Today’s a new day

railroad tracks leading into the distance with "start" painted on a tieIt’s Friday. For many, that means a few days off.

For me, it means I have a few days ahead of me to put in some more work. Some thought. Some intention.

It’s precious, precious time to step back, reconsider what I’ve been doing for the past week, re-set my direction, if necessary, and also rest, recuperate, re-adjust myself to a life that’s more like “me” and less like how the rest of the world expects me to be.

My TBI recovery has taken me in so many different directions, but at the core, it’s reminded me of who I really am, deep down inside, and what I want from my life. I was frankly on a wrong path, back when I fell down those stairs in 2004, and although it cost me dearly, I’m now on a much better path.

My path.

My life.

Today is my day.

Onward.

Advertisements

Not so angry, tired, or frustrated anymore – Who I was then, versus how I am now

train in rear-view mirror
Looking behind can help me move forward

I had a very productive weekend. A lot of folks tell me to slow down and do less, and it’s important to keep balanced. The thing is, I actually am able to keep balanced while doing more. Because I know how to do things in a pretty efficient way.

Plus, I have a ton of experience that I can use — and I do.

Only I do it much, much better than ever before.

Once upon a time, I was constantly driven to go-go-go, to do-do-do. It was a heady, exciting way to live. But it wore me out. I got tired. And then I lost sight of what I was doing and why I was doing it.

Of course, I had no idea that my history of TBIs was driving me, or how it was affecting me when I got tired.

Now I know. And now I can manage my energy levels — lie down and take a nap when I need one… get up and get to work, if I have the energy… and really pay attention to the things that mean the most to me, all along the way.

I think I’m still as driven as I was before. Maybe I’m even more driven…

  • To heal
  • To help
  • To make a difference in the world
  • To be a positive influence, no matter where I am
  • To make dreams come true, for myself and others
  • To really, really help

Because more is possible than anyone seems to believe anymore.

Yeah, I know… the world is in a mess. Political turmoil. Drama. Threats of war — or outright war. Territorial disputes. Money, power, influence, control. Everybody’s churned up, worked up, and telling tales of doom and gloom.

And I used to get so bent out of shape about things like this. As though there were anything I could do about it. And it wore me out. It tired me out, it made me anxious and agitated, and that was no good.

I had no idea how fatigue affected me.

So, I couldn’t manage it.

Angry, tired, frustrated. I was always that way. If I wasn’t all three of them (which was often), I was at least one of them.

And that was no good. It just stopped me at every turn — the fatigue, the agitation, the distractions.

Meanwhile, I had no idea why nothing ever worked out for me, long-term.

I thought about this a lot, this past weekend, as I was systematically working through my list of errands. Things I had to do for others. Things I needed to do for myself. I thought about all the years I spent working towards my dreams, only to have them fizzle out. And then never understanding why that was.

Now I know why it was. I got tired. Fatigued. And then I got distracted and scattered and angry and defeated.

I’m not blinded to that, anymore.

Now I know.

Now I can manage.

I don’t have to settle for less, anymore. I can actually finish things I’ve started.

And this is a very good thing.

Onward.

Keeping the foundation solid

windrader foundationI’ve been doing better about taking care of myself, lately.

I guess I just got to a point where I realized that pushing myself constantly wasn’t paying off. I’ve always been driven. I’ve always been motivated. I’ve always wanted more and I’ve wanted to see what all I was capable of doing and being and becoming.

I’ve lost sight of the basics more times than I can count, but that gets old after a while.

So, I’m focusing on the basics. I’m keeping my routine going, getting my exercise every single morning — sometimes pushing myself a little harder, sometimes taking it a little easier — eating right, taking care of business as I go through my day(s).

The more I focus on the basics, the more I tend to my foundation, the stronger I am, the more stable I am. And it puts things in perspective.

It’s Friday. I got up early – couldn’t sleep, partly because of work excitement, partly because of being excited about the weekend. I’ve had a few hours of productive working on my projects. I solved a big problem that had stumped me for the past few days. I’ve had my breakfast. I’ve had my big glass of water. And I’m moving forward.

With my foundation in place.

Solid.

Stable.

Good.

It wasn’t always this way, of course. 13 years ago, my life was starting to fall apart. I’d gotten a nasty concussion about a year before, and I had no idea how it was affecting me. Things were just dissolving, and I didn’t understand just how much they were. All I knew was, life had gotten about 1000 times harder than it had ever been. All I knew was, I was stressed out more than ever, I was having so much trouble concentrating, I was emotionally volatile, my temper was all over the place, and life was increasingly impossible.

I nearly lost everything.

Nearly.

What turned it around was simple — focusing on basics. Developing a routine and using checklists to keep myself on track. Getting to know myself again and figuring out how to get through my day in one piece, without losing it over every little thing.

It was simple. But it wasn’t easy. It took constant work. It took sustained focus. It took years.

But it was worth it. And I found that taking care of the basics, being consistent (even boring) was the key to getting back… getting back to myself… getting back to my dreams… restoring my abilities that I’d thought were gone for good.

It was worth it.

And it continues to be.

Focus on the basics. Master the fundamentals. Keep working, keep refining, keep “iterating” from one improvement to the next… and stay steady. Don’t give up. Just be stubbornly committed to my goals and objectives.

And rest. Plenty of rest, good food, clean water. Restoration of my energy stores.

Keep on. I just keep on.

And it works.

Onward.

Brain injury comes in a number of different “flavors”, but it affects us in very similar ways

Brain injury is a brain injury, and as much as we may say “each brain is different, each injury is different,” we still need to look at the ways that each kind of injury is similar to others. And the experiences we have can be quite similar.

Loneliness, isolation, confusion, not feeling like yourself, getting angry quickly, mood swings, and let’s not forget the bone-crushing fatigue and the embarrassment that comes from not being the person you used to be… They are all things brain injury survivors have in common, and it’s helpful to actually treat people accordingly.

I honestly don’t understand why more emphasis isn’t placed on the experience of brain injury. That’s what trips us up, quite frankly. That’s the thing that makes our recoveries so much harder — the experiences we have and the effects those experiences have on our selves, our Sense-of-Self.

Well, that’s why I’m here. To speak up for those of us who tend to get stuck in our post-BI experiences, and need to see there’s actually a way out… Because there is. There is always hope — even in the most dire cases. Nobody can tell me different. That’s just how we’re built — to amaze… to heal… to grow… to learn. And learn some more.

Here’s a quick summary of the different types of brain injury:

Acquired Brain Injury (ABI)

includes things like stroke and anoxic (being without oxygen) brain injury. Some consider traumatic brain injury to be an acquired brain injury, because it “is damage to the brain that was not present at birth and is non-progressive” (See The ABI Manual for more). Personally, I wouldn’t call it “non-progressive”, but everyone’s experience is different.

ABI Resources:

Stroke

happens either when a clot blocks blood flow in the brain (called “Ischemic” stroke) or a blood vessel pops and there’s a brain bleed (called “Hemorrhagic” stroke)

Stroke Resources

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

is related to trauma to the brain that comes from a fall, an attack, a sports injury, or an accident.

TBI Resources:

Concussion

is what people often call a “mild” TBI. Concussions are sometimes considered less serious than traumatic brain injuries, and a lot of people consider a TBI that clears up after a while, to be a Concussion.

Concussion Resources:

 

My last decent vacation in a good long time…

open book with a landscape scene in the pages
The way life goes, you never know how things will shape up. I’ve had so many hopes and dreams over the years, and so many times, I’ve been on the verge of really breaking through… then something happened. And that “something” was often a TBI.

I was just getting my act together in elementary school, finding my footing with my peers and getting involved in a special program for “gifted” kids and discovering what worked for me, when I got hit on the head and things changed. I became combative. Difficult. A behavior problem. So much for the gifted program. They showed me to the door on that one.

My family relocated, and I was finally figuring out how to interact with the people around me (who all talked with thick accents I could barely understand). Then I fell out of a tree and wrenched my neck. And I kept hitting my head while playing sports. Football. Soccer. Just playing outside. Hitting my head was routine. I can remember a number of really significant blows to my skull that disrupted my consciousness, but they happened against a backdrop of regular clunks on the head. It seemed like every time I got on my feet and started feeling like I had a grip on my life, I’d get hurt (again), and I’d be back at square one.

I eventually got out of my parents’ house and got on with my life. When I drank a lot, I fell down — a lot. I may have (probably) hit my head a bunch of times, but I don’t remember much from the 4-5 years after I left my parents’ home.  Those years that could have been some of my best (and in some ways, they were). They could have been years of exploration and learning and experience like no other, but instead they were mired in the muck of hangovers and all the confusion that comes from not knowing what happened the night before. A few scrapes with the law… being ostracized by my peers… some violent confrontations… making money by borderline means, just to get by… it was definitely an experience — that’s for sure. But it took me years to recover from the damage I did to myself.

After I was in the working world, driving to work each day, I got in a bunch of car accidents. They weren’t huge deals, mostly just fender-benders, but whiplash and getting clunked on the head didn’t help matters any. During years when most of my peers were getting on their feet, finding their way in the world, I was scrambling. Trying to catch up, after being set back. I got a job, then got hit by a speeding door-to-door salesman. I left that job without saying why. Just left one day and never went back. I relocated to a really great city, but just before moving, I got rear-ended and spent the next several months in a manic haze.

Years later, I had a pretty decent job with a lot of responsibility, then got tangled up in a 7-car pileup, and everything fell to pieces there, too. That worked out okay in the end, because I found a much better job and a completely different career track, but it did a number on my self-confidence, and it caused me to pass up a golden opportunity that my new manager laid at my feet (and begged me to take). I can only imagine how much more stable my life would be now, had I actually taken them up on it.

The last and most debilitating TBI was when I fell down a flight of stairs at the end of 2004. I was just 18 months away from having some investments mature, and if I’d been able to hang in there and keep up with my life, I could have repaired and paid off my house, gotten rid of my debt, and really solved a lot of logistical problems that are the kinds of things that only money will solve. None of that got solved. It all fell apart. And it’s taken me 12+ years go piece it all back together to just a semblance of how things once were.

So, what does this have to do with my current vacation (which is now drawing to a close)?

In the course of my life, I’ve never known just when everything would fall to sh*t. It’s partly me being oblivious, partly me not having a reliable crystal ball that lets me peer into the future. So, all those times when I just assumed I’d have time to do this, that, or the other thing… all those times when I thought I was set… all those times when I didn’t pay attention to what was Right In Front Of Me… in so many cases, they were the last hurrah for that part of my life. The last shred of self-confidence. The last vestiges of feeling competent. The last months of feeling like I could actually plan my future with certainty. The last weeks of being able to take certain things (like how my brain worked or how I’d react to experiences) for granted.

I didn’t savor those things when they happened, because I was too damn’ optimistic. Too oblivious to just how sh*tty life could get for me. Not experienced enough to realize that things could get That Much Harder for me in a moment’s time. I took them for granted. I didn’t wring every last bit of goodness out of them, while the goodness lasted. And now I just look back on a lot of wasted opportunities and chances I totally missed enjoying… all because I thought there would be another time that would be somehow better.

I don’t believe that anymore.

Especially not this morning.

From here on out, my vacations will probably be a lot more work than relaxation, a lot more frustrating than renewing, and a lot less worth it to me. But they’ll continue. Life goes on. Sh*t gets complicated. So it goes.

For today, I’m just going to enjoy myself. Because this might just be as good as it ever gets.

Well, not *exactly* time off…

construction cranes wtih a cloudy skyMost people think of vacation / time off, as an opportunity to kick back and relax, put the cares of the world on hold, and just float through life without a care in the world.

Those people, however, have very different lives from mine.

My “vacation” is a lot of work, actually. I’m off my routine, so I have to spend a lot of energy figuring out what’s next. Regular mealtimes and menu items are different. I’m fixing three meals a day for my spouse and me, instead of just breakfast for me, then supper for us both. I have to help my spouse get around, as they have limited mobility and need extra time and help just standing up and moving from place to place. Everything moves at a slower pace, and I don’t get as many spontaneous opportunities to discharge a lot of the energy I have.

And when I do kick into high gear, it disorients my spouse and they get pissed off at me for moving too fast.

So, I work around it. I have to. I go out into the day and run around. I sprint across parking lots. I lift and carry twice as much stuff as I normally do. I intersperse my slow times with intervals of bursting energy – flash, flash, flash – and then “back it down” for my spouse’s benefit.

Last time we took a week’s vacation, I lost a couple pounds, by the end of the week. So, it’s really not so bad.

It’s good to change up the routine, in any case.

And find peace where I can. Excitement where I can. Enjoyment where I can. Life for me is less about having things handed to me — like opportunity — and more about finding what I’m looking for when I need it. Seeing opportunity where nobody else does. Finding peace in the center of the storm. Making my own excitement.

It’s all a big swirl of potential, to me. My job is to find the experiences and the chances I’m looking for, in the midst of it all, and see what I can do to bring them to life.

That takes work. It takes concentration. It also takes patience and willingness to stick with things that put most people off. Needless to say, I’m up for it — and in the end, it’s an investment of my resources that truly pays off. My TBI recovery is a case in point.

So, while the fantasy of having a whole week “off” work is appealing, the fact of the matter is, I’m just trading one kind of work for another. But in the end, that’s how I want it. And even if I weren’t loaded up with all sorts of extra domestic things to do, I’d find other work to occupy me. That’s how I roll.

Onward.

Back at it…

lights streaming through darknessThe last few days have been extremely busy. Jam-packed with work, from 8 a.m. till 6 p.m.

And then I need to head home, buy supper on the way, make supper, eat supper, go to bed.

I’m tired of this. But I keep at it. Because it’s what I do, it pays the bills, and who knows what’s around the corner?

My work situation us changing – my group got moved to another organization, and now we find out (in a few months) how it’s all going to shake out. They will probably break up our group, because a small group of people do many things, each, whereas in the team we joined, people tend to have one job, not five (like I do, now).

They just have to figure out where to put us.

Personally, I’m fine with this. I hate how things are done in my current group. It’s too jam-packed. Too compulsive. Too frantic. My boss works pretty much ’round the clock, and the rest of us are expected to, as well. That just doesn’t work for me.

It’s fair to say, I have a very low quality of life, right now. Even though my job seems secure, my mortgage is paid, I have food on the table, etc. And I do a really good impression of someone who’s positive and upbeat and a “catalyst for change”.

I’m just exhausted. And it’s hard to see the point of much of anything, when I’m feeling this wiped out… all the time.

But still, I have to keep myself going, because nothing lasts for ever, and I might just be able to find a new situation in the new year. I’m hanging tight, for the time being, waiting this out… waiting till I get my vacation time under my belt… I have three separate weeks off, between now and the end of the year, and I’m going to take advantage of it.

Cut my losses. Keep the dread and drama to a minimum. Just keep going. Just keep puttering around at my little projects and side interests.

Just keep on.

Every now and then, I find something that lifts my spirits. But every Thursday and Friday, like clockwork, my mood begins to plummet.

So, that being said — since I recognize it and know it — I can actually work with that. Just don’t pay any attention to the unhappiness that nags at me.  Just don’t jump to conclusions about how feeling bad at the end of the week translates into having a terrible life. I don’t have a terrible life. I have a pretty excellent life, in fact. And I can’t let the surface feeling I get — the tarnish on the normally shiny surface of my life — dim my view of everything around me.

Grab a rag and shine it up. Realize there’s more to the story than how I’m feeling at this very moment. Do what I can, when I can. And live my life.

Onward.

Picking up the pieces on my own weekend “island”

desert island with two palm trees surrounded by seaI’ve got a long weekend ahead of me. What shall I do with myself? Three days off, with no appointments, no obligations, no requirements… what a luxury this is.

It’s almost like going to my own desert island. My spouse wants to take it easy, too. They’ve been doing a lot, lately, with events every weekend, and some additional events in between. They lead community gatherings — drum circles, song circles, gatherings where people share meals and life lessons — and it’s a lot of work. I used to attend a lot of them, myself. But it got to be too much. I already have a full-time job and a handful of side projects that keep me more than busy.

I prefer it that way, actually. Keeping busy, keeping engaged, making things, coming up with new ideas… that’s what keeps me young. Feeling young, looking young, living young. It’s a challenge, at times, because fatigue gets me down, that whole brain fog thing sets in, I get angry and agitated, and everything feels like it’s melting around me… falling to pieces. Just falling away. And at those times I sometimes just don’t care about anything. Just don’t. Can’t be bothered.

I’m at the point now, where I’m fine with not being busy. I look back on how things have been in my life for the past however many decades — okay, let’s call it 34 years, since that’s how long I’ve been majority age and in control of my own life — all the time I’ve spent on my projects, doing and doing and doing some more… making things, exploring… all that…

What’s it been for?

What have I accomplished? What have I truly gotten done? I do all this work, and then what comes of it? Clearly, I’m not rich and famous. I’m doing okay with a house (mortgage) and a fairly reliable late model car (and car payment), but I have no financial safety net, I’m not entirely secure about my future, and I just feel like crap so much of the time.

Not that feeling like crap matters… It can’t matter, because then I’d never get anything done. If I only did the things I felt like doing, I’d be homeless. Being in pain, being tired, being confused, being overwhelmed… that’s the price I pay for what I have, and if I let it get to me and give in to it, then everything falls apart. Part of me wishes I could fall back on my diminished state as a reason not to move forward. To file for disability (not that I’d get it, because I obviously am capable of working). I’d love to just check out for a while. Decide what else I want to do…

Well, I have three days to chill, so I’ll do that. I actually have more like 3-1/2 days, because everybody’s going to be gone as of noon, today, making a run for it for the last long weekend hurrah till the holidays. And we all know the holidays are no simple walk in the park, so do they even count as time off?

It’s all relative, of course. And things may be changing with my job, since my group got moved to a different organization. We’ll see how that goes. In the meantime, I’m submitting my resume for other jobs, not expecting much, but also not chasing after things. It never works out, when I chase. Plus, it’s exhausting.

So, this week is really for chilling out and giving myself some room to breathe. I can go out for walks down the road. Or I can stay in bed and read. Or I can sit around and watch movies all afternoon. Or I can spend extra time exercising, since I’ll have the time to spend. My choice. Time to take the pressure off, and just BE.

I got almost 10 hours of sleep, last night. Nothing short of a miracle, considering how little sleep I’ve been getting lately. I plan to get even more this weekend.

Onward.

The adventure continues.

Yeah, I just get tired…

sleeping monkeyAs much as I want to quit my job (and after the past month, I really do), I’m going to stay put, most likely.

I just get tired.

Very, very tired.

And when I’m wiped out, nothing is good, my productivity slips, I don’t feel connected to anyone or anything or any of the work I do. I hate my job, I hate my life, I hate the world.

Or, I get too tired to feel strongly about anything. And I just drift into a sense of meh.

And sometimes that’s the worst thing of all. Feeling strongly negative about anything is at least feeling something.

Meh… that’s feeling… nothing.

I wish I could bottle this feeling and sell it. I know a lot of people who spend good money trying to get to this state of numbness, feeling nothing. I’d be rich.

The weird thing about it is that the weather has been fantastic, lately. I’m far from the storms in Texas, and the autumn is now picking up speed. The days are getting shorter. The shadows are lengthening. It’s cool at night — cool enough to turn on the heat. I’ve been looking forward to these days for weeks and months, now… and yet, I find myself so tired.

Well, it’s only partly because of the season change. It’s also because of work. I have been so busy, just pushing and pushing to get things done. I haven’t had much time to think things through carefully — just in reaction mode all the time.

And then when I do have time to settle in and think… I’m all out of fuel. Wiped out. Zombie-fied.

Well, I have a long weekend coming up. And I’ll probably just check out tomorrow afternoon before the day is up. I may cut my day short at noon and go back to bed. Wish I could do that today, but I have a dr. appointment this afternoon, so there’s no rest for the weary. And then I have to join another couple of conference calls after the appointment.

Good heavens, how I’d love to just quit.

But not just yet. I’m really just tired.

Seeing my skills for what they are – and aren’t

moon shining on tree in fieldI’ve been “back and forth” about my job, for the past few months. One week, I love it. The next, I hate it and can’t wait to get away. I supposedly got a sort of “promotion” a few weeks ago — more responsibility and more influence, but no more money. Doesn’t seem to be much of a promotion, right? My boss is making bad decisions and is pushing me to put their ideas into action. It’s pretty much of a train wreck, with all the people at the top fighting over their territory, making their minions represent them.

Ridiculous. I don’t agree with any of it. But somehow I’m supposed to make it happen?

The only benefit: it makes the situation crystal clear — I really need to get the heck out of that situation, brush up my technical skills, put my resume out there, and get ready to move after the new year. I actually have some old projects I’ve been wanting to revive, and now seems like a great time to do it.

I tend to have a pretty low opinion of myself, mainly because I know what else is possible, and I’m very clear about how far I fall short. Plus, always being tired, my self-esteem really suffers. Like today. I’m just not feeling that capable or worthwhile…

Except for something that happened last night.

I was on my way home from a meetup in a nearby city, and as I was rolling through the dark countryside, I saw a bunch of cars stopped ahead of me. I was coming up to a tricky intersection, where a hidden road crosses at the bottom of a long, gradual hill. The tail lights of the cars ahead of me weren’t moving, there seemed to be smoke in the air, and I could see people standing in the road farther up the hill, so I slowed down and pulled over, just to figure out what was going on.

When I took a closer look (I was pretty tired), I saw there was a car sitting in the middle of the road with its wheels splayed and its front-end crushed in. The interior was full of smoke, and the whole thing was shrouded in a gray cloud. I was worried at first about there being a fire and the vehicle blowing up — I’ve seen too many movies, I guess. But I couldn’t just sit there. It didn’t look like anyone was helping, yet.

I walked closer to the wreck – carefully. There was glass everywhere. Pieces of car. Rear view mirrors. Chrome and plastic. Halfway up the hill, I could see another car lying on its roof in the darkness. It wasn’t smoking. It was just sitting there, eerily motionless, as people gathered quietly around it.

The vehicle nearest me at the bottom of the hill was a tangled wreck. Once upon a time, it looked like it had been a pretty sweet Mustang. No more. The airbags were shredded. Drawing closer, I could hear voices. I could hear a woman’s voice and a man’s, so I knew someone was alive. I lifted up the “curtain” of limp airbag that was hanging over the driver side window, and behind it there was a driver with is face smashed in and blood all over him, talking to a woman on the remote assistance intercom — like those Northstar systems that come with cars to help you unlock your doors or call for help. The woman was talking to him like he was coherent, but he was really messed up. He clearly had a head injury, his movements were jerky and automatic — like I’ve been a number of times after getting clocked on the head. She kept asking him questions, and he was responding like he knew what he was talking about. He didn’t. He was in bad shape.

Beside him, there was a passenger whose left leg was bent weirdly. No wonder. The car’s engine had been pushed back practically into his lap. I didn’t get a close look at the other guy — who was talking a bit, too — because I was focused on just talking to the lady. And others had come over to help and were checking him out. I talked to the lady on the intercom, told her what I was seeing, and reported what others were seeing about the other guy.

I also “talked down” the guys in the car, who were trying to get out. The driver kept reaching down beside his seat for something, but I told him to stay putDon’t move. Help was on the way. The interior of the car reeked of alcohol, and one of the other bystanders who was helping said she’d seen drugs beside the seat.

The local first responders were there within minutes. The accident was just a few miles from the local fire station, and when the fire truck pulled up, I told the firemen what I knew. They were on it, and I got out of their way. Then I got back in my car and moved on.

When everyone else stood at a distance, I stepped up.

When everyone else couldn’t communicate and keep things in order, I could.

When a couple of seriously injured people were on the verge of potentially hurting themselves more, I kept them safe and kept things steady.

I’ve been in these kinds of situations a number of times. A co-worked who collapsed and was unresponsive… someone who’d fallen and hit their head… an elderly person who had a bad reaction to a medical trial they were participating in… a person pinned between their car and a fence, when they didn’t put it properly in park… I’ve come across those people who were badly injured or hurt enough that they couldn’t help themselves, and I’ve been there for them, till help came. Several times I’ve run for help, myself.

It’s what I do. It’s one of the things I do best.

And for all the foolishness that’s taking place at work, at least I know this is something I do. Handling reality. Dealing with a true emergencies.

And I need to remember that, as I navigate this scene at work… finding a path out… figuring out what’s next. There are some things I do better than just about anybody else. They’re just not part of my job description, right now.