And the list gets a little bit shorter…

Some steps forward are not so simple
Some steps forward are not so simple

I’ve been trying like crazy to whittle down my list of Things That Must Be Done, and over the weekend, I made some good progress.

I actually got the basement sorted, just a little bit more. Many months ago (was it actually a year ago? that’s possible), I un-boxed a ton of stuff we’ve had in our basement for years and years. This is stuff we inherited when my spouse’s parents passed away… stuff we packed up over numerous moves, and then never unpacked… stuff we just couldn’t deal with at the time, and put down on a shelf, to decide about later.

Later never came.

Oh, actually, it did come. The decision part just never followed.

So, being concerned about the “stash” becoming a condominium for mice, I went on a multi-day campaign last year to unbox everything that was packed in cardboard and wrapped in newspaper, and I re-boxed everything in soft paper towels and clear plastic containers that have sealable lids.

And it was good.

Except, for that last piece of the process — the collection of trinkets and tschaschkes that I didn’t have a container for. I put them all out on a big folding table, planning to box them up when I picked up some additional containers. I got the containers. But I never boxed them up. And as a result, I’ve been “threading the needle” in my basement, just to get to the water softener when I need to refill the potassium chloride. It’s been a pain in my a**, and I’ve wanted to do something about it for months — actually, more like a year.

But I couldn’t.

Well, this weekend, I decided I’d had enough, and I decided to make a go of it. I told myself I’d only spend 30 minutes working on the task, and that made it easier. I got myself a nice sweet juice drink, and I took some music with me to listen to while I worked. And as I got into wrapping everything up and placing it carefully in the container, I found I was making good progress, so I didn’t need to stop at 30 minutes.

And in fact, it took me less than an hour to get it all done.

So, I’ve been inconvenienced (along with the workmen who’ve needed to get through my basement to fix the furnace and water heater), for a year, over something that took less than an hour to sort out.

Yeah, that would be me, sometimes.

Because it wasn’t just about the job. It was about this nagging sense of failure I have at everything else in my basement — the vestiges of projects I started and then could never finish… the building supplies and handyman remnants of my past life, when I was so strong and with-it, and I had all these plans that I could follow up on… before I fell and got hurt in 2004.

All the memories of years gone by just flood in, all my failures with family coming to mind, as I look at the items on the shelves, and remember how much I loved the people I’ve lost, and I think about how much of a challenge I always was for them. And it’s remembering all the ways that they (especially my in-laws) were challenges for me — the betrayals, the fights, the disloyalty, the gossip, cutting me out of wills and family news because I wasn’t “one of them”. I wasn’t from the world that my in-laws inhabit, and they’ve always kept me at arm’s distance, even though I’ve never done anything other than love and care for and support my spouse — one of their own.

Going down in the basement and spending time there isn’t just about stuff. It’s not just about organizing. It’s also facing my past — the disappointments, the frustrations — and all the stuff from Before.

But now, at least, I got that piece done. So I don’t have to look at it. I don’t need to constantly crawl over it… be reminded of it… factor it in. I am slowly getting my basement back. One of these years, I’m sure it will be in the kind of shape I want it to be.

Not just yet, though. Not just yet.

Sorting out my weekend

house-scaffoldI’ve got a bunch of stuff I need to do around the house, this weekend. A number of things are leftovers from past weeks, when I didn’t follow through and do what I was supposed to. A number of things are leftovers from past years, when I was too “taxed” to get it all done.

And it needs to get done.

I’ve got to clean. I’ve got to organize. There are things I started over the winter, that I planned to finish up… and then never did. My basement is almost un-navigable, because of all the stuff I left out. I re-organized and re-boxed a bunch of items, and I left just a handful of things out on a table, to wrap up later. But for some reason, that never happened.

So, it’s got to happen this weekend. I have to be able to walk through my basement. Especially because I went to so much trouble to clean it up, in the first place. Now, it’s even harder to get through than before I “fixed” it. And this will never do.

Just gotta suck it up and dive in. Just do it. Start somewhere – anywhere – and make at least some progress.

There are a lot of things I have let slide, or just didn’t do thoroughly, because I wasn’t systematic about it — or disciplined. I get tired, then I get distracted.

And things fall apart.

And then I feel like an idiot (yet again).

And it seems the world is re-confirming that I’m really not all that competent, and any sane and normal person would be able to do what I can’t, so what the hell is wrong with me?

What the hell is wrong with me?!

Of course, this sort of self-talk is all very counter-productive and pointless. It’s not a good use of time, and I know it.

So, rather than getting caught up in that, I’ll do something about the situation. I’ve got my list of things I need to do on the house, and I’m going to take them one at a time.

That’s the way to do it – one thing at a time, with complex things broken down into smaller sections. I am a very visual person, so I can “see” how it should all happen. It’s just translating that vision into action that gets me.

It’s made me feel stupid for far too long. Time to do something about it — just get going, and be proud of myself for simply starting.

Onward!

Less scary when it all gets broken down into pieces

Get it out of my head onto paper – it gets easier from there

So, last night I was at my very end. I’d had a long and very tiring week, and my spouse has been out of commission with their back out. They don’t take good care of themself, and they spend most of their day sitting around or lying down. I don’t see how anyone can even function on the lack of exercise they get. It’s like watching them disintegrate before my very eyes.

I work really hard to keep myself in good working order. I fall behind, of course, since I’m human. And there have been long stretches of time when I did not get the kind of exercise I needed. But I’ve never allowed myself to just “go to pot” like they have.

I don’t see how they can even live with themself.

But that’s them, not me. And that’s the toll that mental illness takes — unaddressed, untreated mental illness. Their dysfunction is so profound, they cannot even see how non-functional they are. Their answer to it all, is hiding their dysfunction from others, so they can continue to live that way. I know why that is — I know (pretty much) what they went through as a young kid that made them this way. Their father was a World War II vet, and the things it did to him, screwed up their whole family — all the kids, and beyond. One of the grandkids was a convicted felon before the age of 16, and the offense was pretty horrifying. That’s what can happen, when dysfunction is allowed to fester, everyone is in denial, and you hide your issues from everyone.

The fallout from WWII that I’ve lived with for the last 25 years, is one of the big reasons that I am a major supporter of veterans. I don’t do nearly as much writing directly about vets here, as I should. My hope is that I can write things that will help vets in a way that reaches them / you as people. I’m not a vet, and I wasn’t raised in a military family, and I don’t want to take liberties, writing about that kind of world that I don’t know, myself. I want to be respectful. But maybe I need to do more writing specifically for vets. It’s unconscionable to me, how my country sends folks off to fight for us, then abandons them when they come home.

Anyway, I’m going off on a tangent. What I started out saying, was that last night, I was done. I had a long week, and my spouse was needing a lot of attention and help. It was one thing after another, and I was so wiped out, I had to just go to bed early, which I did.

Last night, the weekend seemed like too much for me to handle. I have a number of things I need to take care of – some that are left over from last weekend. I had a number of time-consuming things to take care of, which ate up a lot of my spare time, and then I ran out of steam. So, this weekend I’m filling in the blanks.And last night, it seemed like way too much for me to handle. It was just overwhelming, the variety of things I had to get done.

This morning, though, I spent some time writing everything down in my notebook, and breaking it out to see what I would do.. and when. As it turns out, there is not so terribly much to do. And it will even leave me time to do some things I have been wanting to do, but didn’t think I could, last night.

Turns out, I can do them. If I stick to my plan today, I can get a lot of things done, so I can do the one thing I really want to do in the morning.

I just have to get it all down on paper. Get it out of my head. My head gets spinning, and then I get confused and tired and more confused and more tired. And then everything looks like hell.

That was how it was in my head, last night – not a fun place to be. I just wanted to blow up. Or throw up. Or both. But I kept it together and was just very quiet, all evening. I was really working at keeping myself from going off the deep end, and I drew the line, when my spouse urged me to eat something sugary and stay up later, watching t.v.

That’s about the last thing I needed. So I declined. And I got about 9 hours of sleep, which is exactly what I needed.

So, lesson learned. Again.

Tonight, after I mow my lawn, I think I’ll watch some martial arts movies. That will put the icing on the cake of what’s starting out as a beautiful day.

Having a good laugh and getting it done

Each day is a new discovery. That much has become abundantly clear to me, over the past years. I think I’ve always had that orientation, really, from when I was a kid. I was inquisitive, no doubt, and I had an insatiable curiosity to find out “what happens if –” I had plenty of opportunity to find out the answer to that “what if”. And not all the answers were fun and games. But at least I kept at it.

I had another “discovery evening” last night, after dinner. I was helping a friend get some web stuff together, and they were starting to get anxious and pushy. I seem to have a lot of friends who get anxious and pushy… Anyway, tempers were starting to escalate, and I was getting pissed off. I was trying to help them, and they kept arguing with me and changing what they wanted to do. Exasperating.

So, I told a joke. And they laughed. And the whole mood changed. The whole experience turned from being a hurdle, into being an interesting discovery that we could figure out together. And we ended up having fun with it. Of course, it would have been nice if we’d done this earlier than 10:00 at night — it woke me up, and I didn’t get to sleep till midnight, and then I woke up at 5:15 today. Bummer. Oh, well. At least we managed to get that web thing done, and with any luck, it’s going to help them make some money and be more independent.

Humor is becoming more and more key for me, these days — or rather, figuring out how to find humor is becoming more key. I used to be a real card — a cut-up, a joker, a fun-n-games type of person who was always good for a laugh. All growing up, I could always make the people around me laugh and smile and feel better. It was one of the things that made me so great to work with. People really enjoyed working with me, because I was a lot of fun, and I could turn any tense situation into a much easier one.

Then I fell in 2004, and all of a sudden, nothing was funny anymore.

Nothing.

I think of all the things TBI has cost me, my sense of humor has cost me most dearly. It’s really messed with my quality of life, and my ability to function in the world. You wouldn’t think that a sense of humor would be that critical, but in trying times — as they so often are for me — being able to laugh at myself and my situation has carried me through some very tough spots. And it’s helped others as well. In fact, my sense of humor is one of the things that attracted my spouse to me in the first place.

Not being able to lighten up has made things much more difficult in my work, my relationships, my marriage, and life in general. I used to be able to lighten up “on demand”, but over the past years, it’s been incredibly difficult to do that. In fact, if anything, I’ve gone in the opposite direction — spiraling down, down, down, on an instant’s notice. That’s been very hard on everyone around me. And watching them struggle with me has felt terrible. I should be able to do better. But that “better” escaped me for years.

Fortunately, that’s changed somewhat over the past while — I’m not sure if it’s been a year or months. I lose track of time. But regardless, I’ve been able to find humor in places that tend to trouble me. When I can find the humor, I can get some perspective — and my brain gets the additional oxygen it needs. And everyone gets a much-needed break from all the intensity.

Thinking about the dynamics between my spouse and me, they were always the one who was heavy and intense and deeply feeling, and I was the bright light that danced around in the sky, getting our minds off all those troubles, and hoping for a better day. I really was able to balance my spouse’s mental challenges and physical illness with good humor and courage, for many, many years. And my humor gave me tons of energy and optimism. Between the two of us, we could get a ton of things done. When the humor left me around 2004-2005, we lost an important part of our relationship and our dynamic.

And everything got that much harder, that much more mired in the muck of life.

But now I can see myself coming out of that dark space. I hear myself making jokes again. And I find myself laughing spontaneously, for a change. Facebook and YouTube help, actually, with their steady stream of videos and pictures highlighting the follies of humanity. My laughter is lighter, now, and less bitter. Because I’m getting out of the weeds, and I’m figuring out how to not get mired in one detail after another.

You know, it’s funny — I’ve been thinking, lately, about how lax I’ve become with a lot of things. I used to be so diligent, so conscientious, so focused on results. Now, I’m more interested in enjoying myself in what I’m doing. But has that cost me, in terms of doing what I say I’m going to? No. Actually, it helps me. Before my fall, things were much more proportional in my mind — I could keep things in perspective, and not get hung up on all sorts of stupid little details. TBI really screwed with that — and I became obsessed over sh*t that didn’t matter, sweating every little thing that was of no consequence. The more I obsessed, the more I sweated, the more obsessed I became — over a lot of nothing.

Now, I’ve figured out how to let a lot of that go, and just focus in on enjoying what I’m doing, without really sweating all the little details. A lot of the things that used to drive me — doing exactly the right thing in the most perfect way possible — oh hell, I don’t care about that anymore. It makes me crazy — and for what? The job I do isn’t going to save my soul, and it’s not the ticket to a gloriously happy life. It’s a job that pays the bills. It’s fairly interesting, but it’s not all that — like it used to be.

Ironically, I’ve found that when I let a lot of my obsessing go, I can actually focus in on what I’m doing, and do a better job of it. I can clear out the cobwebs with a good laugh, and buckle down to make some progress. Having this balance is a new thing. And it’s a good thing. It feels odd, to not be over-the-top obsessed with being #1 at every single thing I do, but I can live with that odd feeling.

As long as I’m enjoying myself and not driving myself crazy… as long as I’m making progress and moving things along… it’s all good.

Until somebody tells me it’s not. Then I have to refocus… but that’s another topic for another day. For today, it’s all good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Got the list…

And it’s a good one. I have a lot to do, this morning, but I sat down and mapped out everything I’m going to do, in the order they need to be done and the geographical areas I need to do them.

  • First I need to drive about half an hour to pick up an order at a store. Then I need to swing by an office supplies place to pick up some printer cartridges.
  • Then I need to pick up some food items I forgot while shopping yesterday.
  • Then I need to gas up the car and buy ice.
  • Then I need to swing by the local farm stand and stock up on some local foods.
  • Then I need to come home, get the car ready for my spouse’s trip, pack it, and get them ready for their departure around 1 p.m.
  • Then I’ll take a nap… and get on with the things I need to do tonight.

The timing is good for this trip — I need to do some repair work with power tools that my spouse hates the sound of. This way, I can make all the noise I need to, and not worry about disturbing anyone.

It will also be good to have a few days to myself. I need some down-time, to just chill and get clear in my head about where I’m going with my work in the future. I need silence and peace and no worries, which doesn’t often happen with a spouse who is in a chronic state of panic-anxiety. I’m generally the “rock” in the household – it will be nice to have a break from that and get to just be solid — and silent.

In the midst of all the preparations, having a list makes it super-simple to just handle things. I figure out where I’m going, when, what I need to do there, and then I’m done. None of this lollygagging or futzing around.  Just staying focused and on-target and moving from one thing to the next.

It’s a world of difference from the way things used to be, when I was still trying to keep everything straight in my head – and failing miserably at it. There was this idea in my mind that if I couldn’t keep everything in order in my head, I was a “failure”. Turns out, I was failing exactly because of that. When you think about it, we have so many distractions and so many interruptions, TBI / concussion or not, that it’s all but impossible to keep clear at every moment of every day.

Something’s gotta give. And anyway, having a list all made out ahead of time frees me up to think of everything else — more fun things, more interesting things. Other stuff. Yeah. Good stuff.

So, I’ve got my list, and now it’s time to get moving.

Onward.