Crushing. Just crushing. And yet…

The week ahead of me is one of those one-foot-in-front-of-the-other types of weeks. I can’t think too much about things, because inside my head, it’s a swirling mass of panic, rage, fear, anxiety, frustration, and a whole lot of other stuff that has no business coming to the surface.

I’m working my ass off, keeping positive and moving forward. It is a herculean effort, and when I think about how f*cking hard I have to work, to keep myself on track, I’m actually really proud of myself.

Because how things are on the outside is nothing like how they are on the inside.

And to all appearances, I’m succeeding, I’m doing well, I’m holding my act together.

While inside, I’m absolutely dying — or bordering on aggressive rage.

One thing that TBI has taught me, is how to not get sucked into the turmoil that seethes beneath the surface. There is *always* turmoil beneath the surface with me. I walk around looking quite calm and collected, while inside I’m anything but that. I know the chaos is there. It’s like having a Tasmanian devil creature living in a sound-proofed back room of my house. From the street, you can’t see it, you can’t hear it, and you’d never know it’s there. But inside my house, I know it’s there. And even though I can’t hear it tearing around shrieking and howling and slamming into the walls, I can still feel the thud-thud-thud of the creature throwing itself around.

It’s there. I’m not sure it’s every going to go away. And yet, I don’t have to let it out of its room. I don’t have to let it into the rest of the house. I can live my life, sliding food under the door now and then to keep it satiated and a little calmed down. I can go about my business, taking care of that side of me, to make sure it doesn’t get too wild, too out of control. I know it’s there. I’m not sure it’s ever going to go away. The confusion, frustration, fear, anxiety, panic, anger…

Whatever. I have a life to live, and I have tools in place to keep me balanced and steady, no matter what.

In a way, learning to manage my own internal state is helping me manage my external state. It’s pretty depressing, sometimes, thinking that this crap may never go away. But when does it ever — for anyone? We all have to deal with it. We all have to handle it.

It’s crushing. It’s demanding. It sometimes feels like too much.

Then I realize there’s more to the picture. There’s the amazingly beautiful weather today. There’s the wonderful day I spent with my spouse, yesterday. There’s the camaraderie of my coworkers waiting for me. There’s the calm I feel as I settle in for a good night’s sleep on the weekend, when I don’t need to set my alarm. There’s all the amazing beauty and inspiration I find from so much of life.

Yes, it can be crushing. And yet… there is more.

Rest is my friend – five things that changed my habits for the better

Go to sleep, I’m a bear… Wake up, I’m better.

Today is another “on” day for me. Yesterday I had to step away from my LIST of to-do items that I’d put together on Friday, and just move at a more restful pace. I’ve been pushing pretty hard all week, with a lot of good ideas which promise to bring good things to me.

But by Saturday morning, all the Activity caught up with me, and I had to just back off a bit. I juggled a bit in the morning, wrote a little bit, then got together with friends, took a long nap, and got up to do a little bit here and there in the evening.

All in all, it was a good day. There were some things I was really hoping to get done (some that I really needed to get done), but I didn’t. And that’s that. I don’t really care, right now. The main thing was, I got some rest, caught up with myself, and gave myself some breathing room.

That’s important. I tend to push myself so hard — overachiever that I am — that I don’t give myself enough down-time to recoup. And that is far more damaging than any lack of ambition or “failure to launch”. Overwork and overtrainng are all very well and good for the short term. I almost have to do it, sometimes, to get things to lodge in my brain permanently.

But every single day of every single week of every single month of every single year?

Thankfully, I’m learning to do things differently.

It’s interesting, what changed that mindset for me. Most of the time, I try to overpower my unhealthy tendencies with raw, brute force. Willpower. Resolve. Even a bit of guilt. But that doesn’t work. What does work, is introducing a new piece of information into the mix that provides a better Idea about what will be most effective.

Case in point: Rest. And its importance.

I have intellectually “known” for a long time that rest is important. It helps the brain consolidate memories. It helps the body remove toxins from the brain. It is important for rebuilding the capabilities that you’ve fried, in the course of everyday overwork.  I know that rest helps me keep emotionally centered, as well. It keeps me from snapping out. It keeps me from getting depressed. It gives me a great sense of well-being and ability.

But have I made a point of getting to bed at a decent time and sleeping all the way through the night?

Until recently, not so much. I “knew” I was supposed to, I had the whole raft of ideas about how helpful it was. But not until I had an Experience of the incredible help that rest gives me, have I enthusiastically gone to bed at a decent hour — during the week before 11 p.m., on the weekends, before midnight.

What changed things? Having a bunch of good great experiences with Rest, that really brought home how much it helps me.

First, actually being able to rest in bed has been huge. I bought a new bed a couple of weeks ago, and ever since then, I have not had any trouble falling asleep. I used to lie in bed for hours, unable to sleep. I couldn’t afford a new bed. And I had to make do with what I had. But it was rough. I never actually put it together that the problem was the bed. I figured it was just how things were. For some reason I didn’t get that the lumpy mattress that wasn’t flat and forced me to balance my weight in different ways was keeping me up. Now that I have a new bed which is exactly flat and very firm, I have been falling asleep almost immediately. The only times I don’t, are when my body is seizing up from not stretching enough. But when I get out of bed and stretch, I’m able to relax, and I fall right to sleep. And I sleep pretty much through the night — except when I wake up in a sweat, which has been happening lately, with the change of seasons and the stresses at work. Now, when I think about going to bed, I don’t dread it because I expect to lie there for hours, unable to sleep.

Second, waking up rested is a whole new thing for me that puts a whole different spin on my day. I’m actually semi-functional, first thing in the morning. And with my rocket-fuel coffee that gets me going, my mornings are now something I look forward to, and get myself out of bed for. I wake up feeling so great, that I can’t wait to get to bed at night, so I can have that feeling again.

Third, getting a little bit of rest at work in the afternoons, has completely transformed my days. I used to really dread my days, because I would burn through all my energy by noontime — if not before. Then I’d spend the rest of the day scrambling to keep up, feeling like crap, eating junk food that would rev me up and make me crash, offsetting that effect with more coffee… and more coffee… and more coffee… and ending up so wired by the evening, that I could not fall sleep, even if I was on a decent bed. Taking a quick power nap for 20 minutes in the afternoon, when I just can’t go on anymore, has completely turned that around. Now I know the pressure is off, and if I need to step away and take a nap — or just close my eyes for a short while — I can do it. I generally keep a couple of hours open and free of scheduled meetings, most afternoons of my week, just so I know I can step away, if need be. And I do it. It makes all the difference in the world, to sleep — or simply relax. The boost I get, coming back after a nap, not only makes me more productive, but it makes me feel so much better about myself and my abilities, that I actually don’t mind being at work. I don’t dread and resent it the way I used to, which is a real blessing.

Fourth, learning to juggle much faster than I thought possible — after giving myself time to rest in between practice sessions — is truly inspirational. I love having this feeling of surprise and delight that I can actually keep more than one ball in the air. I never thought I could juggle. I tried many times in the past, and it never “worked”. But now I am learning pretty quickly, and the thing that seems to make the difference, is Rest.

The first day I was trying to keep a couple of balls in the air, I did it for a count of 42, max.

Then 37 times.

Then 35.

Things were clearly not improving, so I lay down and took a nap.

And when I got up, I kept the balls in the air for 135 tosses. That’s quite the improvement. What a confidence-booster! And I credit Rest for that.

Last but not least, I like myself a whole lot better when I’m rested. I am much easier to live with — both inside my head and outside. I have a higher tolerance for frustration. I can think more clearly about things to come up with good solutions. I don’t have the same temper flares, my fuse is a lot longer, and I don’t have the extreme outbursts that come when I’m really wiped out. Just the other evening, after helping a friend move, I started harassing my spouse about something they had done that was troublesome, but not exactly catastrophic. I had it in my head that if they kept doing this, Something Would Go Terribly Wrong, and I needed to “nip it in the bud”, so to speak.

The net result was that we were both pretty unhappy by the time the conversation was through, and I felt like sh*t as a result. There was no need for me to go off like that, but I did. Because I was tired. Getting more rest over the next few days did wonders for my mood and my stability. Too bad my spouse is the kind of person who holds grudges. They’ve recovered less well than I have. (But that’s on them – I’m not responsible for their state of mind, much as they’d like me to be.)

Now Rest is my friend. We’re on good terms. What a difference Good Rest makes.

10 Reasons I Keep Juggling

I feel like a clown now… but I’m improving!

It’s pretty amazing… the effect that juggling is having on me. It benefits me in these ways:

  1. It’s improving my eye-hand coordination. I am finding it easier to “juggle” other things, like multiple grocery items and bags I have to carry inside after work, along with my knapsack and travel mug.
  2. It’s improving my response time.  I am finding myself catching things that are falling or slipping out of my hand, much more quickly than before.
  3. It’s improving my quality of responses. I have problems with flying off the handle over things that irritate me, and lately I’ve been getting more short-tempered and reactive. Teaching myself to just pick up the ball(s) I dropped and move on without missing a beat, is so very important to know and do — all throughout my life.
  4. It’s improving my balance. Following the balls and keeping my center of gravity steady, is making a small but noticeable improvement to my balance. And that translates to better posture and more confidence as I go about my daily business.
  5. It’s improving my left-side coordination and abilities. I can now toss and catch a ball in my left hand much better than I could, just a few days ago. I think this has more to do with training my brain than my body. But whatever.  All I know is, my left side is getting a lot more coordinated and capable. And that cuts down on the distractions that come with fumbling around with crap — and also the frustration that accompanies the fumbling.
  6. It’s raising my frustration level. Dropping the ball over and over, and learning to pick it up and just move on without getting mired in frustration is good. Also, working through my frustration with not being well coordinated or very able to juggle, is good practice too. I can see myself improving a little bit each day, which is good. And I know that tolerating a little frustration now will pay off on down the line.
  7. It’s keeping me engaged and interested in something other than my boring-ass life. Some days, my life seems so incredibly boring, because I’m following my formulas and schedules and agendas — getting a lot of things done, but really bogged down in the drudgery of the everyday. Juggling gives me a way to pique my attention and get me interested in other things. I have a long way to go before I can say I truly know how to juggle, and can do it well. And even when I do manage to juggle more than two objects, and they are things other than foam balls (no chainsaws, thank you very much), I will still have room for improvement — and I will keep learning.
  8. It’s a cheap hobby that I can do just about anywhere, anytime. I have a bunch of small balls in a ziploc bag I carry around in my knapsack, and I also have balls lying around the house that I juggle when I get a chance. I can juggle pens and pencils and my toothbrush and just about anything I find lying around. I don’t have to shell out a bunch of dough, and I don’t have to reserve space to do it. I can do it indoors and outdoors. I can do it morning, noon, or night, for a long or short time.
  9. It gets me moving. Granted, it’s not the most demanding exercise, but it does get me out of a stationary state. And it does it for short periods at a time, so I don’t wear myself out. It’s really the perfect break in the middle of a long slog. And rather than pulling my attention away from what I’m doing, it helps me refocus and go back to what I was doing, sharper than before.
  10. Most of all, it’s giving me a chance to learn and develop a skill without any downsides. Nobody cares if I cannot juggle like a pro. It doesn’t matter if I’m a barebones beginner. All I can do is improve and learn and grow… and enjoy my learning and growth as I go.

So juggling is really helping me in a number of ways.

Try it – you might like it! Especially if you’re dealing with TBI after-effects, or some attentional issues.

Body practice for brain improvement

I’ve added a new piece to my morning/evening routines — when I am about to brush my teeth, I pull my toothbrush out of the holder and toss it from hand to hand. Sometimes I flip it around and try to catch it. Sometimes I can, sometimes I miss… drop it, and have to wash it thoroughly before I brush my teeth.

But I have noticed my hand-eye coordination improving. And my response times improve, as well. Also, I have noticed that I have been able to catch things that I start to drop more easily than ever before.

Like silverware falling out of my hands and headed for the floor — I have caught them several times.

Like a travel mug full of coffee that tipped over, and I was able to right before it spilled all over the place.

There have been a number of situations where my eye-hand coordination is definitely better than I can remember it being for a while – perhaps if ever. I was very active as a kid and played a lot of ball games, but I was a little spastic and had trouble coordinating my movements.

And I was convinced I could not juggle, because I was so “dorky”. I was convinced I was a lot of things (not all of them flattering) because of my coordination problems. My issues were probably a lot less than I believed they were, but because they didn’t match what I was expecting, I considered them terrible.

And I kept myself from doing a lot of things, because I figured, “Well, that’s just how I am, and I have to live with less as a result.”

Sad – pretty much of a waste.

Now things are different. Now I’m not convinced that anything I believe about myself is actually true. I’m questioning it. Trying new things. And discovering more things about myself than I ever did before.

Juggling helps me. Even just tossing around a pen is beneficial.  How?

  1. It improves my eye-hand coordination. I am getting better at catching things I toss from one hand to another. And when I spin the thing(s) I toss, it challenges me. I have dropped a lot of things, but I am getting better.
  2. It improves my self-control. When I drop things, I typically get very upset and start to blow up (inside mostly, sometimes outside). This is very disruptive. Knowing that I am practicing keeps it chilled out for me. Tossing a non-essential object, dropping it, and then practicing self-control and not flying off the handle, is helping me in my everyday life, when things go wrong unexpectedly.
  3. It improves my sustained attention. I can focus for longer and longer periods of time. I notice that I drop things when my attention wanders. Focusing on the object I’m tossing from hand to hand for a few minutes… then a few more minutes… then a few more minutes… is helping me to stay focused longer.
  4. It teaches me to block out distractions.  This is different from sustaining my attention. It’s one thing to lengthen the amount of time I can focus single-mindedly on something. It’s another thing to know how to block out sudden distractions that pop up into my field of view, or come to mind. Most of my distractions actually come from inside my head. I’ll start thinking about something else… and then I’m toast. I drop what I’m trying to catch. Or I toss something in the wrong direction. Practicing tossing things from one side to another — and most of all practicing not getting my attention pulled away — has actually helped me a great deal.

Recently, a reader posted a comment:

I saw a documentary on the brain and neuroplasticity and heard that juggling tennis balls can improve executive function.
I think it worked:
It only took the (uninjured) guy in the movie one practice session to be able to juggle several tennis balls.
It took about 2 months for me to be able to consistently juggle one ball.
I could only do a few minutes once or twice a week because it used so much of my brain energy.
After a few weeks I noticed my thinking seemed faster and switching between tasks was easier. There was also a measurable jump in my typing and reading speeds.

Now aprox 3 months later; I still do a few minutes, two times a week, but can use 2 balls. I just tested my typing speed again and it is aprox. twice as fast it was when I started the juggling exercise.

It’s worth a try: low cost, no side effects. Be aware that it took lots of patience and really used up a lot of brain enery when I started (so plan accordingly), but it got easier.

This is WAY cool. As they said, it is low cost and has no side effects — other than improvement in important areas.

It also takes a lot of brain energy at the start — I can also attest to that, because when I started tossing my toothbrush from hand to hand, first thing in the morning, I dropped it a lot, and spent a lot of time rinsing it off. (Why did I used my toothbrush? Because tossing something important raised the stakes and forced me to pay close attention.) It was very challenging when I started, to tell the truth.

But bringing in a tennis ball has expanded this — and it’s something I can do just about anywhere, just about anytime. In fact, I sometimes take a break at work to go to a quiet room and toss a tennis ball around. I may just add another ball to it and practice juggling.

Now, it’s all very well and good to learn how to juggle. It’s fun. It aids neuroplasticity. And it will be an accomplishment, if I ever manage it.

But the real benefit is not the juggling ability alone. It’s the psychological, experiential, and behavioral benefit I get from it.

Having better eye-hand coordination can reduce the number of “clumsiness events” in my life that not only drive me crazy but make me feel stupid and dim.

Being able to catch a tipping cup of coffee — that I can’t afford to spill — is a huge boost to myself-confidence. And it also spares me the internal storms of anger, range, frustration, and self-recrimination. It’s also good for my self-image, which can use a lot of help.

Being in better contact with the world around me, and having a more fluid interaction with my physical environment can offset the effects of my dizziness and the times when I am “off” — for one reason or another. Developing my coordination, my muscle memory, my ability to skillfully adapt to sudden changes in my environment… it’s all good, and it only helps me.

Overall, the strangely wonderful side-effects of tossing objects from one hand to another are helping me feel better about myself, feel like less of a klutz, and make me more relaxed and at-ease with the world around me.

And that’s a good thing.

So, onward…

 

 

TBI Anger Hack – from cracked.com

Cracked.com has a great piece on 5 Brain Hacks That Give You Mind-Blowing Powers. The title is a bit overblown, but it hooked me, so I picked up some tricks… and found this useful piece of info. I’m going to add it to my collection of lifehacks to deal better with all the crap that gets sent my way. The principle is the same as with intermittent fasting — which helps me with my self-discipline and helps me learn to better manage my internal state when I’m just a little stressed. Here’s what they have:

#2. Control Anger by Using Your Less-Dominant Hand

Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com

Everyone knows at least one guy who hulks out over the stupidest things — a messed up coffee order, a red light, global warming. Usually these people are just harmless joke fodder until they road rage on an elderly person over a politically charged bumper sticker. If you don’t know one of these people, consider that it might be you.

Of course, there are all these tricks that your mom taught you that are supposed to calm you down (“Stop and count to 10!”), which of course don’t work because in the moment you’re enraged, you can’t think logically anyway. What you need is to beef up your anger defenses before it gets to that point.

Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com
“Somebody stop me before I rob a sperm bank and make this town disgusting.”

The Hack:

This one comes from the University of New South Wales, who found the perfect anger-management trick, and it wasn’t cool jazz music or playful kittens wearing sunglasses. People who had anger issues were asked to spend two weeks using their non-dominant hand for anything that wouldn’t endanger anyone: opening and slamming doors, writing hate mail, pouring coffee, and other dirty activities that are now crossing your mind. After two weeks, the subjects could control their temper tantrums better, even when other participants deliberately insulted them to get a reaction.

Why would this possibly work? Well, looking at angry people under brain scans shows that outbursts are less about too much anger and more about depleted self-control. That’s both good news and bad news. The bad news is that self-control is a finite thing, and you can run out of it. The good news is that it’s a physical mechanism of how your brain works, and you can strengthen it (or hack it into working better).

Digital Vision/Digital Vision/Getty Images
“Fudge you, mother lover!”

Now, you’d assume that the only way to do that would be some kind of meditation or long classes in anger management. Or maybe to pay somebody to make an annoying noise in your ear for hours at a time and slowly decreasing the frequency with which you punch them in the head. But it turns out it doesn’t take anything like that — just asking these people to use their clumsy hand to do everyday tasks forced them to deal with hundreds of tiny, totally manageable moments of frustration. But that was enough to make them somewhat immune to it.

So, when things got ugly, suddenly they found that the walls around their internal anger demon were stronger. And it’s probably also calming to know that if things get so bad that a gunfight breaks out, you’re now capable of dual-wielding that shit.

BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images
“Oh, hey, you are totally correct. The grass is indeed purple. My mistake.”

Tap those brakes…

Just a touch – not too hard – don’t go into a skid…

One thing I’m very grateful for, is that I have not been very sick at all, this past winter. This is a change from other years, when I would get very sick at least once — often twice or three times — and spend a lot of time in bed and/or recovering after the fact at maybe 2/3 of my real ability.

This year, I have a slightly different challenge — things are going so well for me, and I have so much to keep me busy, and I am functioning so well, that I am pushing myself much too hard, and it’s dragging me down.

I’m doing it to myself, really. And it’s no fun.

Yesterday was a tough one for me. The morning was full and pretty packed with intensity. I had a deadline to meet, and the folks on my team who were supposed to work with me to get there, were making extremely poor decisions. Their work product was substandard, and they were telling me that insisting that things work properly was unrealistic and out of line.

Well, okay then.

I did as much as I could, I sent an email to my boss explaining the situation, in case they caught hell for the result — which was entirely possible. It wasn’t about “tattling” on anyone, just giving the person in the line of fire the right information to defend their position — which is always a likelihood where I work.

After that, I checked out for the day. I set my out of office message for noontime on, then I logged off around 2, took a shower, and went to bed. I was incredibly dizzy and seriously wired. All the frenetic activity of the past several weeks, without any serious extended downtime (as in, more than several hours at a time), has kicked my ass. I felt like crap, and I just couldn’t do it anymore.

So, I crashed. I got about an hour of sleep, then I lay in bed reading FB and news. After a while, I got up and decided I needed to ride the exercise bike, because I needed to move some lymph. The lymphatic system is what moves waste out of our systems, and it doesn’t move on its own. Circulation moves it, so if you’re sedentary and you’re not moving very much, you end up with a bunch of gunk in your system. It’s basic physiology/ physics. If you want to feel better and take a load off your system, get your heart rate up and get your blood pumping, and the lymph will clear out the crap.

When I got downstairs, my spouse was there and they started to ask me about things I was supposed to do for them, over the past several days. I have had no time to do much of anything, other than work-work, as well as take care of myself, and it really pissed me off that they couldn’t say anything to me without it adding crap to their endless honey-do list. I swear to God, I get sick of being treated like “the hired help” at home. I don’t have any other use and purpose, other than doing my spouse’s bidding? Geez.

So, I snapped and went off, and of course I looked like the crazy person, because I was just so beside myself, with being so dizzy, not feeling well, and not feeling like I can ever get a break — especially in my own home. Everybody wants something. Everybody needs something. And because I’m able to give everybody just about everything they want, just the way they want it (that’s been my bread-n-butter for as long as I can remember), the requests just keep on coming.

When I protest and put my foot down about everybody pulling on me and demanding sh*t from me, everyone wants to know what I want from them.

Here’s the thing:

I DON’T WANT ANYTHING FROM ANYONE.

I WANT TO PEACEFULLY CO-EXIST WITH OTHERS IN A NEUTRAL SPACE, TO LIVE MY LIFE FREE OF OTHERS’ CONTROL AND JUDGMENT AND MANIPULATION.

I WANT TO DEAL WITH PEOPLE AS AUTONOMOUS ADULTS WITHOUT A HIDDEN AGENDA.

I WANT TO DEAL WITH PEOPLE WHO ARE EMOTIONALLY SELF-SUFFICIENT AND DON’T WANT TO USE EVERYONE ELSE AS A CRUTCH TO SHORE UP THEIR FLAGGING SELF-ESTEEM.

I WANT A BREAK FROM BEING EVERYONE’S “SAFETY BLANKET” AND I WANT PEOPLE TO LEARN TO FEND FOR THEMSELVES AND APPROACH ME AS ADULTS WHO ARE ABLE TO PROVIDE FOR THEIR OWN SENSE OF SELF, WITHOUT DEMANDING THAT I DO IT FOR THEM.

I have no need to control others. I have no need to manipulate others. I am wholly capable of knowing who I am and supplying my own self-esteem and going quite happily about my business without needing to be constantly reminded by others who I am, what I’m about, what matters to me, what my goals and values are, etc. etc. etc.

And I am sick and tired of being surrounded by others who can’t figure that sh*t out. At home. At work. Out on the street. In groups of friends and acquaintances. They’re everywhere.

I swear to GOD, I have had it up to here with people who just help themselves to other people’s energy and attention, like it even belongs to them.

It doesn’t. My energy and attention is my own, and they can’t just waltz in and help themselves to it.

And I deeply resent others who have such a sense of entitlement to my energy, my attention, my focus, my help.  Friggin’ vampires.

Yes, I make them feel better. Yes, I help them feel more balanced and confident and self-assured. But what does it do for me? Not a damn’ thing. If anything, it just drags me down and prevents me from taking care of my own stuff.

And I fall behind. And I get overwhelmed. And I run out of energy. And I end up extremely dizzy with a splitting headache and a foul temper that just makes me feel like crap after my outbursts.

Which is really bad for me.

And it cannot stand.

So, clearly I need to change the way I do things and get my act in order. Gotta draw some boundaries and take care of my own damn’ self. And I can’t do that, if I’m exhausted and completely depleted by other people’s draining needs.

I’m feeling better today — more rested, after getting to bed relatively early last night. I was in bed around 10:30, which is about where I need to be. I woke up around 4:00, which meant I got 5-1/2 hours of sleep, which is NOT enough. But instead of getting up, I just lay in bed, relaxing. I just lay there in the warm bed and breathed… paying attention to how I was feeling, and consciously relaxing.

It felt pretty good, too, and although I didn’t get back to sleep, at least I was resting. And when I got up, I felt better.

I really need to get back to listening to Belleruth Naparstek’s “Stress Hardiness Optimization” CD. It’s designed for first responders and other folks in high-stress situations, to help them relax and overcome the negative effects of stress. I used to listen to it all the time, then for some reason I took it off my smartphone, and I replaced it with the soundtrack of “The Crow”. If you know the death-metal soundtrack to “The Crow”, you know what a 180-degree turn this is.

And you know how much sense it makes, to swap out the listening material on my smartphone…

Anyway, these are just things I need to address, and I’ll address them. I’ve got a lot of problems that are really good problems to have — a job that challenges me on many levels and has a ton of opportunity… a house that needs to be taken care of… a marriage I need to sustain… and time that I need to manage properly.

I just need to make sure that I don’t overdo it.

Well, it’s time to get going. The day awaits.

Onward…

Intermittent Fasting for Emotional Discipline

Running the gamut – emotional style

Now that the New Year is here, a lot of people are focusing on resolutions for how to change their lives. I think this is a good intention, and this is the perfect time to think about these things, after the last six weeks of holiday upheaval. The holidays give us time to step away from our usual routine, and when we do, it can be easier to see the shape of our lives more clearly, than when we are in our regular routines and regimens.

One thing that has been really evident to me, is my persistent need for emotional discipline… maybe even control. That is, I need to be able to manage my own emotions and feel what I feel without going off the rails over it. My recent close encounters with a police officer and my meltdowns at home over the past few months have made it pretty clear that I need to “get a grip” and quit being so volatile.

Emotional volatility (or “lability” as they call it) goes hand in hand with TBI. You know how it goes — those temper flares, the anger, the rage, the ups and downs that can really turn into a roller coaster… It can be hell, not only on you, but on everyone around you. Fatigue makes things worse. Sensory overload can really do a number on you. And there are the many, many emotional challenges that come with having to reconstruct your life after a traumatic brain injury.

So, what can you do? Are you just stuck — at the mercy of your mysterious brain, which may or may not agree to mend itself the way you want? Or is there something more that can be done, to address emotional lability?

I have been “on the bandwagon” with the idea of hormesis for some time — stressing your system slightly, so that it develops strengths to offset the stresses. Exercise is a form of hormesis, where you stress your body a bit, in order to develop strength or endurance. Vaccinations are also a type of hormesis, where a tiny bit of a disease is introduced to your system so it develops resistance to it. Also, there is the concept of “stress inoculation”, where you subject yourself to certain types of stress to teach your system to respond to it and overcome it. The book Stress for Success talks about that.

I think that fasting can be used as a way to foster greater emotional discipline (even control) in my life. I know that fasting has long been recommended (and mandated) by many religious faiths, to foster greater spiritual growth. Fasting and prayer are often combined, to bring a person closer to the God they worship. It is a challenging thing to do — go without food for a certain period of time — and it brings up a lot of emotions and insecurities and frustrations… the underbelly of your emotional life. So, combining it with a spiritual practice can be a powerful formula for personal growth.

I didn’t combine my fasting yesterday with any spiritual practice, other than lifting weights while I did slow, measured breathing. Basically, I really paid close attention to my state of mind and heart, and I was pretty vigilant about my reactions to things. I had a few minor flare-ups, but they were like little lessons that prompted me to adjust my mindset and activities, so I could be more balanced.

Intermittent fasting also helps the body to clear out the “sludge” of everyday living. It prompts elevated activity of organisms called Macrophages, which engulf and destroy bacteria and viruses and other junk that builds up in the course of everyday living. They literally eat dead or abnormal cells (anything with “-phage” at the end of its name eats something else — glucophages like Metformin eat glucose), and that does a body good.

Aside: You know, when I think about it, if there is a whole boatload of messed-up junk that floods your system after a TBI/concussion, and there’s all this sludge floating around in your system, wouldn’t it make sense for people to fast intermittently after concussion/TBI? Just thinking aloud…. Oh, after Googling the topic, I found this: Fasting is neuroprotective following traumatic brain injury.

Anyway, from an emotional standpoint, I think that intermittent fasting can become one of my important tools to fostering more stability. Just going without food for 24 hours or so puts me in a slightly stressed state — which I know will end soon. It both stresses me and un-pressurizes me, and it introduces a temporary change in my routine which I can learn to handle with greater success and ability each time I do it.

The first time I did short-term fasting was about five months ago, and it was pretty stressful for me. I figured it was not for me, thinking that if it didn’t work that one time, it was never going to work. Then I took another shot at it yesterday, and it went much better. Worlds better, in fact. And I didn’t regret it at all. Because I knew that it was going to be challenging for me, and I figured out some ways to handle myself better than I had the last time. I also got it through my thick head that my hunger wasn’t going to last forever, I knew I would be eating later that night, and I actually made it through the day without completely panicking.

This is all good news. And I think I am onto something. Because not only does fasting prompt the body to clean out the junk that’s been accumulating there, but it also gives me an opportunity to learn to manage my emotions better — within a controlled and limited context. I’m not looking at an eternity of emotional challenge. I’m just testing my limits a bit, to learn how to better handle my ups and downs.

I’m feeling a lot better about fasting, now that I’ve had a fairly successful run. And since I made a specific goal out of keeping an even keel during my fasting, yesterday, it gave me something to work towards. And it’s giving me a huge sense of reward and accomplishment (and I hope some much-needed dopamine), to know that I was able to get through that day without too much drama… and that I’ll be able to do it again sometime.

I don’t want to go overboard with this all, and I need to keep in within reasonable limits. Part of me wants to dive head-first into fasting every other day, but that would be completely impractical and set me up for failure, I’m sure. It would be too much, and going overboard and melting down would set me so far back. I think fasting for 24 hours once a month would do it. Maybe every other month. We’ll see when another good time comes up for me to do it — preferably when things are chilled out and mellow and I’m not all stressed out about my life in general.

I need to be smart about this — measured and cautious and deliberate. Because if I can do this properly and with good balance, it could turn out to be one of my building blocks for a continued positive trend in my life.

Onward.

Breaking my fast

I get to eat the good stuff again

I had a good fasting day yesterday. I managed to get through the entire day without blowing up. I got a little frayed, at a couple points, and I got pretty revved over some things. But then when I stepped away from the situations, I was able to calm myself down and chill.

Sometimes, that’s all it takes for me — removing myself from the tense situation (if I can) and chilling out. I check Facebook or look at my email or I read one of the books I’m working on.

Part of my irritability was fatigue-related. I only got 5-1/2 hours of sleep the night before. I just woke up at 5:30 and I was awake. I didn’t feel really tired or out of it. I was just awake. So, I got up and got on with my day. I lay down later and took what was supposed to be a 1-1/2 hour nap, but I slept through my alarm and my spouse woke me up an hour later. So, I added 2-1/2 hours to my sleep quota. And I even got to bed before midnight last night. too.

Breaking my fast was interesting. I was starving by the time I had supper at 7 p.m., but I didn’t go wild with stuffing myself with all sorts of junk. I had a decent sized dinner with meat and starch and vegetables, then I had a piece of chocolate, a natural fruit popsicle, and some frozen cherries. I’m finding that frozen fruit really does the trick for me, as a snack. It’s not full of processed sugar, and since it’s frozen, it takes a little “doing” to eat it. It’s not like I’m just pushing cheap carbs into my face. I’m actually consciously having a snack — that starts out too cold to eat (I’m very sensitive to cold)… then it melts gradually, and I can slowly eat it. Not only does the slow pace curb my hunger, but it also gives me something to do with myself and my attention while I’m snacking.

I did quite well with breaking my fast, and I’m very happy about it. I’m even happier that I didn’t spend the day in emotional turmoil, the way I did, last time I fasted. The last time I fasted, I felt like a raving lunatic all day, and all I could think about was when I was going to get to eat next.

Yesterday, though, I kept it together pretty well. And I had a lot of energy. It was intense, focused energy that makes me feel a bit like the posters I see of Bruce Lee — coiled, intent, and ready to spring into action. This kind of energy makes my spouse nervous, and they switch to “high alert” when I get that way — even if I’m not going to do anything frightening, they are still on alert around me.

I probably need to learn how to manage my energy levels when they are that high, and that intense. I know I can get pretty revved at times, and I don’t always handle myself well. I fly off the handle, I say and do things that I regret later. Fortunately, I didn’t act on anything yesterday.

And that’s good. Because last night there was a situation that could have gotten out of hand, had I given in to the impulse that came up in me. I was in heavy rush-hour traffic, and some a-hole was riding my ass for a ways. I pulled into the right lane to let them pass, and they pulled up beside me. Then they came over on me, like the were trying to push me off the road. I honked and fell back and let them get ahead of me, and I put my brights on, so they would get the message that I was not pleased. And then they turned off to the right into a parking lot.

At the time, I wanted to follow them into the parking lot, pull out my jack, and break out their headlights, smash their windshield and beat them senseless. Insane, right? Well, it’s one thing to think it — lots of people do. But last night, I did NOT do that. I wasn’t even close to doing it, as I just let that thought come up… and then disappear. I did not follow the thought, and I did not follow that person into the parking lot and I did NOT assault them. Not even close. The idea came up, and I let it go.

This is progress. Just a few weeks ago, I got into a verbal confrontation with a police officer for legitimately pulling me over. They had every right to pull me over, and they were actually really decent with me, giving me just a verbal warning. This time, I had every right to be angered by the behavior of the other driver, but I did not put myself into a situation that could have gone really badly. I didn’t even take that thought all that seriously. It’s just what came to mind. And it went away because I didn’t give it any more thought. I just let it come up… and I let it go.

After all, who knows why that person was behaving the way they were? Maybe they were an a-hole, or maybe they were a frightened parent, rushing to their sick child… or a newly single parent whose own parents were not well, and who needed to catch a flight out of town to get to their bedside. Maybe they had a really bad day at work and weren’t thinking properly. Maybe they had been drinking and were dangerous, themself. Maybe they were just intensely distracted, being on the phone and not paying attention to what was going on around them. There are a million different explanations why they might have acted as they did. But I picked the worst case scenario and could have gone for it, had I actually held onto that idea and focused on it and made it into a “thing”.

Instead, I was able to just watch it come up, and let it go… And away it went. So, here I am, a free person, walking around without having to post bail. 🙂 As Martha Stewart would say, “That’s a good thing.”

This is where the mindfulness / sitting / za-zen / breathing meditation stuff comes in handy. Also the exercise, which helps me direct my energy somewhere positive, instead of getting “backed up” to where it’s making me crazy and dangerous. Meditation and weight training trains my system to not follow every single impulse that comes up. It keeps me focused and grounded and level-headed. That keeps me out of trouble. It keeps me out of jail. And that’s a good thing.

The last thing I need, is for my impulses to land me in trouble with the law — and ruin the life of someone who may have had a family emergency they needed to handle. That’s not how I want to start the year. 2014 needs to start on a good note, and me not giving into that road rage was an excellent start.

Onward.

Fasting day today

Every now and then, it’s really good to go without

So, now that I’m exercising again, I’ve had some time to read — while I’m riding the exercise bike, first thing, before lifting or doing resistance exercises. I’ve been combing the Web for material on the benefits of exercise for the brain, and I’m rediscovering a lot of pieces I read a few years back that slipped into the nether regions of my memory. Yes, BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) is stimulated by exercise. And intermittent fasting can be good for your brain.

I have an easy day today — I’m telecommuting, and my afternoon appointment will probably be cancelled — so I don’t have a lot of energy demands on me, and I can safely get through the day without being in danger from hypoglycemia or not having enough energy to get by. When I’m commuting and I’m on my regular schedule, I need to have all pistons firing, which means I need a steady flow of energy to my brain, so fasting is not possible.

Today, though, I’m good to fast. I’ll drink my water and tea, get some intermittent exercise, and probably take a nap later this afternoon. Pace myself, and let my body take a rest from eating. I won’t fast into the evening. I just need to be without food till about 8:00 tonight, which probably won’t be a problem. I usually don’t eat until after 8:00 anyway. I ate my last snack last night around 10:00 p.m., I think — a natural fruit popsicle. So, a 22 hour fast will do the trick.

I learned about intermittent short-term fasting at the blog Getting Stronger, which discusses hormesis, or making your system stronger by introducing small bits of stress that test your system and increase its capacity for performance. I have tried to fast in the past, but it went poorly — probably because I had issues with behavior and emotional regulation, and my diet was pretty crappy, so I was all set up for hypoglycemia that made me a bear. So, I never did much with fasting after a few little tries.

Intermittent short-term fasting, which is where you go without food for about 20 hours, every now and then (some people do it monthly), actually offers a lot of benefits, without the intense stress and strain of prolonged deprivation. I aspire one day to being able to fast longer than 22 hours, but that may actually never be necessary, as reduced calorie intake is also a proven way to help you be healthier.

Anyway, I have been looking for opportunities to fast, but I’ve either been pretty active, or I have completely forgotten (like over the week between Christmas and New Years) that fasting might be a good idea. So, now I am remembering it, and it looks like this is a really good day to do this thing. And I shall.

I know this may prove challenging later today, when I am looking for my lunch around 11:30 a.m. – that’s when I usually eat. And then there is the afternoon snack that I usually have around 2:30 or so… Doing without them, especially when I am working at home with lots of good, healthy food within easy reach, may be a challenge. But I have to keep in mind that I am doing this for a good reason — and it won’t be forever.

I’ll break my fast tonight, and that will be that.

The big challenge today will be keeping my mind on my work and not getting pulled in a bunch of different directions. I’ll spend some extra time today exercising or sitting and breathing, instead of eating. At times when I am usually having snacks or lunch, I will do a little stretching or sit and count my breaths. This could be a really good way to get that extra meditation time I’ve been wanting.

I’ve felt myself jumping quickly into a state of knee-jerk reactiveness, over the past months, and that has not been good. I can’t just snap over every little thing. I need to be more mindful and also better about managing how I behave with regard to my emotions. I know this is an issue for me. So, sitting and breathing and working on my self-restraint while not eating will be a great opportunity for me.

I just need to keep focused and remember why I am inconveniencing myself — and really celebrate at the end, when I get to eat again. It’s only 11 hours and 16 minutes away 😉

All that I have gained

What was … and what will be…

Happy New Year everyone! I am feeling quite positive about this coming year. 2013 was a bear — for me, as well as many others I know. I’m none too sad to see it go, and after that “inoculation” experience with all the crappiest of crappy crap that came down the pike, I feel like I’ve developed sufficient scar tissue to move on.

Yesterday I had to work again — I used up one of my year-end vacation days to run errands, a few weeks back. So, it was a mini practice ramp-up for the new year. It was pretty good. I got to just settle in and take care of some things, close down a handful of pending items, and get a jump on the next year’s activities.

Most of my work time yesterday was spent in planning — thinking through what needs to be done, and how it needs to get done — so that when I actually can do it, I don’t have to think too much about it, and I can just go. I hate getting stuck in that analysis paralysis situation — taking time off busy work to really strategize and plan my approach helps me avoid that pitfall.

I spent a fair amount of time, over the past few days, thinking about my past years of TBI recovery. I have been through a number of distinct cycles after my TBI at the end of 2004 (holy smokes has it been almost 10 years?!):

  1. Dissolution and Oblivion — things unraveled and I had no clue that anything was actually wrong in my life. Blow-ups, melt-downs, increasing forgetfulness and volatility, worsening physical fitness and balance, poor financial decisions, difficulties sleeping and eating properly…  things just dissolved around me, and I did not perceive that it was so. As far as I was concerned, it was all because of things other people did, and my reactions to what they did were justifiable, because, well, there was nothing at all wrong with me.
  2. Dawning Realization — when I realized that my money had disappeared and I didn’t understand why, it sank in that something was “up” with me. Oddly, none of the other signs registered with me. My realization was more about money in the immediate present, and also about all the difficulties I’d had as a regularly concussed kid, growing up with multiple TBIs. All of a sudden, certain things seemed quite off, and I knew I needed help.
  3. The Quest for Answers — I embarked on a full-throttle quest for answers to what was going on with me. I didn’t even know exactly what was “up” — just that certain things were not right, and I had to figure it out, or I was going to lose everything. I kept voluminous notes about my life experience, I sought out every conceivable avenue for learning about and understanding what was happening to me. I scoured the internet. I read medical study after medical study. I looked for websites. I plumbed the depths of my local library system. I collected binders full of notes about concussion and TBI and my own personal experience, and I made daily lists of all my symptoms, what I was doing about them, and whether or not things worked for me. I watched for patterns in my experience, and I spared no detail in describing my life, from the inside-out. I went down a lot of dead-ends, and I incidentally decided that I suffered from a variety of disorders, based on passing input from numerous people, which made me look like a raving lunatic to the professionals to whom I turned for help. I endured a number of truly humiliating encounters with suspicious experts, who could have really done me harm, had I given them the opportunity. This was both the most intense and the most frustrating and anxiety-producing part of the process — but it kept me going, because I had a mission and a purpose. And I was not going to take “no” for an answer, till I found the help I needed.
  4. Building a Foundation — when I finally found a neuropsych who could help me, I had a neuropsychological assessment, which was a several-day affair that tested my memory, processing speed, and a number of other aspects of my functioning and behavior. That showed both of us what was really going on with me, and it pointed towards the things that could be addressed. It also showed what was NOT wrong with me, and it steered me away from this wholesale decision that I was 100% broken and had more problems than I knew what to do with. It was about finding out both what was wrong and what wasn’t, and figuring out what direction to go from there.
  5. The path to normalcy — I’ve never actually been “normal” (that would be boring!), so this part of the process was about just getting some stability back into my life. I had jumped ship on a number of jobs, since my TBI in 2004, and my years of stable employment for 10 years prior to that was in serious jeopardy, by the time I started working with my neuropsych. I had taken a string of short-term assignments, and I had ditched a permanent job after just three months of discomfort, and none of that helped my case, when I went job-searching. Over the course of the first few years working with them, I went through several more job changes, but I developed a good routine for my days, and I made some significant improvements to my life that got me out of constant fight-flight mode. Getting normalized meant getting off the roller-coaster of reacting to every single emotion that came up, and learning to make choices based on my own wishes and plans, rather than as a reaction to everything that (I thought) was going on around me.
  6. Real progress — this started to happen, as my life became normalized. The wild ideas about all the different syndromes I had, subsided, and I was able to see beyond the immediate reactions to events taking place in front of me. I was able to better think in terms of what I wanted my life to be like, rather than how I didn’t want it to be, and I was able to take real, substantial steps to making my plans a reality. I was able to land — and keep — two good jobs that looked good on my resume, and I was able to leave the first one for the second because of a legitimate, publicly defensible reason, rather than just panic that I had to excuse away to recruiters and friends and family. It has not been easy… there have been a number of plateaus, when I felt like I wasn’t making any progress at all… and it’s been quite a challenge to keep steady in the midst of all the storms. But I feel now like I have come through to the other side in a big way, and I’m able to hold my own, no matter what the outer circumstances around me. This is huge. After a lifetime of being pushed and pulled by every little wind, after being beaten down by one defeat after another, and deciding that there was no hope for me, I can now hold my head up and stand tall, knowing that I do in fact have the inner resources to withstand the storms of life — without becoming a danger to myself and those around me.

So, that’s where I am today. Standing tall on this first day of 2014, grateful for all the help I have received over the past years. There have been a lot of low points, and sometimes I felt like I was never going to get out of that dark abyss, but I have persevered, and I have come through. The hard times, the boring times (probably even harder than the hard times), the exciting times, the mellow times, the exhausting times… it’s all been a part of the whole picture.

Yes, I’ve been sleep-deprived and anxious. Yes, I’ve been in a lot of pain. Yes, I’ve been angry and raging. Yes, I’ve had run-ins with the police and other authority figures. Yes, I’ve gotten in trouble, and I’ve covered for myself — which has made it harder to get me the help I need. Yes, I’ve been really confused and unable to clearly formulate real questions to truly understand my situation. Yes, I’ve been down one dead-end after another, and I’ve had some really bad experiences along the way.

But I’m still here. And for all the bad times, there have been good ones, as well. I can now leave my house and walk for hours in the forest without losing it and running home in a quivering mess of tearful anxiety. I can hold extended conversations with people and understand what people are saying to me — and ask for clarification when I need it. I can spend a relaxing week with my spouse without both of us losing it. I can hold down a job and stay steady enough to let people see my true worth over time. And whatever comes my way, I can break it down into manageable pieces to handle one at a time.

Now that I look back over the years, I can see how beneficial it has all been, even if it has not been the easiest or most pleasant at times. The hardest lessons were the ones most worth learning. And they are the ones that will stick with me the most.

And looking forward to the new year — and all the years beyond — I feel a great deal of hope. There are many, many individuals suffering on a daily basis from concussion and traumatic brain injury, as well as acquired brain injuries like stroke and viruses. Along with it, comes PTSD, all too often. There is so much suffering, and it too often takes lives. And yet, I do believe there is hope. For all of us. I know there is for me, and I hope I can pass along some of that to others. Maybe someone in pain will find their way to this blog and find their own hope. Maybe someone in need of answers — or just hearing what another person is experiencing — will find their way here and get a little of what they need. Maybe someone who knows someone who is struggling, will pass along this blog to them, so they can find a kindred spirit.

That’s about the best that I can ask for — that my life stays real, and that I can keep on sharing my own experiences…. and hope that good will come out of it all.

And now, for 2014… Onward!

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