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.

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Helping our troops during the holidays

Our troops helped us, now let’s help them

The food has been eaten, everyone has returned home, and the weekend awaits. For those who thrive on social activity, being alone after being with so many loved ones can be difficult.

Looking for a way to get out of your post-Thanksgiving funk?

Send a card to a service member. The Red Cross is having a Holiday Mail for Heroes campaign – get details at http://www.redcross.org/support/get-involved/holiday-mail-for-heroes – for folks to write cards to service members to wish them all the best for the holidays.

Each year the American Red Cross provides assistance to more than 2 million service members and many of our nation’s 24 million veterans. We support military families, military and veterans hospitals and provide emergency communications across the globe. And once a year, we get the joy of delivering holiday greetings to veterans, military families and active-duty service members at hospitals and installations around the world.

The cards and personal messages, sent by tens of thousands of Americans, provide a welcome “touch of home” for our troops during the holiday season.

Send a Card

Each year we collect cards between October and early December and then distribute them at military installations, veterans hospitals, and in other locations.

There are several ways to be part of the Holiday Mail for Heroes program. In addition to sending cards on your own, you may want to start making plans to host card signing parties or card making parties. Here are a few guidelines to help you on your way:

Card Guidelines:

Every card received will be screened for hazardous materials and then reviewed by Red Cross volunteers working around the country.

Please observe the following guidelines to ensure a quick reviewing process:

  • Ensure that all cards are signed.
  • Use generic salutations such as “Dear Service Member.” Cards addressed to specific individuals can not be delivered through this program.
  • Only cards are being accepted. Do not send or include letters.
  • Do not include email or home addresses on the cards: the program is not meant to foster pen pal relationships.
  • Do not include inserts of any kind, including photos: these items will be removed during the reviewing process.
  • Please refrain from choosing cards with glitter or using loose glitter as it can aggravate health issues of ill and injured warriors.
  • If you are mailing a large quantity of cards, please bundle them and place them in large mailing envelopes or flat rate postal shipping boxes. Each card does not need its own envelope, as envelopes will be removed from all cards before distribution.

All holiday greetings should be addressed and sent to:

Holiday Mail for Heroes
P.O. Box 5456
Capitol Heights, MD 20791-5456

The deadline for having cards to the P.O. Box is December 6th.
Holiday cards received after this date cannot be guaranteed delivery.

I’ve dug up a big box of old Christmas cards that, for one reason or another, I could not use in the past. Some of the messages don’t work for my family and friends, and some of them are extras I couldn’t use. I’m going to start writing out cards this weekend, while I have some extra time. And then I’ll send them all out in a big batch next week.

It’s a start. I can also pick up those big batches of cards that are mixed collections, and send them along as well. I’ve got almost 80 cards I can use right now — I have to pace myself, because my hand cramps up, but I should be able to make good progress by December 6th.

This is a great way for me to get out of my head and think of others during what can be a very difficult time — especially if you’re laid up in the hospital and you’ve had your career cut short by a terrible event.

Being cut off from the ones you care about most — your family, your brothers/sisters in arms, your “tribe” of choice — can feel like the hardest thing in the world during the holidays.

So, reach out and send a card to someone who needs your help and encouragement. Heaven knows, there are many, many folks like that out there.

Okay, enough about me. It’s time to write some cards.

Wounds That Don’t Bleed

“Wounds That Don’t Bleed” is a group of people dedicated to bring to light the tragedy of PTSD and the effects it is having on both active duty soldiers and those who reside here in the states.

Their team created this music video on the topic that can be viewed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bDSgahGKnk.

You can also check out their website at http://www.woundsthatdontbleed.com and their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/WoundsThatDontBleed.

You can also email them at woundsthatdontbleed AT gmail DOT com.

Happy Fourth of July everyone

Have a safe and happy Fourth of July

Happy Fourth of July to all – may you all have a safe and happy day.

To all veterans, thank you for your service. We wouldn’t be here, able to celebrate in peace without you.

Take care of yourselves, everyone. Hang in there, and never give up!

May God Bless America indeed.

The Importance of Team Support on the Road to Recovery

It would be nice to think they exist

I found an interesting article today — about a Marine who did something about the isolation that veterans go through when returning with injuries – especially TBI.

They train together. They fight together. So if wounded, why shouldn’t they go through recovery together? This was the question that Lt. Col. Tim Maxwell asked about his fellow marines being discharged from the hospital and left alone to recover from injuries of war.

“When you’re in the hospital, you are with other wounded warriors. But once you are out of the hospital, it’s tough,” explains Maxwell.

He should know. While on his sixth combat deployment, Maxwell sustained a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) during a mortar attack in Iraq. When he awoke a month later at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center, doctors didn’t think he would survive. The
shrapnel that penetrated his skull inflicted severe damage to his brain, impairing his vision and leaving him unable to talk or walk.”

Read the full article here (it’s a PDF download). >>

This is the kind of news I love to read – the kind of forward thinking that comes from within the ranks of TBI survivors. I understand that Lt. Col. Tim Maxwell is now retired, but I believe Maxwell Hall is still going.

And I have to wonder if these things are still going on, if they are still holding up under present circumstances, or if the resources and halls and support networks are able to stand on their own, after their founders retire or just can’t do it anymore. I wonder if the “superfriends” ever get replaced when the original members bow out or fade away. Of course, in the comics, none of the Superfriends die or are destroyed. I think… But in real life, does that really happen?

Seldom.

I suppose in a way we are all on our own, and we all have to take it upon ourselves to take steps to get better, when we get hurt or injured. But what about those who just cannot find it in themselves to do that? What about those whose brains are damaged in ways that keep them from even wanting to get better… or that keep them from even realizing they need to improve?

And what about those who go back to lives after their injuries, surrounded by people who neither know – nor care to learn – about what TBI / concussion can do to a person, and who just can’t bring themselves to help.

Yesterday I spent much of the day with a friend who has been through some serious sh*t and could relate to some of the difficulties I have, now and then, with fatigue and light/sound sensitivity. All through their growing-up years, they were in and out of trouble, in and out of institutions, so when I talk about having a tough time at this or that, they seem to get it. And they don’t judge.

I don’t know how much they know about my TBI history – I’ve never brought it up, but my spouse may have mentioned it in past years when I was having a much more difficult time than I’m having now. I just don’t have the heart to bring it up in person. Whenever I try to discuss it with people who didn’t know before, they usually either make some blanket statement about how “smart” I am and how it’s just not possible that I could have any brain issues… or they back away from me, become distant, don’t bother with me the same way the did before. So, I haven’t said anything about it, specifically.

But that didn’t actually matter yesterday, because I could talk about the difficulties I have with getting tired and then having everything crash in on me… or losing my cool and freaking out… or whatever various difficulties come up in the course of my everyday thanks to TBI stuff. I could talk about these things not as TBI-related, specifically, but just generally in my life. The “why” about it didn’t matter as much as the “what” — in other words, I could just discuss the issues without getting into the root causes, and get some feedback about what to do.

And that’s the thing that I have learned will help me, when I need feedback or support — not getting specifically into the TBI-nature of my issues, but just talking about them as I experience them.  So long as I don’t go down the road of “I was brain-injured in 2004, and nothing has been the same since”, and I talk about the things that happening with me just for what they are, I can actually get some useful feedback from people.

It’s the “brain injury” thing that keeps me cut off from the rest of the world. It’s the root cause that is the problem with people, I have found. But when I don’t get into the causes, and I stick with the end result that I need to manage, people can actually hear me and help me out. Or at least not push me till I’m crazy.

And it’s funny – when I first learned about TBI and finally had an explanation for why I was so screwed up and everything was falling to pieces around me, it was like I was finally free. And I thought that telling others and educating them would help them the way it had helped me. But all it did was freak them out. They just couldn’t deal. And everything got lonely really quick. Then I got to a point where I made peace with this loneliness and just focused on my own TBI recovery, understanding how it affected me, and getting a handle on what I really wanted to change in my life. Then I got to a point where I was less focused on the brain aspects and more concerned with the end results and managing them, getting them better. And now I’m at a point where I am mainly interested in having the best life possible, without making everything that goes wrong about my brain’s problems, and making it more about getting on with my life, picking myself up after I fall… and being able to talk to people about my issues in ways that they can hear and support – instead of getting all freaked out about it.

That’s how I get my support, these days. I’m still learning the best way of doing these things, and I still don’t have a lot of friends I can actually talk to about what I’m experiencing. But at least I’ve learned a thing or two in the past four years.

Actually, you know what…? I’m really tired and foggy. I’m really struggling to put words together, right now, and my head feels like it’s packed over-full of cotton. I have been at this computer for the past 2 hours, reading and writing, and I need a break. So, I’m going to pick myself up, change my clothes, then get out and walk in the woods for a while… and be quiet and settled and not worry about much of anything.

And that, my friends, is probably the best support I can give myself today.

PTSD/TBI Factor #6 – Perpetrating Violence

Here it comes… everybody feels its wrath

This is a continuation of the discussion about PTSD from TBI – Exploring some possibilities.

So far, we’ve looked at how TBI directly contributes to PTSD through proximity, duration, extent of brutality, betrayal, and threat of dying. In all cases, the big way TBI contributes to these factors is through the skewed perception it can create, causing us to perceive “threat” where there is none, as well as amplifying our emotional and physiological reactions to events. There’s nothing like a hyper-activated amygdala pushing the brain’s automatic fight-flight response, to make everyone’s day that much more “interesting”.

And now we come to an area that has particularly strong implications for TBI survivors — perpetrating violence. As Belleruth Naparstek points out in Invisible Heroes (p. 51), we don’t normally think of folks who perpetrate violence as the ones affected by post-traumatic stress. It’s the victims after all, who bear the brunt of it. Right?

Not so fast. Post-traumatic stress which manifests in “more violent outbursts and greater severity of intrusive symptoms, as well as a greater sense of alarm, alienation, survivor guilt, and a sense of disintegration” is prevalent among those who cause harm to others. It’s a subject I’ve written about before in Putting my soul back together, one act at a time, in September of last year, and it remains a serious concern of mine.

See, TBI is all too often accompanied by anger issues. Outbursts. Meltdowns. And violence. I myself have been plagued by violent temper outbursts and extreme mood swings that shook me like a terrier shakes a rat… and I couldn’t do a thing about them. For someone who has long been known as an even-keeled sort of person who can be relied on to stay calm in stressful situations, it was a terrible blow to me to watch myself (like a train wreck) blowing up at people over what I logically knew was a small thing, but which seemed like the end of the world to my frayed wiring.

It was so distressing and so shocking to me, that I rarely brought it up with my neuropsych, and then I played it down because I couldn’t stand having someone know about what was going on inside of me. It was almost too much to take. My sense of honor, my sense of dignity, my sense of propriety, and my feelings for those I loved and cared about and worked with went right out the window without me having any understanding or control over things… and then I had to deal with the aftermath.

And the more I blew up, the more things I threw, the more I melted down, the more intrusive the memories of those times became, and the more I felt like I was in the grip of it all.

It’s no friggin’ fun watching yourself dissolve before your very eyes, and that’s exactly how it felt. Which added a sense of impending destruction/death to the whole experience.

The crazy eff’ed-up thing about TBI is that it can turn even the most mild-mannered individual into a raving lunatic, and it can cause them to do things they would never, ever choose to do on their own. It can turn even the most mellow individual into a violent perpetrator. I’m not trying to scare anyone, but at the same time, this is the dark side of TBI that people don’t like to talk about. And the toll it takes is something that really needs to be looked at.

Now, I don’t want to say that everyone who does violence to others is not in control of their behavior. Some people very much are. But with TBI, the right combination of fatigue, malaise, agitation, restlessness, and anxiety-producing sense of lost control, that nastly little switch can get flipped and you can find yourself becoming a stark raving lunatic over the stupidest little sh*t.

This is not to say that it has to — or should — stay that way. If we can see (or are informed) that our behavior is unacceptable, it’s our responsibility to fix it and make sure it doesn’t happen again. But all too often — especially at the start of your recovery — a lot of incidents can happen that result in feelings or experiences of violence.

And that takes a toll.

It takes a toll because you see and hear yourself doing these things, and it takes a toll because you may not be able to do anything about it, until you gain understanding and self-awareness, which can take months, if not years.

In the meantime, you’re racking up some serious mileage in the PTSD department. And ultimately that’s got to be dealt with constructively, or it can — and will — drag you down in the long run.

For Veterans Day, some TBI info

Thank you

Happy Veterans Day to all those who have served, as well as their families and loved-ones.

Thank you for your service.

I’m about to pack up the car and go on a long road trip to see an old friend, but here’s some information about TBI that I’ve learned over the years. I, myself, have had at least 9 TBI’s over the course of my life. They have ranged from falls to assaults to sports concussions to motor vehicle accidents. Each TBI has been different, it’s had a different effect on my life, and the effects have indeed been cumulative… eventually leading to me very nearly losing everything I worked so hard for — job, spouse, house, professional future, health… you name it… it was all “on the chopping block” a little over three years ago, till I started to look for help.

Anyway, enough about me — here’s a little “high level” info I have to offer, which I hope is helpful to you.

1. TBI happens. Whether it’s from an IED explosion, a gunshot, or some other accident, according to the CDC (pdf):

Each year, an estimated 1.7 million people sustain a TBI annually.1 Of them:

Each year, an estimated 1.7 million people sustain a TBI

  • 52,000 die,
  • 275,000 are hospitalized, and
  • 1.365 million, nearly 80%, are treated and released from an emergency department.

TBI is a contributing factor to a third (30.5%) of all injury-related deaths in the United States.1

About 75% of TBIs that occur each year are concussions or other forms of mild TBI.2

2. Having a TBI doesn’t make you crazy.  Mental illness can follow it, and it can be a contributing factor, but being brain injured doesn’t necessarily make you permanently nuts. You can certainly FEEL nuts, but that can change. Certainly, a lot can depend on the type of brain injury you’ve had, the location of it, the severity of it. But a lot of it can also depend on your attitude, the support you have, and the skills you develop to deal with life as it changes. Lots of people start to feel crazy when their lives change dramatically. The thing with TBI is, it gets so much more extreme, and the added stress of the injury can contribute to that. Just know that the feelings of being crazy may be more feeling than fact. And also know that over time, this can change. So, stay steady and keep going, reach out for help, and find someone to talk to. That can go a long way towards helping you get grounded and stable and help you deal with everything.

3. Brain “damage” is relative. Brain “plasticity” (which means the brain changes to adapt to different conditions) happens throughout your life — and that includes after brain injury. Just like feeling crazy after TBI, the damage that takes place — chemicals getting pumped into parts of your brain that they normally aren’t — can change over time. Some of your brain cells will die, some of them will go to sleep, while others will come to life in different ways, wake up from their “slumber”, or find whole new ways to behave in your head. It’s all relative, and it all changes. The other thing about it being relative is that plenty of people are walking around out there with a history of brain injury, but they don’t let it define their lives — either they don’t know about it, or they have found a way to move on. Just because you’ve been brain injured and you feel like there’s something wrong with you, doesn’t mean that other people see you in that same light. Many people would never guess that others have TBIs, and they just interact with them as they would anyone else. So, make sure you don’t make yourself out to be more disabled than you really are — and know that the things that seem obviously “wrong” to you might never even register with others.

4. Exercise is important. For stress reduction, for helping your body metabolize and handle sugar levels, and for helping you wake up and be more involved in your own life… as well as heal and recover… there’s nothing like a regular exercise routine to help. Also, having a regular structure around working out, and the concentration of doing exercise, can also be very helpful. You want to give your body as much help as you can, to heal. That includes giving it plenty of oxygen, getting the blood flowing, getting the lymph moving in your system to flush out the “sludge”, and having a good sweat on a regular basis to keep your cells lively and healthy. Plus, sports can give you a way to interact with others in a structured setting that helps you deal with social interactions according to common rules. That social support is very important. Don’t count it out.

5. Everything changes. Brain injury isn’t the end of everything. It’s a change like a natural disaster — it’s big and it’s dramatic and it impacts your life, but you may find many ways to overcome the challenges. Think of it like having your house wiped out by a tornado. You can’t just live outside, you have to rebuild, one way or another. So, hang in there and keep plugging away. Don’t give up, and stay open to possibility. People overcome difficult, terrible things everyday, and you’re no exception.

There’s a lot more I could say (and I’ve said it elsewhere on this blog), but right now I’m short on time, so I’ll do what I can … and hit the road.

Stay strong. Don’t give up. And again, thank you for your service.

TBI/PTSD anger management by using the breath

Breathe
Breathe in... breathe out... relax

I just found this poem, while looking through WordPress for blog posts on anger. It says so well in far fewer words, the same thing I’m about to elaborate on.

I’ve been studying a bit of breathing over at coherence.com and also thinking about things I’ve read there. I’ve also been studying sitting zazen, as it’s described by elders who have been practicing it for many decades, and I am struck by the similarities between the two.

Now, breathing can take may shapes and forms, and different people have different ideas about how it “should” be done. I’ve actually been criticized by friends who thought they’d been taught the “right” way to breathe. They said I was breathing too shallow, or too fast, or not having the right posture.

I appreciate their concern and wanting to help me, but … whatever.

And then there’s the formally trained respiratory therapist I came across, years ago, who said that there is no wrong way to breathe. And that was a real breath of fresh air for me — literally and figuratively.

Anyway, in my reading about Coherent Breathing, I’ve come across the concept of “Breathe… then relax.” Now, I don’t know about you, but I was usually told “Relax… then breathe” but it never quite did it for me. When I read up on coherent breathing, I understand why — because you need to give your body what it needs to relax. You can’t just order it — RELAX!! — and demand that it comply. But if you give your body what it needs to relax — a balancing of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, which gives them both equal time and lets them work together, instead of at odds — you actually CAN relax.

I’ve come across more and more talk about the autonomic nervous system (ANS) — the combination of fight-flight sympathetic and rest-digest parasympathetic nervous systems — when I read the writings of elder (or deceased) lifetime zen / buddhism practitioners. While everybody else seems to be fixated on things like mental calm and personal peace and spiritual enlightenment, they focus in on the basic physical components of calm and peace and enlightenment — the balancing of the ANS.

This, they say, is the foundation for what so many seek. And yet so many are focused on things other than their bodies.

Now, I’m not going to spend a lot of time yammering about all the high-minded stuff right now. What I AM going to talk about is something very basic, very essential, very critical to TBI and PTSD recovery* — Anger Management (*and yes, for those who believe they are chronic lifelong conditions that you can never completely cure, I’m going to use the word “recovery” anyway — in the sense of recovering our composure, our presence of mind, our human dignity, our relationships, our futures).

My own Anger Management, I am finding, is made about 1000-times better, when I use steady, conscious breathing to keep my ANS in balance. See, here’s the thing — I hate to admit it, but I get anxious really easily.  I also am prone to panic attacks, which I would never admit until this past year — heck, I didn’t even realize I was having panic attacks!

Now, I used to be pretty chill, but since my TBI in 2004, all that gradually went away. I believe it’s because of a combination of physical biochemical changes that took place when I fell, the constant restlessness that feeds my brain’s agitation, and the repeated abrupt, jarring surprises I had, time and time again, when my brain wasn’t working the way I expected it to. Any way you look at it, I can be a real ticking time bomb, if the conditions are correct.

Now, this has been a HUGE problem for me and my family — I also had a lot of problems with this when I was younger (and having a concussion or two about every year or so). But I never made the connections or figured out what would help me chill out my anger, till pretty recently.

See, the thing is, everybody I’ve ever talked about has approached anger management from a psycho/spiritual standpoint. They’ve encouraged me to “get in touch with what’s bothering me”… to “learn to love myself”, to “make peace with my shadow” and learn to “dance with my demons”. All good advice. But it’s all geared to a level of experience that is a symptom of my agitation and rage, not the cause.

The REAL cause of my anger management issues? I believe it is, was, and (almost) always has been, an out of whack Autonomic Nervous System — a hair-trigger fight-flight sympathetic nervous system taking over and pushing my rest-digest parasympathetic nervous system out of the way, like a bully shoving a “sissy” down into the mud and stomping on their head.

Flying into a rage over the slightest thing? Not because I wasn’t “my own best friend” — rather, because I was tired and agitated and I flew into fight-flight mode on an instant’s notice.

Getting pissed off while in traffic and getting aggressive towards other drivers? Not because I projected my own insecurities onto them — rather because I was already on edge about being in traffic, I was already in fight-flight mode with my amped-up SNS, and all that adrenaline just fed on itself to make itself even more virulent and aggressive.

Melting down and flipping out over seemingly small issues? Not because I was spiritually damaged or had some character flaw — rather, because I panicked, plain and simple, and it came out as a melt-down.

Holy smokes… if I’d known this just five years ago, how much different could my life be right now? I’m telling you, seeing my anger outbursts and hair triggers as a physiological phenomenon, not some sign of psycho-spiritual disturbance, makes all the difference in the world. It instantly makes the challenges about something other than my broken self, and turns it into a physical situation that I have the tools to manage.

Again, let me say it loud and clear:

Anger issues, for me, are NOT about psychological problems, emotional damage, mental illness, or a defective character. They are about my fight-flight sympathetic nervous system being in an uproar that drowns out my system-balancing parasympathetic nervous system. Anger issues, temper outbursts, rage attacks are all reliable signs that the innermost “wiring” of my body is in need of some attention. And when I give it the attention it needs, it chills everything out in a way that doesn’t just fix it once — it lasts.

So, how do I give it the attention it needs? By breathing consciously. I breathe slow and steady into my gut, feeling my belly expand when I inhale, and filling up my whole chest cavity too. I count my breaths, focusing on them instead of all the crap that’s going on outside, and it keeps my mind from falling into the trap of someone else’s mind games, or some mistaken perception I have. When I focus on my breath, not only do I take a break from the soul-sucking drama, but I am also strengthening my whole system for future times when I need to keep balanced and sane.

I am training myself for future times when I am so bombarded, I have trouble keeping my presence of mind to breathe. The more I practice, the easier it becomes. So, it’s important for me to practice.

On the one hand, this really excites me that I have figured this out. On the other hand, it really bothers me that it’s not more widely known and used. Rehab facilities could be using this… recovery groups could be using this… hospitals could be using this… therapists and counselors could be using this… occupational therapists and physical therapists could be using this… and so could family members who want to help both their injured loved ones as well as themselves. Trauma survivors of all kinds could be using this, including traumatic brain injury survivors, particularly mild traumatic brain injury survivors, who often lose more in the long run than you’d ever guess or expect.

I think part of the problem is that when people find something that works, they instantly become very strict, rigid, and orthodox about it — they decide what the rules are, they tell people the rules (with the best of intentions), and then they enforce those rules to no end.

I’m in the position, myself, where I’m not a big fan of strict rules and regulations. I think everyone is different, and we all need to find our own ways. What works for me, might not work for you, so you have to figure out what’s most appropriate for your situation.

But I do think it’s helpful to understand the underlying “mechanics” of how this all works — to understand the physical principles behind what you want to achieve, so you can figure out the best way to do it for yourself.

Try the conscious breathing thing… counting your breaths, or just noticing how you feel when you’re taking slow, measured breaths. It’s free, it doesn’t require a trained professional to teach you to do it, you can do it anytime — no scheduling required — and you can keep practicing in many different situations, to gain your composure and strengthen your sense of self.

Conscious breathing for anger management… Try it. You might like it.

Or, as Miro says at http://warriorpoetwisdom.com

When people think of warriors
They think of blood and death
The truth is that a warrior
Is all about deep breath

The importance of a one-track mind

Staying steady – it’s about the only thing that saves me. Staying focused on what is important to me, what matters to me, what drives me in life. Truly, without knowing these things — what I’m willing to live for, what I might even be willing to die for — it may sound old-fashioned, but it’s the stuff of my life.

In today’s world, we are surrounded by constant enticements to stray off course. Media tempt us with a constant stream of engaging images which ultimately bring us nothing other than a moment’s entertainment. Advertisers and marketers interrupt us constantly to tell us about things they would like us to buy. Everywhere we look, everywhere we go, people are vying for our attention, and for those who have trouble staying on track, it can be murder.

It can literally wreck your life.

So, it’s up to us. It’s up to you. It’s up to me. To stay focused. Steady. Intent. It’s important not to take ourselves too seriously, but at the same time, don’t fall into the trap of discounting yourself and your values for the sake of some brief relief — fitting in, “taking the pressure off”, or whatever other reason you have for straying from your path.

What IS your path? What matters most to you? What do you want to devote your life to? Your family? Your country? Your job? Your home town? What? What matters enough to you, that you will get up early each day, and stay up late each night, in order to do it? What matters so much to you that you willingly forego personal comforts and convenience to do/have/achieve it?

These are important questions. Especially when it comes to TBI recovery. I am thinking particularly of the servicemen and women who have sustained TBI’s in the course of their service, who now come home to a life they may not recognize, in a country that owes them the world, but cannot/will not help them.

To these folks I say, “Find what matters to you. Find others who share those same values. Find your tribe, your home, your extended family. And put everything you have into serving your common cause.”

To all of us, I say, we should do the same. Find what matters most to us, what drives us, what feeds us, what keeps us going, no matter what. These things can — and do — save lives. Because they hold our focus and they keep us on track, when all the rest of the world is being pulled in a million different directions by a million different messages, very few of them are actually true.

Stay the course. Find your spark. And keep on keepin’ on.