of it accurate, all of it necessary, all of it overwhelming).
  12. I get stopped. I can’t ask for help, because by the time I get to a place where I’m stopped, my brain has become so immersed and inundated and absorbed in the details, that articulating any of it to an outside party is just beyond my abilities (I can’t even begin to explain to someone how things are supposed to work — to do that, I’d have to start at the beginning, and that’s so far back, I can’t remember anymore where I started, exactly).
  13. I have to take a break and go off and do something else for a while (I start other projects that motivate me, often with a completely different focus and using a different part of my brain — like drawing or programming).
  14. I start into this same cycle with these new projects, eventually get stopped with them, and then end up with a backlog of all this stuff I’ve started, but haven’t finished (I don’t just have articles I haven’t written, I have headache journals I haven’t properly promoted, I have artwork I need to have scanned, I have hobbies I would like to pursue… none of which are taken to fruition)l.
  15. I look back on my list of things I intended to accomplish, and I feel horrible about it all. I get down on myself, get stressed, get angry, get frustrated, get cruel with my brain… all the while conveniently forgetting that my cerebrum was compromised several times, once upon a time, and I can’t realistically expect it to do everything. For that matter, I can’t expect anyone to do everything I set out to do. There’ s just not enough time in the day, and until I have a full staff or can find someone to help me — with whom I can communicate — I’m going to have to scale back what I’m doing. Big time.
  16. Then I need to take more time off to recap, regroup, reprioritize, and see what I can reasonably expect to get done, so I can feel good about my progress and not be stopped anymore (I take some serious time away, do some “light” reading and/or distract myself with working in the yard, till I feel better… then I pull out all my notes from projects I’ve started, I work down through their status, and I pick out the ones that are closest to being done — the “low-hanging fruit”.)
  17. When I’m all sorted out and my projects are prioritized again, I make my list of things I need to do to complete each one, and I make “punchlists” of items, so I have some guidelines to keep me on track (I collect all my notes in 3-ring binders of multiple sizes, and I keep the notes for individual projects grouped together).
  18. I then take things one at a time and walk through each item, till it gets done. True, being systematic and logical about things is a lot less invigorating than flying into action and “losing myself” in a task. But it actually allows me to make progress.
  19. I try to build in some sort of rewards system for myself, so that when I actually complete something (I have very important projects still going on, that have been start-stall-stop for years on end) I can celebrate… and relax. Take the pressure off. I’m still trying to figure out what those rewards are. Actually, making money is the reward I crave most. So, all my projects need to be money-makers, or I’m just not content.

I really need to be careful that I don’t overwhelm myself. When I do, everything stops. And I have to take a break and regroup. Which works on myself-esteem and makes me feel like I’m “behind”. I haven’t posted to this blog… I haven’t done my chores… I haven’t done this… I haven’t done that… The string of recriminations is just endless. And it works on my self-esteem, because I’m so deep into my work that I can’t see outside myself and I can’t perceive that I’m really in need of a break.

But I have to remind myself that when I take time off to regroup, I’m not actually “behind.” I’m just taking a breather. So I can return and get back in the saddle again. And I need to cut myself some slack.

So, that’s what I’m working on. Ideally, in the 19 steps above, I would really start around step 17 and plan everything out up front. The problem is, when I’m heavily planned and “project-managed”, I lose a lot of my drive and my motivation. I need to engage my heart and my spirit, not just my head. Getting the two together is a huge challenge. But once I figure it out (I’m still working on it), I suspect the sky will be the limit.