Concussion symptoms got you down, this holiday season?

head form of metal meshYou’re not alone.

The holidays can be tough for anyone who’s got extra difficulties, due to chronic illness. And with TBI / concussion, sometimes the worst thing is being around people who don’t understand what it’s like to have your life turned upside-down by a “mild” blow to the head.

As I’ve said many times, there’s nothing “mild” about a concussion or a traumatic brain injury. That momentary alteration of consciousness means that something “in there” got injured. And no amount of positive thinking or motivation or … consequences… is going to change the functional ability, unless you have adequate time to recover and rebuild your wiring.

You have to keep the stress down, to do that effectively. It takes time and practice and sometimes a bit of luck, to rebuild what you once had. And being pushed and prodded by people who don’t understand TBI or “get” why concussion can turn your life upside-down, doesn’t help with that.

The holidays can be stressful, to begin with. Then you add all the people, the expectations, the increased pace (a lot of us are racing to finish year-end goals at work, at the same time we’re shopping and figuring out holiday party logistics), and money pressures… and it just gets worse. Cognitive reserves that were already in short supply, get even less… and meanwhile, everybody expects you to KEEP UP! KEEP UP! WHAT’S THE HOLD-UP?!

Some of my own challenges have been:

  • Remembering what I’m supposed to do at work. I’ve forgotten a bunch of stuff I was supposed to do – and I even forget to write it down.
  • Dealing with depression. It comes and goes with me. This year, it seems to be coming more than it’s going.
  • Keeping cool with my spouse, when tensions get high.
  • Staying on my exercise routine.
  • Eating sensibly, and not “stuffing my face” with all kinds of candies and cookies. I’ve done well in terms of candy, because I can’t have chocolate (sets off migraines with me), but I’ve eaten more bread and cookies than I should.
  • Getting enough rest, and keeping on my regular sleep schedule. A tired brain is an irritable brain, and boy, do I get irritable when I get tired. I’ve had a hard time keeping on my sleep schedule, these past weeks, and I really have to concentrate on getting that sorted out when I’m off work next week.
  • Not pushing myself too hard. It’s easy for me to push. I know how to do that. But while it used to work okay when I was in my 30s, now that I’m past 50, it’s just not the same. I need to remember where I am… and act accordingly.

Basically, keeping myself together during the holidays is like an extra part-time job. It helps that I haven’t spent a lot of time socializing with friends and family. That takes the pressure off. But for many, many other people, they don’t have that option. And my heart goes out to them.

Still and all, it will be over soon enough. Just a few more days till Christmas, then another week till New Years (which isn’t much of a holiday for me, anyway). Then I can get back to my regular life.

And start the year fresh.

Onward.

Understanding Trauma: How Stress and Trauma Cause Chronic Condition Pain, Anxiety, Depression & PTSD:

One more reason to not get too tired

With positivity you have the powerI’m tired. I need to catch up on my sleep. I need to recharge my batteries. Not get so tired. Get back to where I want to be.

When I get tired, I start doing things like stressing myself out, so I feel more alert.
I’m not alert. I’m just stressed. Big difference.

And one of the things I do to stress myself, is slack off on my job, procrastinate, and think about leaving for greener pastures.

Oddly, the better I do at things, the more uncomfortable I am. Because stress makes me feel alert. And if I’m not stressed, then I don’t feel alert.

I may be alert, but I don’t feel that way.

I have a long history of jumping ship from good jobs, for no apparent reason. I just got so danged uncomfortable — but that discomfort actually comes from fluency, efficiency, being plugged in and capable. Somehow, being stressed and behind the 8-ball makes me feel more alive, more alert, more able… even though it’s undermining me and making me feel insecure and vulnerable.

It’s a fascinating conundrum. And the best thing to do, really, is keep an eye out for it when it starts to happen and not let it derail me.

I also need to plug myself into some positive stresses, some real challenges — not the ones my imagination comes up with.

Keep The Stress Down – A Great Brain Injury Info Interview with Ken Collins

brain-firingHere’s an interview with Ken Collins with Michael Shaughnessy at Eastern New Mexico University. It’s incredibly important information about controlling stress  in TBI recovery so the limbic system fight or flight response isn’t triggered:

Q: Ken, first of all, what is your exact title, and what would you say you do?

A: San Juan Center for Independence-Gallup, Program Director, where I supervise three staff members and oversee independent living skills, peer support, advocacy, information and referral, nursing home transition, personal care option services to people with disabilities and elders in McKinley County. SJCI-Gallup is a non-residential, cross disability organization and is one of eight different independent living centers in New Mexico. All independent living centers are private non-profit tax exempt, 501 (c) (3) organizations with their own board of directors who oversee each independent living center programs and services. All independent living centers are funded through the Department of Education and provide the core services I mentioned above. However, some centers don’t provide the personal care option. New Vista’s in Santa Fe is one of those centers.

Q: How did you first get involved in brain injury and head trauma?

A: I received my brain injury 38 years ago on December 31, 1976, after running a snowmobile headfirst into the side of a parked car. I have a month missing from this accident and only remember Christmas Eve and then don’t know anything until I woke up about six inches from a mirror in my parent’s bathroom picking the wires in my mouth. I came out of darkness through a fog to clarity. I knew I was home, I played baseball and my name was Ken, but I didn’t know anything about home, baseball or Ken. My mouth was wired shut because when I hit the car I broke my jaw below my chin on the left side and rammed my right jaw bone into my ear canal, separated my skull completely (cap fracture) and knocked out a tooth and broke a rib. My rehabilitation was trying out for the Seattle Mariners Baseball team nine months after my brain injury that helped with kick starting my neuroplasticity and recovery. Lucky for me I had collected a big box of personal items from when I was in the 7th grade till being 26 when the accident happened. Every day for about six months I went through that box to put myself back together. There were old get well cards, love notes from old sweethearts in Jr. High and high school, stuff that only meant things to me and newspaper articles from sports – stuff like that. and then over the next five years conducting business as a community organizer where I helped establish the Westfir Workers Association in its attempt to purchase the closing Chicago-based Edward Hines Lumber Company in Westfir, Oregon and other non-profit community organizations. This provided me with the structure I needed and provided me with a sense of purpose and meaning that is critical during the early stages of recovery from a brain injury. In 1983, I got hired at one of the first residential brain injury programs in the country (Center for Neuro Educational Therapies) that began my formal training about brain injury. In 1985, I was a founding member of the Oregon Head Injury Foundation – in 1988 was elected to the National Head Injury Foundation and served on the NHIF board for 6 years. From 1990 to 1992 I was elected vice president of the NHIF Survivor’s Council. As a VISTA Volunteer I was a VISTA Volunteer where I helped to establish the first independent living program in the US for people with brain injuries (Uhlhorn Apartments) and also helped to get a congressional investigation of the head injury rehabilitation industry that resulted in FBI raids on New Medico which resulted in New Medico facilities closing across America.

Q: Can you talk about the impact of stress on a person that has suffered either an open or closed head injury?

A: Stress is something that affects everyone – it is a biologic event and why it is something very important for people with brain injuries to be aware of and control. This is especially true since it is well known that whatever problems someone has before their injuries these problems are magnified. This is true for the limbic system fight or flight response too since stress is what triggers the fight or flight response. Life in general is pretty stressful after a brain injury. Stress is something that all people with brain injuries experience. Relationships are stressful. Short term and long term memory issues are stressful. The loss of not being the same after your brain injury is stressful. Having friends leave because they don’t understand brain injury and don’t come to visit anymore is stressful. Not being able to go back to work after your brain injury is stressful. Having people treat you differently after a brain injury is stressful. The stigma of brain injury is stressful. Having to go to appointments and doctors visits is stressful. I first noticed how stress affected me when my friends came to visit me at home after my brain injury. I couldn’t always remember their names. I knew they were my friends because I could recognize their faces but the harder I tried to remember their names the harder it was and I could feel my body tense up as I tried my hardest to remember their names. The more my muscles tensed up the harder it was for me to remember their names. This was also true when I went through those years of “word find” issues. The harder I tried to find the missing word in what I was saying the harder it was to remember. Before my injury, I was a professional baseball pitcher and learned about biofeedback so this is why I was so in tuned to my muscles tensing up. A pitcher has to remain relaxed during stressful situations i.e. runners on base with no one out and a one run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning. It is very important to keep your poise in these situations and stay cool, calm and collected. Be in the moment and relax because if you don’t stay relaxed your wrist will stiffen up and when you pitch the ball it will not have any movement on it and will straighten out and your fastball will become easier to hit. Because I had this knowledge and awareness of biofeedback it has made it easy for me to understand the dynamics that stress has on my life and this has provided me with some insights about how stress affects my brain injury recovery. Deep breathing and relaxing is something I do naturally and this has played a useful role in my brain injury recovery process.

Q: You have spoken at several conferences about head injury. Tell us about a few of them, and your reception.

A: This will be my 5th year in a row presenting at the Southwest Conference on Disability. Much of what I’ve talked about over the years has been giving people attending my presentations an historical perspective in terms of what I’ve done over the years so they know I’m not talking about theory but experience in doing it. I have also talked about how things have changed since I first got involved with head injury rehabilitation in 1983. Back in those days there were very few services available in the community and the place I got hired was one of the first residential programs in the country for people with head injuries – Center for Neuro-Educational Therapies (CNET). I was a founding member of the Oregon Head Injury Foundation in 1985 and got involved on a national level in 1988 with the National Head Injury Foundation. I sat on the NHIF board of directors for six years and resigned in 1995 to start working with people with developmental disabilities for five years in Oregon before moving to New Mexico in 2000, to work at San Juan Center for Independence (SJCI) for three years before going to work for another developmental disability provider in Gallup for five years and then being asked to come back to SJCI as the program manager. In 2010, I presented on creating supportive housing for people with brain injuries modeled after the Uhlhorn Apartments program in Eugene, Oregon I helped start as a VISTA Volunteer. The Uhlhorn Apartments in Eugene, Oregon uses some common sense technology to help people with brain injuries live in a stress free environment as possible. Example: Timers on the wall of the apartment close to the stove. Before the burners on the stove can be turned on a timer must be activated. The timer is set so that the person with the brain injury doesn’t leave their stove on and cause a fire. Once the timer runs down the stove is turned off. Cupboards in all the apartments are open so the residents can see where their food and close are stored. These simple environmental adaptations make it easier and less stressful for brain injured residents to start their days off so they aren’t confronted by short term memory problems. Back in the early years of my recovery when my day started off on the wrong foot it would take me the whole day to start getting back on track. Now I know this was because of the limbic system fight or flight response that was triggered by the stress of having something go wrong.

In 2011, I talked about the lessons I learned over the last 34 years of living with a brain injury to help professionals, service providers and state agency representatives recognize the positive benefits for people with brain injuries to relieve stress so they can achieve happiness and joy during their recovery process.

  • Happiness & Joy after Brain Injury @ 61 from Chaos & Turmoil to Balance & Harmony
  • Happiness and joy is a journey with many obstacles and barriers to overcome.
  • Finding happiness and joy in your life after brain injury – is healing.
  • Relieving stress and anxiety will make the journey easier.
  • Relieving stress and anxiety in your life – is healing.
  • Setting a routine will help relieve stress and anxiety and will provide you structure to make planning and problem solving easier.
  • Setting a routine and sticking to it – is healing.
  • Finding purpose and meaning in your life will help motivate you and provide the means to persevere and move on and hope for a better day.
  • Hope is healing.
  • Finding discipline will help you follow though and be accountable for yourself and help regulate the impulsive behavior sometimes caused by most brain injuries.
  • Being accountable for your actions – is healing.
  • Respect for others and self-respect will help you regain self-confidence.
  • Regaining self-respect and self-confidence – is healing.
  • Exercise everyday and good nutrition makes life easier.
  • Exercise and good nutrition – is healing.
  • A supportive family and friends helps build trust in yourself and others.
  • Trust is healing.
  • Learning about your brain injury and talking about it makes life easier.
  • Making life easier – is healing.
    Finding a support group or a good friend to speak with about this is a good idea and helps you heal the unseen injuries caused by your brain injury.
  • Talking to others about your unseen injuries – is healing.
  • Being content with who you are and how you live is very important after a brain injury.
  • Being content – is healing.
  • Finding happiness and joy after brain injury is the key to recovery.
  • Happiness and joy – is healing

In 2012, I presented on Accessing Life after Brain Injury – Public Service, Political Action & Community Organizing. After sustaining a brain injury in 1976, I had to start life all over again. Through public service, political action and community organizing, I regained meaning and purpose in my life and overcame many obstacles and barriers placed before me through hard work, self-determination in structured settings. After I tried out with the Seattle Mariners nine months after my brain injury in 1977, I helped organize the Westfir Workers Association (WWA) to purchase the closing Chicago-based, Edward Hines Lumber Company operations in Westfir, Oregon. Lane County came in a did a feasibility study that lead to the establishment of a local economic development corporation – Upper Willamette Economic Development Corporation (UWEDC) where I became it’s executive director for four years. This provided me with the structure and neuroplasticity I needed to set the stage for my recovery process to take place.

In 2013, my presentation was: Brain Injury Recovery Using: Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT Tapping) Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Mindfulness Meditation Training. I used the expertice of three practioners to explain what each therapy does and how it benefits people they work with.

ABSTRACT

Ken Collins will discuss how he utilized Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT Tapping), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Techniques and Mindfulness Meditation Training to overcome problems with my brain injury he experienced after being attacked by a burglar with two knifes at his home on June 20, 2013.

Ken took 6 weeks off on medical leave because the PTSD from this incident brought back several issues with his brain injury he had resolved 15-20 years ago. His vision, balance, equilibrium and memory were all affected negatively after the attack. Ken was unable to overcome these issues by himself and started counseling with to assist him with these challenges.

His counselor used EFT, EMDR and Mindfulness Meditation Training to help him overcome the problems he was experiencing and then after going back to work in August, his attacker came by his worksite to harass him and wasn’t arrested. The DA’s office lawyer had told Ken on several occasions during court proceedings that if his assailant came by his home or office to call the police and he would be arrested. So when he did and Ken found out that the DA’s office failed to get him the protection order he needed to keep him safe. This event sent Ken into a tailspin and magnified the issues he was working on from the knife attack. Now, in addition to those issues Ken was very angry and felt vulnerable because he felt unsafe at work and at home.

Ken’s counselor continued to offer him Mindfulness Meditation Training, EFT and EMDR for 12 weeks after this and now Ken has regained his composure and has returned to work and regained his self-confidence so he can continue down the road to recovering from his brain injury.
Ken Collins will discuss what happened to him during and after the knife attack and how this affected his brain injury. Ken will also show how Mindfulness Meditation Training, EFT tapping and EMDR techniques can help other people with brain injuries with their recovery process.
Last year I did a Poster Board Presentation at the Southwest Conference on Disability: Creating a Quality Life for People with Brain Injuries Using Neuroplasticity, Mindfulness Meditation and Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction. I also did a presentation on the Uhlhorn Apartments in Eugene, Oregon where I talked about the environmental stress reduction features of the program.

This year I will presenting at the Southwest Conference on Disability on The Biology of Brain Injury – Controlling the Limbic System Fight or Flight Response. I will discuss the critical need for people with brain injuries to learn about the role the mid-brain and limbic system plays in triggering the “fight or flight” response under stress. When fight or flight is triggered people with brain injuries are in a reactionary mode which affects everything they do – processing, problem solving, decision making, planning, memory, etc.

Q) I understand that you are slated to speak in August at a very special conference. What will you be speaking on and what is the exact title of the conference?

A) I will be presenting at the Native American Brain Injury Summit in August. My presentation will be about controlling the fight or flight response for Native Americans with brain injuries.

Q) What kinds of information do survivors of head injury and brain trauma need?

A) I think the most important thing is to become more aware of what stress does to them so they can play a more active role in managing their recovery process instead of reacting to it. Once the fight or flight response is triggered it is hard to turn off if people with brain injuries don’t have the skills (Mindfulness, EFT, EMDR, etc.) to relax and calm down or as I like to say: “Find Your Happy Place”. All of this takes a lot of work and won’t be easy for many people with brain injuries – unless they have some basic understanding about stress reduction like I did before my injury. As you know there is no quick fix to any of this but with awareness of the role stress plays in their lives and then an understanding about how the limbic system fight or flight response is triggered under stress most people with brain injuries can become less confused and angry. By being able to improve their wellbeing by managing stress people with brain injuries should be able to improve their self-confidence and self-esteem. This will also give people with brain injuries the opportunity to take ownership of their recovery process by not being dependent on others thus improve their self-confidence and self improve their self-esteem. Win-Win!

Q) We have all heard about the “fight or flight “syndrome back in Psych 101. But how is it relevant to those with head injury?

A) This is why what I’m saying is so promising for improving the quality of care for people with brain injuries. Since doctors, educators and professionals already know about the limbic system fight or flight response they just need to pass on the importance of regulating stress so the fight or flight response is controlled so the fight or flight response isn’t triggered. I have been living with my brain injury for 38 years and know firsthand how stress has created chaos and turmoil in my life. I thought professionals knew this already until i was at a Brain Injury Resource Center, peer mentoring training and found out different. I think professionals have been so busy treating the symptoms of brain injury (sympathetic nervous system/limbic system fight or flight response) that they haven’t looked at the causes of these symptoms. I see two problems with all of this. 1) Getting doctors, providers, educators and brain injury professionals to value this information and buy into this concept and then incorporate it into their practices. 2) Getting brain injured individuals to do the work it will take to control their stress so they start seeing a difference in their lives. I was hard wired for my brain injury recovery process to take hold because of my understanding about what stress does and how to react to it – biofeedback/deep breathing/relaxation/keeping my poise. The mindfulness of this process improved my wellbeing and has given me the hope I needed to carry on and not give up. The majority of folks with brain injuries don’t have this understanding before their injuries and it will take them time to see the results. I also have the will and self-determination it takes to improve my condition and get better. I realize understanding controlling stress so the limbic system fight or flight response is managed won’t work for everyone because of the extent of some people’s injuries. That being said, there are many who can and will use this information to improve their lives. If we can improve the lives of some people with brain injuries that will be a start and then other people with brain injuries might be more willing to give it a try. I know understanding how I have gotten better since my brain injury has helped me control the stress that triggers the limbic system fight or flight response. This information has also helped others too. Lets’ give this information to others and see what happens. Since you already know about the fight or flight syndrome from “Psych 101” it should be easy for you to spread the word about why controlling stress so the limbic system fight or flight response isn’t triggered for people with brain injuries.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to help spread the word about my brain injury recovery process.

Brain injury… mind injury

flowers-for-algernon-quote
The final passage from “Flowers for Algernon”

It’s a gray, rainy day today.

Thank heavens for that. It gives me a reason to stay in, lay low, do some reading, write a little bit, and think things through.

Yesterday was a tough day for me – an emotional roller coaster that’s still kind of throwing me off. My spelling is not great – I keep skipping words I should be typing. I hate it when get emotional and bent out of shape over every little thing, and yesterday I was in fine form. Fortunately, I didn’t take it out on my spouse. It was more about weeping quietly at odd times of the day, trying to collect myself, and doing a so-so job.

Transitioning to a new neurologist, a new neuropsych, and navigating everything is proving more difficult than I expected. It challenges my recovery at the most fundamental level, and it’s hard for me to feel strong and with-it, when I’m struggling to collect my thoughts and put them into words with completely new people.

It’s not that they’re bad or incapable people. Both the new neuro and neuropsych (NP) seem very capable, and they both come highly recommended. It’s just that they’re new, and making transitions has never been easy for me. You’d think by now I was used to it, but to be perfectly honest, I’m struggling with this one.

It usually takes me day for my reactions to sink in, after an event. So, yesterday was a difficult one, because it had the double-whammy of meeting the new NP and talking through some details of the past 8 years with my current NP, and discussing my impressions of the new one with the old one. The new NP is incredibly smart — and talks incredibly fast — so fast, I had a hard time keeping up, and ended up fudging my way through the conversation. And then when I sat down to talk to my old NP, I couldn’t seem to come up with anything substantive to say about my impression of them on the spot.

It takes longer than that with me. I need a day or two to let it all sink in, because there’s a flood of information I’m taking in, and it takes a while to convert all that to words.

Which just left me feeling slow and stupid. It still brings tears to my eyes, when I think about how I used to be able to just jump right in and give my two cents on the spot. My brain doesn’t work like that, anymore, and it’s a crushing loss. I used to be really quick and smart that way, and now I just feel like the world is passing me by, and I’m too slow to realize it.

Which is why I tend to pull back from the world around me. It’s just so disheartening and demoralizing to be this slow — and know it. It would be one thing, if I were always this way. But it wasn’t always like this. And how strange it is, to realize your abilities are not what they used to be.

In a way, it was easier for me, when I didn’t know that I was slower than I thought I was. It was easier to react, when I didn’t realize that I wasn’t following to conversation, that I was getting lost and missing important pieces, that I was just fudging my way through. Then, I could just skate right along, as though all were well, and while I knew something was “off”, I had no awareness that it was related to my brain.

So, the past eight years have seen a huge amount of change with me, and a lot of that is due to the fact that I’ve had access to another person’s mind to help orient me and keep me honest. Many of those years, I spent in a state of high alert and concern over how much I was struggling with interacting with them. They didn’t know, because I kept it to myself. The last few years have seen a huge leap in improvement, so I’ve been on more solid ground. And I’ve done a better job of interacting — in no small part because I’ve learned how to interact with them. And as I’ve said before, connection is a huge part of TBI recovery.

Now a major source of connection is going away for me, and it’s a loss. I’m losing a key connection – just as if I were losing someone very close to me. It’s a kind of death, really, because the person I am when I’m talking to them, will never exist again. The people in our lives, the parts of our lives, are all part of who we are. They help make us who we are. And when they go away, those circumstances can never be fully replaced.

That part of us is going away. That piece of us — which may have been so essential — is disappearing. And it’s not coming back.

It’s like I’m losing a part of my mind. Our minds are shaped and molded and informed by those around us. Near and far, close friends and strangers, our social connections help create our personalities. They teach us ways to live. They shape our minds. They become our extended minds. So, losing someone so important, is more than a social loss. It’s more than a personal loss. It’s a functional loss.

And I hate this shit. It’s like standing by helplessly as I lose a part of my little finger. That little finger is not my whole hand. It’s just one part, and I can probably function quite adequately without part of it. But it throws me off. And in fact, my hand will never be whole again. Not like it was before. Sure, I’ll learn to adapt. I’ll adjust. I’ll get to know this new neuropsych, and we’ll do good work together, I’m sure.

But the one constant, stabilizing presence in my life — who doesn’t look at me like I have two heads when I’m having a bad day… who doesn’t talk to me like I’m an idiot… who talks slowly enough for me to follow, and repeats what they say when I need them to… good-bye. And good luck.

Well, this happens. People come and go from my life on a regular basis, but this working relationship has been the most stable and reliable one in my entire life. Even moreso in some ways than my 25-year marriage, which has had its ups and downs and hasn’t always been very stable. And to be honest, my spouse doesn’t have the information or the temperament to just deal with me, like my NP has.

Not that it’s been all peachy-keen, of course. Many’s the time, when I wanted to terminate. And in fact I was considering terminating at the end of last year. But now I realize just how important those weekly sessions have been for me. And I don’t want to lose them.

But lose them, I will. I must. In a way, it’s a requirement for me to move on. It’s like the Cosmos is telling me that I need to change and grow and shift my work in a different direction. Yes, this NP has been hugely helpful to me. But there’s something else out there for me… and that’s where I need to turn my attention.

So, for the next five weeks, I’ll be winding down and gearing up for this new neuropsych. And I’m trying to figure out how to work best with them, because their style is very, very different, and it’s going to be a challenge for me. But a good challenge, I think. Actually talking to people who go at a regular pace — even faster than normal. And learning how to tell them to slow down.

Well, this will be good practice for me.

Right now, though, I have a headache and need drink a bunch of water.

I’m sure I’ll figure something out.

Onward.

On the bright side – I’m not walking that razor’s edge anymore

I have really done a fantastic job of learning how to keep myself out of danger and NOT do things that put me in harm’s way, just to keep my attention alert.

I’ve been dull and dense, but that’s actually a positive thing in a way. It means that I haven’t been pushing the envelope with my adrenaline-chasing, like I always used to.

And that’s a huge thing. It truly is. I’ve been using extreme duress to make myself feel better for many, many years — as long as I can remember. And breaking that habit has been excruciatingly difficult. It’s taken me years. But I’ve gotten here.

Come to think of it, being dull and foggy is actually a sign of progress, in its own way.

It truly is.

Not myself, this past month or so

I hate to admit it, but for the past month or so, I haven’t felt like myself. That is, the self that I had come to know myself to be, over the past years… the self I had trained myself to become — and to notice.

I’m not whining about it. I just need to go on record, so I remember it later. Not all is hunky-dory, and I’ve spent an awful lot of time masking all this and keeping myself from thinking too-too much about it. That’s counter-productive. I hate hearing myself talk about what’s wrong, but I need to be aware when things are not ideal, so I can do something about it.

I haven’t got time right now to chronicle everything I am doing to address these issues, so for now, I’m just going on record.

Lately, I’ve felt like things are unraveling… starting back in September when my PCP died, and the only doctor I ever felt comfortable with was gone forever.

Then in October came the announcement that the company I work for is being acquired, and all the assumptions and plans I had about my future (going back to school, getting my degree, staying on there until I could finally retire)… that all became incredibly tenuous.

Then in November my neuropsychologist tells me that they’re retiring this coming spring, and the one working relationship I’ve ever had with anyone who didn’t make fun of me or treat me like there was something wrong with me when they simply didn’t understand, suddenly got an expiration date.

The car needed a couple thousand dollars of repairs over Thanksgiving, and my bank started warning me that I was low on funds.

And then in December I find out there will be layoffs, and I and my group barely missed being cut. Someone I really depended on for advanced technical support got laid off, so now I’m sorta kinda hung out to dry, in one respect.

It’s just been a heck of an end of the year.

At least my spouse and I are reasonably healthy (aside from some nasty colds — knock wood), and we’ve had no other calamities. But piece by piece, some of the main supports I’ve been relying on, have been removed.

I guess it’s time to find new ones.

And it’s been strange. I haven’t really felt like myself for over a month. I’ve been a lot more on edge, blowing up more at my spouse, getting confused and disoriented at work. At Thanksgiving time, I was balancing between completely losing it and letting off very controlled bursts of angry steam. And while I’ve rarely been a real Christmassy kind of person, this year especially I just haven’t been in the mood. The weather has been strange, but after the absolutely sh*tty winter we had last year, I don’t care that it’s going to be warm and sunny on Christmas Day. That’s this Friday, and, well, it can come and go, for all I care.

I just don’t feel like myself. Nothing seems worthwhile, and in all honesty, the only thing that brings me total satisfaction is trapping the mice in my basement. I rigged up several traps on a little ledge where I’ve seen them run in the past, and I’ve caught four of them, so far. I have a feeling I’ll be trapping all the mice in the neighborhood, by the time all is said and done, because my garage is not very well sealed, and I’ve seen them come in through gaps in the trim. Right in front of me. Brazen.

Well, now those little brazen bastards are getting dead. And while I do feel pang of quasi-Buddhist regret that I’ve taken a life, I do NOT feel regret that these creatures aren’t running amok through my basement. I figure, I’m releasing them to their next incarnation — just speeding up the cycle of life for these rodents.

It’s not the death that appeals to me. It’s the yes-no, success-failure, instant gratification of seeing that at least something I’ve done is working. It’s basic. It’s primal. And I’m managing to successfully defend my castle against at least some maruaders.

I just wish I felt more like myself, instead of being shaky and tired and disoriented and prone to error. I’m spaced out, a lot of the time, I feel like I have more on my head than I can handle, and while I’m sure things will be fine and I’ll be able to handle whatever comes along, it’s still tiring, and I feel like I’ve lost my mooring.

Maybe I have. Maybe I have.

I just have to get it back, I guess. It’s now officially winter, and I’m ready for it. I just want to hibernate, go underground, and maybe that’s what I’ll do, more or less. The last several months with the company change have been very chaotic and unsettling for myself and everyone at work. It’s next to impossible to make any plans, and nobody knows what the criteria are for deciding who stays and who goes. Nobody can give us any clue, either, because that might tip their cards, and everyone might just take matters into their own hands, and then the deal might fall apart.

So, hibernation (figuratively speaking) might be the best thing to do. Keep everything simple and lay low. Cut back on social media (which I have). Stop reading the news (which I must). Concentrate on what matters most to ME (not the rest of the world). And focus on the basics — eating right, exercising regularly, and doing things that appeal to me and that I love and which also make a constructive contribution to the rest of the world.

I also need to get back to dealing with the logistical issues that come up with me. Sensory issues are problematic — light and sound and touch have been giving me problems. I’m dizzy a lot — almost fell over the other day for no good reason. I’m space-out, foggy, and I feel a split-second delayed, though that could be a symptom of me still being sick. I have problems typing, and my handwriting is a mess. I skip the first letters of words while I’m writing in long-hand, which is a new one for me. My temper is short, I’m getting “snappier” than usual, and I have bouts of intense depression. And lately, the headaches are back, along with the episodes of sudden pain shooting through my head, followed by feeling dull and out of it.

But hell if I’m going to take that Imitrex. F*ck that sh*t. Talk about feeling spaced-out… I feel bad enough as it is, without adding medication to it.

So, I do my breathing exercises and get my head out of a stressed-out space, and it helps a bit. It also helps to ignore it and just get on with my life. But the headaches are getting intrusive, again, and when people like my chiro or my massage therapist ask me about them, it just irritates me, because the things they do for me don’t actually seem to help all that much, but they’re so convinced that those things are The Ticket. It’s nice that they try, and I know they want to help, but there’s nothing that seems to really Work for me. Not these days.

And trying to explain that to them is a pain in my ever-lovin’ ass. People get so sensitive and offended and frustrated when I tell them what they do is not working. No science, no tweaking their approach. Just getting irritated and frustrated — and keeping on doing the same thing as before. So, I quit saying anything. Because even when I try to explain, it doesn’t help.

It’s the classic tension between what appears to be, what people think really IS, and what my experience of things is. And that fragmented collection of disconnects makes me absolutely crazy.

That, and the fact that my weekly schedule is about to change, with my neuropsych seeing me on Fridays at noon, instead of Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m.  Argh! Change! I hate it!  And I hate that it makes me so unsettled. I wish it weren’t so.

But bitching about it won’t change anything. I just need to get on with my life.

My new mantra: Screw it. Onward.

When all the excitement calms down

Just keep going...
Just keep going…

I’ve been in a kind of a funk, for the past few days. I just haven’t felt very energized.

I had a very busy weekend, with a lot going on, and I know I’m a bit behind on my sleep. But even when I do get some rest, I feel blah and slightly disconnected from my life.

I’m settling into my job, and that feels good. I’m settling into my routine, and that feels good, too. I’m working out or going for a swim, 3-4 times a week, and I feel pretty good, other than the aches and pains that come with the changing barometric pressure. My bank account is not at $0 anymore, and that feels great. I’m working through changing over my insurance, with a couple of different hoops to jump through, thanks to various insurance plans I’ve had over the years that I can now let go of. I’m fitting right in at the office, connecting with people and learning the lay of the land.

I just haven’t had the energy or felt the same engagement that I felt in the past.

Everything now is kind of “flat”. It’s solid and it’s stable, and it’s all wide open with a lot of possibilities. And it’s disorienting.  A little disconcerting. Like I’m walking across a prairie with long rolling hills,as far as the eye can see. Off in the distance, I can see proverbial mountains, but they never seem to get any closer. I just keep walking and walking and walking… hoping that eventually I’ll reach whatever destination I’m supposed to be at.

This is how it feels when I’m not going a million miles an hour in damage-control mode. When I’m not constantly reacting to problems and not on a perpetual hamster wheel of crisis, everything feels flat and featureless. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Going from constant stress to having almost no stress at all, is a biochemical let-down, and the prompts that kept me alert, when everything was sh*ttier than sh*t, just aren’t there anymore to keep me charged up.

I know that life is good, the problems I thought would never disappear have faded into the background, and I am hugely grateful for it.

But I feel like I’ve got no gas in my tank, and everything just feels gray and bleary.

And that makes me feel even stranger. Like I’m a blank.

I know where this comes from. It’s a by-product of PTSD. I had a lot of trauma growing up, and I spent the first half of my childhood in a pretty dangerous environment, so my system has been wired for stress from the start. I was bullied as a kid on a number of occasions — all through 5th grade and 7th grade (I got a “year off” in between), bunches of kids ganged up on me and really punished me for being “weird”. And all the TBIs certainly didn’t help. That’s all the more trauma to add to the mix. Not much fun.

My adult life has been spent living pretty much on the edge. I have no idea what it’s like to be able to plan for retirement, because I’ve never had enough money in the bank for long enough to ever think that would be possible. The most I have hoped for, is not ending up crazy, on the streets, eating dog food.

It sounds a little nuts to me, as I sit here in my nice house (not palatial, but nice enough), with a good job, two cars in the driveway, and a respectable resume. But beneath the surface of this respectable life, there is no financial safety net, a declining spouse with encroaching cognitive impairment, parents who are also declining and expect me to care for them, and an uncertain job market that could take yet another hit from stock market fluctuations.

So, it would be fair and accurate to say my life has its share of stress — especially if I dwell on all of the above, which I choose not to.

I’m coming out of a number of years of intense pressure and trauma and post-traumatic stress. Workplace changes, health changes, my spouse getting more marginal by the month, and watching people around me make genuinely unhelpful choices with their lives… it all takes a toll. Add to that a lack of job stability and the ongoing feeling that I’m hung out on a limb and being played for a fool by the overlords at work, and it adds to the challenge.

The intensity gave me energy for the fight. It kept me going. It felt like it kept me sharp. Over time, existential stress wears you down and wrecks your system, but when it’s at full-speed, it makes you feel like you’re really alive. Traumatic stress is tricky like that – it promises you one thing, but delivers another… and ultimately, that lie can kill. I had a level of intensity that put people off for as long as I can remember. Only my bosses, who knew how to harness it, didn’t have a problem with it — unless, of course, I directed it against them. Then they weren’t so pleased.

Now that things aren’t intense like that anymore, that source of “energy” is gone, and I’m feeling deflated and a little depressed. It’s taking my system time to get used to it, and all the while it is disorienting — and a little stressful in its own right.

So, what to do? I can’t go back to that old level of traumatic stress. Not only is it not good for me, but I’m hip to its lies — it’s not the source of energy my system thinks it is. It’s making me more stupid with each passing day, not smarter, like it tells me. I’m onto it. It can’t fool me, anymore.

What are my options?

What's there in the details?
What’s there in the details?

Mainly… Focus. Keep my focus trained on the little things around me, and keep myself engaged and active in some way or another.

My patience is short with people who fritter their time away on whatever-ness and get overly busy and overly riled about every little thing, so I need to keep from even thinking about them. There are so many of them, and I don’t share the love of drama. Not anymore.

This kind of focus and letting go of all the imaginary recreational drama can be lonely. Social media is full of people who are “in it for the fight”, while my chief objective is to back off the whole fight thing and give my system a chance to right itself. When you aren’t all caught up in the push-pull, what can you talk about with people? If you don’t want to fight, and you don’t want to constantly promote your “personal brand” and take a stand on this, that, or the other thing… what can you do in the everyday world?

There’s not much draw for me, frankly. And I feel myself pulling away from a lot of the discussions and interactions from before. I understand it, and I know it’s important to people, but I just can’t be bothered with it, any longer.

I have what I need. I am what I need. There’s no need to fight, because I understand how things work around me, and it’s no longer necessary to constantly push and pull and drive and strive, to get where I’m going.

And stepping away from that drama, that boiling cauldron… it takes practice. It can be lonely.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. I’m sure there are others I can connect with who are experiencing the same thing. I’m getting away from the old milieu I’ve worked and lived in for so many, many years… just part of maturing and growing up and out, perhaps? And I’m sure I’m not the only one.

I guess it’s just going to take some time for me to find another “ecosystem” to blend in with. Because the old one isn’t doing it for me.

Time is something I have.  Time to start looking around — up, down, left, right, out, in — for what’s next…

Getting the Gunk Out – Again and Again

Here’s your memory training image for the day (sorry I have forgotten to include these in the past days)

memory training image
Study this image for a few minutes, then read the post below… and then draw it afterwards.
Get that gunk out of the gears

So, I’m starting my new job tomorrow, taking it easy today, catching up on my rest, and not going too crazy with everything. I had some errands I intended to run, but I went to bed, instead.

Just as well. Those errands can wait.

I’m pretty excited about my new role, and I can’t wait to find out how it’s going to go.

I got myself some really nice, fresh food for dinner, and I’ll start cooking that up in a little bit. I need to get my things together — make sure I have clean socks, as well as a formal suit to wear. It’s my first day. I want to look my best. I’m sure it will prove to be a lot less formal than I’m dressing for, but I’ll just take off my jacket. Roll up my sleeves.

Problem solved.

I’m trying to drink a lot of water, so I’m clear for tomorrow. The last few weeks were pretty action-packed, and I need to settle my system. Yesterday I ended up being pretty busy and active, which wasn’t my ideal. I really wanted to have yesterday off, but that’s not what happened. Oh, well. That’s what Sunday’s for, right?

I spent a lot of time, this afternoon, relaxing and stretching and breathing. I did that after my nap, while I was lying in my warm bed, feeling comfortable and easy. I am having more trouble with my upper back, shoulders, neck, and trapezius muscle. I’m really stiff and sore, and not feeling great. All that lifting and moving yesterday didn’t help. Oh, well. I stretched, rolled on a tennis ball to work out the knots, and I “breathed into it ” as my chiropractor tells me to do. In the end, I felt better than when I started, but it’s still tight and painful to move at times.

The main thing for me is to work on clearing out the stress sludge from my last job. Let by-gones be by-gones, and also help my body clear out the biochemical leftovers from all the ridiculous dramas and conflicts that people seemed to dream up to keep themselves entertained. It’s not a small thing, clearing out the sludge. We have to do it, in today’s world, because nobody else will do it for us. We live in very stressful times (especially as the new political season picks up), and our systems are deluged with all kinds of conflict and strife and perceived threats.

If we allow it to build up and stay there, it takes a toll. It puts additional stress on our systems, and it drags us down. I dunno about you, but I don’t need anything else dragging me down. Especially if I know how to clear it out.

So, I’m breathing – steady as she goes – count of 5 in… count of 5 out… nice and even, relaxing all the while. It balances my autonomic nervous system and gets me out of fight-flight mode. It backs down the stress response and makes it possible for me to clear my head, so I can think properly.

This is important. This is critical. I know how to do this, and I must do it. It’s no longer optional for me. Not just some interesting thing to try out, here and there, but a discipline I need to regularly do.

Like the image memory exercises.

Both help. In different ways. They really help.

 

 

And now, get your pencil and paper and draw the image you just looked at above. No peeking. It’s important to see where you come up short. If you succeed each and every time, you’ve learned nothing. Good luck.

Real Warriors – Real Strength – Support # for combat #stress to call / chat

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