Finding balance – work and rest

Sometimes this is how it feels - like I'm a snail on a rock. But at least I'm balancing.
Sometimes this is how it feels – like I’m a snail on a rock. But at least I’m balancing.

In a few months, I’ll have been at my current job for a year. That’s very interesting. The merger with the other company is happening, and may take place before summer is over. But nobody knows for sure. There’s all kinds of activity going on around it. New email addresses, new business cards, new laptops, and who knows what else.

Management keeps trying to set our fears to rest, and they keep asking us to ask questions, but it feels like a trap — like they’re trying to see who’s “on board” and who’s digging in their heels. I’m not sure anybody trusts anything coming out of management, by this point. They’re getting rich, while everyone else… well… not so much.

I can’t really worry about it, though. I have to keep focused on my work, which is actually pretty challenging these days. The work, yes, it’s challenging — but even moreso is the focus.

The cadence at this company is very different from the startup-like frenzies I’ve experienced elsewhere. It’s much more staid… steady… and they don’t expect you to do earth-shaking things in the first year… or two… or more. They think you need at least a few years to ramp up, so expectations are low. But at the same time, I still need to move forward. I still need to take steps. I still need to do what I need to do for my own career, to move it forward.

I’ve kind of lost sight of that, in the past couple of months. The big business trip at the beginning of this month completely took over my life for 4-6 weeks prior to it, and I’ve been slowly … sloooooowwwwwllllyyyyy… recovering from that adventure. It’s taking much longer than I expected, and it’s tough to get back in the swing of things.

But get back in the swing, I must. I’ve re-ordered a supplement I found that actually helps my energy, and helps me sleep. And I’ve started swimming regularly, again. I had gotten away from it for months, for some reason. Just winter/early spring inertia, I guess. Now I’m swimming every chance I get — 3 days a week, ideally, sometimes more. And I’m going to start working out before my swims, as well. That’s so important. I need a better strength regimen than I’ve been doing in the mornings.

Mornings, I need to work on my cardio and balance — wake myself up, and get my balance together. I’ve got some exercises from the trainer at work that I can do, so I need to print them out and DO them. I keep forgetting to print them out.

Anyway, I’m figuring it out – and figuring out how I can balance out my work-work-work nature with the slower cadence at my job. They don’t actually expect miracles, first thing, and while that’s good in a way, it’s not how I work. I prefer to do miracles whenever possible, and not be held back by people who are telling me it’s not possible. It IS possible. Maybe not for them, but for me.

It’s all an evolving process, really. I want to go-go-go, but I know I run the risk of burning myself out, if I do. And then I’m not good for anything. I want to make progress, every single week, but then it doesn’t happen. And then I get down on myself. I’m tired of getting down on myself. I need to do better tracking of what I actually accomplish. I’ve been doing a better job of that, over the past couple of months, so that’s good. Now I need to work it into my routine.

I need my routine.

And so I’ll work with that. See what I can do. Take steps to both simplify and improve the systems I have. And keep on keepin’ on.

Onward!

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Pick your perspective

It’s all in the eye of the beholder

My new project, these days, is working on my perspective. I have fallen prey to a lot of anger and bitterness and also resentment about things which are actually nobody’s fault. They just happen. And it doesn’t make a lot of sense for me to get all tweaked about them.

Things at work are very tense and stressful for a lot of folks. I know that they will be okay, and everything will turn out okay over time. But there is a lot of stress and strain going on, and a lot of people are very nervous about their team’s ability to do the job — and do it right.

It has been getting to me, too. That much has been clear, in the past several weeks. I’ve been having episodes where I suddenly get tunnel vision, and then I have a headache for days after that. I also feel foggy and dull – numb and dumb – and I’m very low, physically. I need to address this, because my physical health directly affects my point of view. My neuropsych focuses on my thinking and how it stresses me out. And that’s true — my crappy perspective doesn’t do me any favors, sometimes. At the same time, my physical health plays a huge part in it, and I have been feeling very low and dull and lethargic.

I seriously need to jump-start myself. I’m just so blahhhh… I’m in a new job that’s closer to home, which means I don’t have to work as hard to get there. But having things be easier that way has not translated to my energy improving. The thing is, all my energy used to come from adrenaline and extreme stress, and now that it’s not there anymore, I need to replace it with something else.

Like physical fitness. I worked out more this morning than I have in a while — lifting weights and focusing on my arms, which have become flabby and fat. I usually wear long sleeves, so I don’t see my arms as they are, but lately I’ve been noticing them.

I think things will turn around in another couple of months, when we have moved to a new building that has a gym I will be able to use. Also, the location is 10-15 minutes closer to my home, so I will have more time to exercise, in addition to the other things I do.

I also need to start doing something when I get home from work in the evenings. Last night, I was so exhausted when I got home, I had to lie down for an hour before I made supper. Fortunately, I got home early enough that I could do that. I was wiped out. Completely done. Feeling sick and stupid. And later I had an argument with my spouse that really bothered me, because their cognitive decline is starting to show more and more. They had trouble speaking, and they got really angry over something I was doing — and I just didn’t feel like taking the brunt of their anger after such a long day.

So, I really need to work on my outlook and my perspective in life. I need to find a way to make peace with things turning out as they do — and not fight it all the time and turn it into a tragedy in my head. Or maybe just let it be a tragedy and accept it as such. Shit happens. And it happens to all of us.

So it goes.

Not for me, though. I’m determined to not let myself go down that route. My spouse lives in a very different world than mine — very paranoid and suspicious and antagonistic. It’s like we live on different planets; yet theirs is every bit as real for them, as mine is for me.

There’s no point in arguing about whether or not it’s true — it’s true for them, it’s real for them, and that’s the experience they’re having. The real problem is that I can’t accept it, I feel really judgmental towards it, and it makes me so uncomfortable. And when I’m tired, I get very rigid and am quick to anger.

That doesn’t help.

Anyway, I’m feeling good that I got in that exercise, first thing this morning. My arms are tired — and that’s a really good sign. It means I’m making the point to do something right, that I’ve been neglecting for a long time.

Happy Saturday, everyone.

Onward.

Stretching for more

April first. Surprise. I have a noontime appointment scheduled with my neuropsych today to follow up on some things we didn’t get a chance to talk about on Tuesday. I’ve got the time, so why not use it? Except that the weather is bad. And I’ve got things I’d like to do with the three hours it would take me to drive in, consult, and then drive home. Like sleep. Seems to me, sleep might actually help me more than driving through bad weather, sitting and talking, and then driving back.

It might shake me out of my funk. I have to admit, I’m not very good at vacations. I like my schedule, my routine. It has been good, getting out of the schedule-driven mainstream for a week, but I’m ready to get back into work. I’m ready go back to my job, my office, my roster of duties. I don’t quite feel like myself, when I’m off my schedule. I have more time, but I get less done.

Still and all, it’s been good to get out of the frantic go-go-go of the daily grind. Working in technology sets a grueling pace, which is promoted by people of a distinctly darwinian bent, who think that the better you are, the faster you’ll go. Hm. Not sure about that. Seems like speed is its own justification, at times. They just want to feel like they’re doing something. They just want to feel like they’re making progress.

Hm.

Anyway, the weather is letting up, but I think I’m going to cancel my appointment. I have a standing appointment on Tuesdays, and I’ll be closer to the neuropsych’s office on Tuesday than I am today. Time savings. Life savings. I just don’t want to wear myself out even more than I already am. Didn’t get my nap yesterday. Got busy running around in the evening. Also didn’t get things done that I need to get done.

At three years into my active recovery, I’m finding that I need to make some substantial changes to how I go about living my life. Discovering that mild traumatic brain injury was the cause of many of my difficulties throughout the course of my life was amazingly freeing and totally unexpected. It set me loose in the world, the way few other things have. It gave me a framework to understand myself and my own personal situation, and it gave me a route to follow to address specific issues I had in a systematic, common sense way, rather than the scatter-shot trials and errors of my life to that point.

Discovering the root cause of my issues gave me the means to address them. And address them, I have. Now that I’ve made all this progress, a different approach is called for. It’s about using the tools I have and the knowledge I’ve gained, to take things beyond the basic survival tactics I’ve employed for the past three years. The basics are pretty much in place — being, my understanding of my history and how it’s affected me — and I have the tools to address my issues, like fatigue, irritability, anger, aggression, and memory issues.

With these in place, it doesn’t make sense for me to keep subsisting at a fundamental level, “just happy to be alive”. Sure, I’m VERY happy to be alive. Don’t get me wrong. But I don’t want to fall into the rut that some acquaintances of mine are stuck in. They’re my “recovery friends” on the mend from histories of violence, abuse, addiction, and other things that strike at the core of who we are and what we think we’re all about. They literally tell me, “I’m lucky to just be functioning at a basic level,” and they mean it. But from where I’m sitting, it seems to me they’re capable of a whole lot more than that. They’re just not taking that chance. They’re not testing their own limits. They’re sitting in their stuff, feeling sorry for themselves or telling themselves they’re really badly off… when they’re really no worse positioned in the world than most of the other non-recovery-focused people I know and work with.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t dismiss their troubles and their issues. Lord knows, I’ve got my fair share — we all do. But that’s the point — we all have our issues, and nobody goes through life without some measure of pain and suffering. Even the richest and most entitled people in the world experience excruciating pain — which must actually be worse than being in pain as a “normal” person. It must be awful to suffer, when you’re well aware that all of life is arranged around you to minimize, even prevent, any sort of pain at all.

But who can say why or how or for what we experience what we do? Lessons, I suppose. Just a lot of lessons.

Which is where I find myself now, on the last day of my official vacation. I’ve had a lot of time to think and ponder and examine my life, and while I’ve come away with a pretty good sense of being in a far better place than I was three years ago, something is missing. Something more. Maybe it’s in my nature, being the sort of person who is always looking for what’s next and what else is out there. Maybe I’m just naturally inclined to push the envelope. Bottom line is, I need more challenge. I need more living. I need more life. I need to get beyond this immediate situation of mine and look to the future, with my tools and strategies as a good foundation for moving forward.

More life. Different life. I’ve been spending more time stretching, the past few days, and I’m realizing that I probably need to shift my daily routine away from straight weight training and more to strength-building yoga. Lifting weights is great, but it also shortens the muscles (when you build bulk), and that may be contributing to my pain. Also the tightening causes me to tense up. I’ve been tense for a long, long time, and I need to find a different way of living in the world.

I have to say, I feel much better when I stretch. I steered clear of yoga for many years, because it was painful for me to do the stretches and hold the poses. But I’m at a point now where I’ve done enough stretching on my own to get past that excruciating pain. Stretching on my own, taking it easy, and being focused on my own movement (rather than a roomful of people) has been good. And I really need to do more of it — in a different way… in my own way.

{Pause to stretch}

Stretching… yes… in more ways than one. Physical stretching, as well as mental and professional stretching. I’ve had a lot of time this week to contemplate my work, why I do it, what it means to me. And I realize that the “career path” I’m on is less about climbing the ladder and more about having a quality experience… and sharing that experience with others It’s all very well and good for others to chase after the brass ring and climb over each other to reach the top, but that tends to be pretty debilitating for me. All that adrenaline pumping all the time — the constant go-go-go is all very well and good, but where does it eventually take you to? And once you get there, is that really where you want to be?

In the years before my last TBI, I was living that life. Fast and furious. Fiercely driven. I was a force to be reckoned with, and I was alternately feared and respected by my peers and highly valued by my employer. Then I fell, and it all fell apart. Then someone close to me died, and I sat and held their hand as they slowly slipped away from a life they had dearly loved and hated to leave. Then someone else close to me became seriously ill, and I was their caretaker for about a year. Three big hits in about three years. Even one of those would have been plenty to handle. But no, there had to be three.

Anyway… Coming out on the other side of it, now with three years of active rehab under my belt, I see how those experiences changed me, and how they have shaped my attitude towards life and my work. I know, having watched the young children and loving spouse of my loved-one who died all too young, that none of us has any guarantees in life. Even when the doctor gives you a clean bill of health and tells you to expect to see your kids graduate from college… they could be wrong. Even when you think you’ve got it all together, something as simple as a fall down the stairs can wipe out some of your most prized, cherished coping mechanisms. Even when you’re locked on target and think you’ve got your path figured out, serious illness can manifest and leave you feeling and acting like a six-year-old child, with all certainty erased.

And I realize — with the last week’s perspective — that no matter how hard I work, no matter how hard I push myself, it will never be enough. Not for me, anyway. And it will never be enough for the world. There will always be other things that need to be done, other endeavors to perfect. I also know for certain that the most important thing to me in my work is not the work itself, but the experiences I have in that work. That’s something that can’t be taken away. I need depth of experience. I need the kind of engagement and connection that makes memories for years to come. In the past, I have been so focused on getting things done, that I never stopped to fully experience what it is I was doing. I was so driven by results, that the process got lost along the way.

And that’s a shame. Because my memory is already iffy — why make it even worse?

Indeed.

The ironic thing is, when I take my focus off the delivery dates and bottom lines and pure results, and I focus on the core essentials — doing good work for the sake of doing it, and sharing the success with others to really create a working environment that, well, works — the results turn out even better, the bottom line is fed, and the actual results are longer-lived and more sustainable than ever. Getting the focus off the short-term, and putting it on the long-term, creates success not only in the present, but in the future as well. In the process of transcending the bottom line and delivery dates, those very things are fed. And it turns out better in the long run. For everyone. And I have real memories of live to look back on, later, not just a handful of deliveries and goals achieved.

Well, despite the weather, it is a beautiful day. I think I’ll step away from the computer now and have a good stretch.

Broken body, broken mind

Source: freefoto.com

More than ever before, I’m convinced (and riding the bandwagon around the square, beating on my drum) that the body and mind are so closely intertwined, that you cannot possibly separate out the two.

You take care of the body, and the brain will benefit. The mind will benefit, too. I differentiate between the mind and the brain because I believe (like others) that the biological, physiological organ of the brain is just one part of what makes up the mind. When you take care of the body, the brain benefits. And when the brain benefits, the mind has something to work with.

Body-brain-mind connections matter. They have such a profound impact on our health — and our illness. That goes for mental health. It goes for TBI recovery. It goes for effective and lasting healing for PTSD. If you leave you body out of the equation, while trying to fix your brain, your mind may have a hell of a time getting back on track and up to speed.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t advocate that everyone who’s struggling with mental health issues, TBI, and/or PTSD run out and join a gym and get ultra-ripped. I’m not saying that you have to become a competitive athlete or reduce your body mass to 5% (which might be physically unsafe, in any case – our bodies need fat). And I’m not saying that if you’re in poor physical condition, you’re going to be a vegetable.

I am saying that exercise, when done carefully and regularly, can and will benefit not only your body but also your brain and your mind. It’s not blind faith I’m falling back on — it’s scientific fact, documented research, and personal experience. It doesn’t have to be torture, it doesn’t have to involve pain. It can be as pleasant as a walk on the beach with a loved one and your dogs, or perhaps a swim in a beautiful lake. It can be as everyday as taking the stairs three flights up, instead of taking the elevator. And it can be as invigorating as a game of touch football with your friends on Thanksgiving Day.

But if it’s not at all a part of your life, and you’re dealing with the challenges of TBI and/or PTSD, I’d hazard to say that your row is going to be a bit harder to hoe.

By now there is so much documented evidence that exercise and aerobic movement aids the brain, that it’s impossible to ignore. And it would be negligent of me to not beat on my exercise! drum, if I genuinely want to help people overcome the challenges of TBI (which I do).

The fact that exercise is such a simple thing for everyone to get — even in moderate amounts — makes it one of the best-kept secrets of TBI recovery. It’s so secret, even the top experts make passing reference to it, but aren’t nearly as passionate about it as, say, the folks at the Concussion Clinic at University at Buffalo. Watch the “Sportsnet Connected” – UB’s Post Concussion Syndrome Treatment Program for some very exciting developments.

For all the talk about TBI and PTSD among veterans, nowhere do I hear anyone talking about how soldiers returning from Iraq and Afgahnistan can help themselves with exercise. The VA may not have the proper pieces in place for highly effective diagnosis and treatment, and they may be discharging soldiers with inaccurate “personality disorder” diagnoses, but the one thing I see time and time again, when I look at YouTube videos of soldiers training, is gym and exercise equipment. Even gyms built in shacks on the sides of mountains in a godforsaken country far, far from home.

This puzzles me. Why would a treatment so effective and so familiar and so self-directed not be promoted and plugged (especially for soldiers), till everyone is sick of talking about it? Maybe it’s “too easy” and people think that it’s something that’s “extra” in addition to meds and/or directed therapies. Maybe it requires “too much” consistency and people don’t know how to work up the motivation to do it regularly enough to make a difference. Maybe the VA didn’t get the memo about U@B’s success stories. Maybe veterans are waiting for someone else to initiate treatment and get them on the right path.

It’s complicated, of course. I suspect it may also have to do with the professional interests and personal makeup of the top experts. After all, if earning your bread and butter (not to mention your reputation) comes from the control of information and the dispensing of advice and assistance under strictly controlled and controllable circumstances (like your office or a rehab facility), and you feel your professional position is threatened (or you may lose clients to outside forces), you don’t necessarily have a deep-seated incentive to encourage people to do simple, common-sense activities on their own (which provide tremendous benefits without requiring insurance billing codes).

Plus, if you’re a person who’s made your mark in the world sitting at a desk or standing at a podium, and you don’t have a real focus on physical fitness in your own life, why would you even think to recommend exercise to your clients/patients? The personal element to this — i.e., non-athletic individuals (who may have gotten into science and medicine because they sucked at sports) who have an aversion to exercise — should be factored in.

Plus, the focus on the brain and psychology and “mind over matter” that pervades Western science probably hasn’t helped us appreciate the role of the body in the functioning of our brains and minds.

Personally, I don’t have those sorts of conflicts of interest or an individual bias against exercise. Quite the contrary. I love to move in coordinated and sport-like ways, and I’ve got nothing to lose by telling everyone I encounter (or who reads this blog) that exercise can help heal what’s been hurt. And the more I think about it, and the more I use regular exercise in my own recovery, the more passionate (even zealous) I become. Each and every day, this flame burns a little brighter in my belly.

To say that exercising regularly changed my life for the better would be an understatement.  Once I started working out (very lightly and low-impact) each morning before I got started with my day, my anxiety level almost immediately began to decrease. Less anxiety meant less agitation, less temper flares, less acting out, less losing it over stupid shit. It has meant that my spouse can now be in the same room with me for extended periods of time. A year ago, that wasn’t the case. It has meant that I can start out my day without two or three private melt-downs that used to deplete me daily and leave me feeling broken and wrecked even before I left the house to go to work. It has meant that my constant headaches have subsided and my aches and pains which followed me everywhere and never totally went away, did in fact calm down. They’re not gone completely 100% of the time, but they are generally much less intense, and they don’t stop me from living my life, like they used to.

To say that my life between my fall in 2004 and my starting regular exercise in 2009 was getting progressively worse would also be an understatement. All that agitation, that anxiety, and the unstoppable extremes of panic and fight-flight-freeze gushing through my system were tearing the hell out of me. It was more than “just” TBI. It was (I believe) also a sharply spiking case of PTSD that arose from the constant “micro-traumas” of my TBI-addled experience, and it was destroying my life.

My brain was broken, and my mind was, too. In no small part because my body was broken in ways that no one could see.

How frustrating it was. I was trying like crazy to figure things out… totally fogged from my messed-up wiring, all disconnected and confabulated, and cognitively impaired by the daze of biochemical gunk that built up in my system.

It was like driving down a dark, unfamiliar road that’s full of potholes that I kept hitting, with the inside of my windshield fogged up.

Source: stoutandbitter

But then I started exercising. And you know what? Everything started to get clearer. Getting regular exercise each day was like taking a paper towel and wiping away the fog inside the glass. The road was still dark, and there were still potholes, but as long as I kept the inside of my windshield clear, I had a fighting chance. And slowly but surely, the sun started to come up.

Source: Kate Joseph

The road wasn’t particularly well-paved, and there were still potholes, but I could see them, at last, and I could adjust to my circumstances. As long as I was all jacked up on cortisol and adrenaline, I was S.O.L. and hurting from it. But when I started to clear that crap out of my system, I at last had a fighting chance to get on with my life.

My feeling about exercise are similar to feelings among my relatives about being born-again religious converts. There’s something so invigorating, so life-giving about this “new” discovery, that we feel ourselves transformed. And in a way, exercise has become a kind of spiritual practice for me. It gives me new life each and every morning, and even on those days when I’m not feeling as moved as other times, I still recognize the worth and value of this practice.

I would go so far as to say that exercise comes about as close to a “magic bullet” for TBI/concussion recovery, as anything I’ve come across. More and more experience and research is bearing that out, and plenty of TBI/PTSD survivors will agree. And the best part is, it not only strengthens the body and the brain, but it also gets you off the couch and/or out of the house and can get you into the company of other people where you’re less isolated, and you can interact with them in a structured context. TBI and PTSD can be terribly isolating. Having structured physical activity to get you up and out, and also provide a way to control your own social interactions is helpful in so many ways.

Out for a walk? You’re not only giving your veins and arteries and lungs and lymphatic system a much-needed boost, but you can also encounter people along the way with whom you can chat. Having trouble understanding what people are saying to you and following the conversation? You can excuse yourself and walk on, and no one will think anything of it. Feeling bad because you had trouble with the interaction? You can walk it off.

It’s what I do.

And the results have been amazing. (Obviously, not everyone has the same experience, and you’ll certainly have your own, but this is mine.) After hiding myself away for years, I’m back in the swing of things, taking care of what’s in front of me. Granted, I have my down days, and motivation is still a problem with me, but feeling as good as I do (aches and pains notwithstanding), I feel up to dealing with it all.

These results (and more) came after a relatively short time of doing them. Seriously. I started seeing real results after only a few weeks. Just in terms of feeling better, more centered, less foggy, more awake in the morning.

And this, after a prolonged period of sedentary isolating.

Oh, sure, I was active as a kid (and clumsy and prone to falling and hitting my head, unfortunately), and I went through periods of working out regularly and getting regular exercise as an adult, but after my last fall in 2004, the whole exercise thing went right out the window. It was bad. I went from being a regular at the gym to not even being able to set foot in the building, because I was having so much trouble understanding what people were saying to me — it totally freaked me out.

That freaking out was a problem. It was a problem at work and at home. It was a problem when I was with people or alone. My sympathetic nervous system was whacked and everything I encountered that was new or unfamiliar felt like a life-and-death threat, which had me pumped up on adrenaline all the time. I was a mess to live with. I had fallen, and I couldn’t seem to get back up.

I became intensely inactive. I stopped mowing the lawn and taking care of the plantings around the house. I stopped clearing leaves when they fell. I stopped sweeping the driveway. I stopped fixing things around the house when they were broken. I stopped going for the walks that I’d loved to go on for as long as I could remember. I stopped talking to people. I stopped talking to my spouse. I just stopped. Everything I encountered felt like a monstrous threat — one to be fought to the death or fled from in terror.

God, how miserable that was! The wild thing is, I didn’t even realize how whacked I was. All my alarm felt 100% justified. I felt absolutely positively certain that every novel situation I encountered was indeed a threat to my safety and sanity. I was going rapidly downhill, and I wasn’t going down alone. I hate to say it, but my spouse’s health declined rapidly as my own TBI issues escalated.

So, what got me out of that? Realizing, for one, that I was in danger of being put on meds for my attentional issues. My PCP had mentioned the possibility of putting me on something for my distractability, and my neuropsych had started mentioning the different medication options available. Talk about freaking me out. I had been on some heavy-duty meds for pain, back about 20 years ago, and they totally screwed me up. To the point of partly disabling me. What’s more, the thought of having someone else control my biochemistry — whether a pharma company or my neuropsych or my doctor (none of whom have to live in my body and brain, and none of whom are instantly available to me, should I get into trouble) — freaked me out enough to get me to sit up and pay attention and try to find some other way to wake myself up in the morning.

I had been trying for some time to figure out how to get exercise into my life, as I watched my weight increase and my strength decrease. I just didn’t have the intensity of focus required to figure out how.

When the docs started talking meds, I found my focus real quick.

The rest, as they say, is history. My life has done a 180-degree turn, and my mind and body and brain are doing better than ever. My neuropsych kind of looks at me oddly when I rave about how awesome exercise is, but theyr’e not living in my body and dealing with my brain, so how would they know what a qualitative difference it’s made? My PCP, thank heavens, is no longer talking about meds, and my level of functioning is on a whole new plane.

All this, I believe, because I have a solid physiological foundation. I’m exercising all my brains — in my skull, my heart, and my gut — and exercise helps them all communicate better with one another. My anxiety experience is now such that I can delay the knee-jerk reactions that plagued me for so many years. And I can stop to ask myself what’s going on, before I get carried away by my impulse to flip out.

It’s that effective and that powerful. And it’s so simple to do. Exercise. Take the stairs. Walk briskly instead of ambling along. Park at the other end of the parking lot and hot-foot it to the front door of the store — even in the rain. Get out for a walk on the weekends. And make a point of doing some light calisthenics before you get into your day. It can make a difference. It will make difference. The attention you pay to this will give back to you, over and over and over again.

As Nike says, “Just do it.” Your mind will thank your body for helping your brain.

Give me exercise, or give me trouble

I woke up this morning feeling blah and groggy. After my very active weekend, this past Sat and Sun, I was feeling the burn yesterday, so I took it easy with the workout and spent the day in a relatively sedentary state. I didn’t want to push myself, but let myself rest and recuperate from all that activity — more activity than I’ve had, two days in a row, in quite some time.

Mistake! (And a most valuable lesson.) I felt pretty good all day, but by the time evening rolled around, I was feeling really down, depressed, worn out and used up. I also had a chiro adjustment, and I think the release of those points along my spine may have loosened up some old ‘stuff’.

I see a network chiropractor, who works with the meninges and points in the cranial and sacral areas. Not so much cracking and popping — mostly gentle pressure that frees up the cerebro-spinal fluid to flow more freely and help the brain connect better with the rest of the body. I highly recommend it, especially for folks with TBI or whiplash or some other head or neck or back injury. The difference it’s made has been amazing. But of course, there are sometimes occasions when the pent-up energy that’s released causes me to feel physically worse for a day or so, before things even out. It goes with the territory… and eventually it clears up as the whole system rights itself. But the initial experience can be emotionally and physically upsetting.

That’s what it was like for me, last night, after my adjustment. I got very emotional and, much to my chagrin, I started to cry. I took myself away and sat out on a hilltop, read a book, and watched the sun go down, then had a little bite to eat and went home to crash. I just felt terrible about myself, like I was so broken I wasn’t much use to anyone, especially myself, and all my failures and failings rose up like spectres on a late October night to haunt and taunt me.

My mood was actually dangerously low, and I was in a place where I was rapidly spiraling down-down-down to where nothing and no reason could reach me. The tears wouldn’t stop, and when my spouse asked me what was wrong, all I could say was that I felt like my life was a waste, all I was, was a wage slave, I wasn’t good for anything, and I had no future. I could see, so clearly, the things I once had going for me, and I could feel so vividly all the hopes I’d once had as a kid – I wanted to be a doctor or a large animal vet, and I wanted to do big things and travel the world – compared to the reality that eventually came to be. I just felt wasted and spent and good for nothing, and no amount of compassionate reason could talk me out of it.

Ugh. I hate when that happens. And I did the only thing I could — I went to bed at a decent hour. It was probably the smartest thing to do.

Fortunately, I managed to sleep pretty much through the night. I’ve been waking up drenched in sweat, lately. The weather is warmer, it’s true. But I think it’s also stress that’s doing it.

At least I have been able to get back to sleep — and sleep past 4:30 a.m., even with the sun rising earlier. Today, I managed to sleep till 6:30, wonder of wonders.

But this morning I got up and felt pretty wiped out. Going down in those “emotional valleys” often leaves me feeling hungover in the morning, and I had a heck of a hangover today. I dragged myself downstairs and put the kettle on, then figured, what the heck, I’ll just get on the exercise bike for a few minutes and warm up.

Well, once I got going, I started to feel better. I rode for 15 minutes, doing some conscious breathing at the same time. Then I stretched my creaky bones and decided to lift just a little. Maybe do some movements holding my weights. Nothing big, just a little weighted movement.

Well, once I got going with that, I started to feel much better. Just the simple movement, and the focus on my form really got me out of my funk. It took a few sets, but the more I did, the better I felt. And by the time all was said and done, I had gone through my entire workout — and then some — and I was feeling a LOT better.

I’m still feeling a little groggy and hungover from last night. I think the chiro adjustment “knocked some stuff loose” that needs to settle and/or move on through… like infection being moved out of my body by lymph. I’ve got a long history of physical problems, so moving them through and resolving them (or just learning to handle them more effectively) isn’t necessarily the easiest or simplest or most pain-free process. I’ve read about other TBI folks having excruciating pain just before something released with them, and they became a lot more functional. Bottom line, even if recovery is uncomfortable and challenging, it’s got to be done, so…

What I learned from all this, is quite valuable, the discomfort notwithstanding. As much as I may want to physically take it easy — for whatever reason — I do need to be active — more active than most people I know — and keep my system moving throughout the course of each day. I was way too sedentary yesterday, and I didn’t get up and MOVE much at all. And the energy I typically have seemed to get “stuck” and backfire on me.

Now, people around me love to tell me to “take it easy,” but when I do, I end up feeling really bad — physically and emotionally. I just have to move. Be active. And not take it quite as easy on myself as I’m tempted to — and others encourage me to.

I think that’s one of the sticky pieces about recovery/rehab. On the one hand, you don’t want to over-do it and your brain can really actively advocate for taking it easy and not pushing the envelope. But if you slack off, you can find yourself worse off than you were the day before. It’s a fine line, to be sure, balancing rest and recovery with activity and evolution. But for me, I’d rather err on the side of activity. For me, being wiped out from being physically tired is a lot easier to handle than being wiped out from being mentally tired. Yesterday was a mentally tired day — not necessarily because of too much activity, but because of too little.

Full-range motion… in slow motion

I’ve been changing up my morning exercise routine, over the past week, after realizing that the exercises I’ve been doing have not been strenghtening my whole system. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been doing “weight lifting” exercises, which isolate certain muscles. That’s how I was taught to lift, both when I was an active athlete and later in life when I hit the gym regularly.

In the process of isolating muscles, however, I’ve realized that I’ve produced a kind of “lop-sided” fitness which actually undermines my whole structure. If a handful of muscles are stronger than others, and they don’t have strength through their full range of motion, it actually makes it easier for me to injure myself and be in more pain. Because the stronger muscles will be taking over and pulling more weight, while the less strong ones — including my tendons and ligaments — will be unevenly stressed.

Not good.

Also, I’ve noticed that the weights I’ve been using, while not terribly heavy, have actually been stressing my joints. Part of the problem is form. I have a tendency to stoop, which is not good. I need to keep mindful of my alignment. But the thing that comes to mind — in no small part as a result of reading crossfit information which talks about how life is not a controlled situation, and you can never tell just how you’re going to be physically tested in life — is that doing simple movements with light weights should NOT be painful and stressful to me.

Something is lacking, here, and that is full-range fitness.

So, I’m expanding my exercises to incorporate full-range motion. Not just curls, but curls and stretches. Not just presses, but extensions, too. I have stopped limiting my movement to “the exercise” itself, and I’m completing the motion that I begin, to come full-circle.

It’s hard to explain in words, but basically, if I hold weights and stretch out my arms in one direction, I complete the full range of motion to bring the weight back – under very conscious control.

Instead of doing linear exercises:

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I’m doing full-spectrum exercises

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Another aspect of this, is that I move much more slowly than I am accustomed to. Slow movement has always made me NUTS — I can’t stand it! But you know what? I need the practice at impulse control. And I need the practice at mindfulness. I also need to build some really quality muscle, to support my joints. That is done quite well by slow lifting. Also, slow lifting cuts down on wear and tear on your joints. Between the mindfulness and the measured motion, by the time I’m done with my workout in the morning, I’ve gotten some good practice at paying very close attention to what I’m doing. And that sets the stage for the rest of my day.

This is a new thing for me, but it’s long overdue. And it not only represents a shift in my workout, but a shift in my approach to life, as well. Whatever I start, I complete. I don’t just go in one direction, I complete the circle. I also move much more slowly than before, where I can feel every motion, and I am mindful of every movement. It’s not just a change to my exercise routine. It’s actually a change to my way of relating to the rest of my life.

Speaking of the rest of my life, I’ve gotta run – I’ve got full-range activities to attend to.

As goes my workout, so goes my day

I’ve noticed something, recently, about the past several months of my life. For some reason, I tend to “get lost” in the course of my days. I start out knowing what I want to accomplish, and I get off to a good start. But then I get to the late morning/early afternoon, and I start to unravel. I lose my train of thought. I get distracted. I wander off — mentally and sometimes physically — and don’t stay focused on my work.

And my work product suffers.

After a number of months of doing this new job, I am realizing that I’m just not moving quickly enough on the tasks I have on my plate. And people are getting pissed off at me. Rightfully so. I’m overpromising and under-delivering. That’s never a good thing.

What to do? I’ve been taking the psychological approach, trying to figure out what goes on in my head that causes me to do the things I do… and not do the things I’m supposed to. I’ve always been keenly interested in searching for meaning… philosophical and all that. And I’ve had it in my head that if I can just figure out the motivation and underlying psychological reasons for why I do what I do, I can turn it all around.

Well… That works for me up to a certain point, but I still notice that even if I do understand the nature of my problems, that doesn’t mean I’m actually going to do anything about them. I have done a lot of really great work with my neuropsych around getting myself more functional and more engaged in my life. They’ve helped me tremendously. And I’ve had some real breakthroughs with regard to understanding myself better and not selling myself so short all the time.

I’ve come a really long way, in just a few years.

But there’s another piece of this puzzle that has been fitting into the picture behind the scenes. It’s a piece that I haven’t discussed at great length with my neuropsych, because it’s just something I do on a regular basis. It’s now part of my daily routine, and it is as essential and as habitual for me as eating my bowl of healthy cereal with rice milk along with my 1 cup of morning coffee.

That piece is my morning workout. Of all the things that have helped me overcome the cognitive/behavioral effects of TBI, I have to say that exercise is probably one of the most essential ones. Without it — without engaging the body and treating it well — all the psychological knowledge and remediation in the world is literally for naught.

I know this from many years’ experience, tho’ I’ve had to relearn it over the past six months. When I was a kid, I had tremendous difficulties in many areas. Socially, I was clumsy — I either talked too much or not at all, and when I got going, I couldn’t stop. I had issues with confabulation, to the point where most folks thought I was a pathological liar (as I was blithely believing/insisting that I knew what I was talking about!). I was aggressive with some, overly passive with others, and I had a lot of pain issues that kept me from having a lot of physical contact with others. I had trouble looking folks in the eye, and if it weren’t for the parallel imaginary world I created for myself (and participated in, when I was all alone in the woods), I wouldn’t have had any semblance of normal interactions with others — real or imagined — at all.

Then I started to grow up — physically leaping ahead of my peers (endocrine issues from multiple TBIs, perhaps? who knows), and I started to play sports in high school. The regular workouts were very, very good for me. And the structure of the team play probably did more to teach me to interact with others, than any amount of therapy could. My coaches trained me to persevere, to look them in the eye when I talked to them, and to be smart about my races and my events.  They never treated me like I was defective — they treated me like an athlete-in-training, which I was. And when I fell short and didn’t perform up to my level, they walked me through the game/race/event, and taught me to think through what I could do differently to perform better next time — because they were always certain I could do better next time.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of sports in my “rehabilitation” during high school. Of course, it didn’t help that I had a couple of concussions while playing football and soccer, but what long-term benefit I gained from sports has helped me deal with the long-term effects of my history of head trauma.

But most of all — even more than the life skills and attitude adjustments — the purely physical aspects of sport had an amazing effect on me and my function. When I was engaged in team sports, regularly active and challenged physically, I felt so much more… like myself. I had a center. I had a sense of who I was and what was important to me. Practicing and competing and training all kept me fit and oxygenated, and they kept my energy from getting too crazy. The physical exercise actually gave my constant restlessness something to do with itself. In fact, if anything, that constant restlessness (that comes so often with TBI) was an asset, when it came to sports. It kept me going — provided I had something to do with it… as in, exercise.

After years and years of not being engaged in athletic activities, I’m once again back at it. Each day, first thing in the morning — usually before I do anything else — I ride my exercise bike, then stretch, then lift light weights. I also feed the cat and plan my day and boil water for my coffee in the meantime. All told, the routine I follow takes 45-60 minutes of each morning.

Now, I used to balk at the idea of even spending 15 minutes stretching, before I got on with my day. As far as I was concerned, that was too much time to spend. I didn’t have that kind of time to spend on riding the friggin’ exercise bike! I told myself. I need to do something really useful with my time!

Well, as I soon found out, exercising turned out to be the MOST useful use of my time I could imagine. Not only did it actually wake me up — which was something I could never, ever do on my own before… I would pretty  much be sleepwalking till 11 a.m. or so.  But it also really chilled out my whole system for the rest of the day.

Suddenly, I could function like a regular human being. I wasn’t a raging maniac at the end of each day. I could hold civil conversations with my spouse.  I could focus my attention on what they were telling me. And if I started to get lost, all of a sudden, I had the presence of mind to write down my questions and make notes about what they were telling me. And when they were doing things that were jeopardizing our relationship (like hanging around with another disgruntled married person who was into “extra-curricular” activities), I could sit them down and explain to them why doing this was a detriment to our marriage, and they really needed to rethink their relationship with this person, if they wanted our relationship to continue. I was also able to get my head around what I’d been doing to push my spouse away from me, and understand what it was I needed to do to change the course of my behavior.

A year ago, that would have been next to impossible. Even six months ago, it would have been a huge stretch. Because I was out of shape, I was foggy and fuzzy and dull, and there probably wasn’t nearly enough oxygen getting through my system on a regular basis.

I think it’s safe to say that regular exercise has turned my life around. Not the three-times-a-week trip to the gym, but daily, regular, regimented exercise, which is specifically geared to waking me up and getting my body engaged in interacting with the world. As a direct result of working out each morning, I’ve been able to keep relatively afloat at work, as well as chill things out at home. Even more importantly, when things have gotten very tight and tough — particularly with money and uncertainty about the future — being physically well has enabled me to keep a level head. It’s strengthened me in more than just physical ways.

Okay, now that I’ve established that exercise has changed my life for the better, and I’ve gotten into a routine, it’s time for me to change things up a little more. I need to change my exercise for the better. I’ve been noticing that the kind of workout I have in the morning is a pretty good predictor for what kind of day I’m going to have. Thinking back, I can see how I’ve spent a lot of time just going through the motions of working out. I haven’t really pushed myself, I haven’t really paced myself. I have my 20 minutes of pedaling at a so-so rate… then I stretch a bit… then I do my rounds of light weights in the same order every day.

I lift in the same order every day, because that’s the only way I could remember what order to go in, before. I lifted 10 reps of 5 lb weights in alternating directions to strengthen opposing muscles. Bicep curls I followed with triceps extensions. Lifting forward was always followed by lifting backwards. I did really well at balancing it all out. And eventually I got to a place where I could remember the sequence of exercises without looking at my daily exercise sheet. That, in itself, is an accomplishment. Six months ago, I was struggling to remember what exercise I’d done only five minutes before, I and I was dependent on writing everything down. Now, I can go through the whole sequence and remember what I’ve done, so far. I can even stray from the strict routine and have all my exercises accomplished.

Wow. It sounds small and a little dimwittted, but that’s huge for me.

I can remember my morning exercise routine without props. Wow.

Anyway, one thing I’ve noticed is that now that I can remember my routine, I have a tendency to slack off. Go through the motions. Not give it all I’ve got. And it’s time to change it up. Because the days that I really skimp on my workout, are the days that just kind of lollygag along in this sort of blah sequence of what-ever events. I don’t have that spark I need. I don’t have that fire. I don’t have focus and determination. I’m just kind of there. Sure, I’m functional — a sight more functional than I was before — but I’m not really with it the way I’d like to be. I’d like to be more. I’d like to do more. I’d like to be able to go through my day with intention and determination and a sense of accomplishment… not just gratitude that “whew – I made it.”

I’m really feeling badly about my performance at work, actually. I want to do better. I need to do better. And I need to change how I do things. I am in a different kind of job than I have been in, for the past 15 years. There’s more responsibility and more serious thought and planning required, than I’ve ever had to do. There’s more potential for advancement, and more potential to screw up. And because it’s a higher-intensity job, I need to change my approach not only to my work, but also to my workouts. And my day.

And I have to do it in a way that works for me. I have attentional issues. I also have fatigue issues. Things that others find common-sense and workable do not work for me. The whole patiently working through one little step after another… making gradual progress… being steady and careful in a carefully modulated, time-and-energy-budgeted fashion… well, that just doesn’t work for me.

I can’t do the long-slow-march-to-the-ultimate-goal, like others promote. I can’t do the tortoise thing. I know that hares are looked down upon, and that fast-and-furious approaches are poo-poohed by many. But I have tried doing the tortoise thing, and as much as I’d like to make it work, it just doesn’t do it for me. I get too tired. I lose my place. I get disoriented and frustrated and stuck in a cycle of diminishing returns. I need something different. A different pace. Not a 10-mile run, but a series of sprints that are interspersed with ample rest and recuperation.

I need something more like a crossfit approach — high-intensity interval training that:

  • gets my full attention for a set amount of time
  • demands everything I have to give for that set amount of time
  • lets me see that I’ve accomplished something in that burst of intense energy
  • gives me time to take a break, look closely at what I’ve done, gather my strength back, and then fly at what’s next with all my might

This approach may seem extreme to some, but it’s actually a lot more useful to me, than the long, slow, plodding approach. Long, slow plodding puts a huge stress on me, and the repetitive nature of it, as well as the moderate pace, wears away at me. I have attentional issues. I need to be intently and fully focused on what is in front of me. I need to bring all my resources to bear on small pieces of effort… not pace myself over a long haul. The long haul just wears me out. It’s that friggin’ fatigue thing.

So, it’s time for me to get moving. First, I’ve got to get my shower — and I have a timer I use to make sure I don’t spend more than 10 minutes under the water, enticing as that can be. Then I’m off to the chiropractor to treat my central nervous system. Then I’ve got some errands to run, some chores to do… and then it’s time for my nap. I’m getting better at not loading up too much stuff to do, each day. I have fewer things, but I do more. I’m still working on being able to feel good about getting less than 20 things accomplished in a day, but I’m getting there.

I had a good workout this morning — I did intervals on the bike, and I did slow, full-range movement with my weights which really tested me at times. I have dispensed with the isolated exercises — they’re actually hurting my joints — and I’m doing full-range, real-life motions instead, to strengthen my body for what it really does, each day.

This is a good change. It feels strange and disorienting, but it makes total sense for me. And it’s good. Onward.

I haven’t got time for the pain

I haven’t got need for the pain, either.

I confirmed something very important, this past week – if I do not exercise vigorously, first thing in the morning before I do anything else, I pay for it in pain.

For those who know what it is like to battle chronic pain on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly basis, over the course of months, even years, you know what I mean, when I say, I will do anything in my power to keep this pain from taking over my life.

For those who are lucky enough to not have that experience, you can say instead, I will do anything in my power to keep [insert something you detest and despise] from taking over my life.

I happen to be one of the former types, plagued all my born days (at least, as far back as I can remember) with pain. Painful touch. Painful movement. Painful just about everything. The only times I have been pain-free have been in the extremes of human experience — when I am either so deeply engrossed in what I am doing that my focus blocks out any sensation at all… when I am pushing myself beyond my limits to see how far I can go… when I am so deeply relaxed and entranced that nothing of human experience can penetrate the divine aura that surrounds me.

In those extreme places, I am free of pain, I am more than myself, I am a piece of a very, very, very large puzzle that dwarfs discomfort with its vastness.

But one cannot always live in the extremes. I’m neither a cloistered monastic, nor a sheltered academic, nor a professional athlete, nor a maverick rock climber. I am a regular person with a regular life, and that life just happens to be fraught — at times — with almost constant pain.

Ask me if I have a headache on any given day, and my answer will not be “yes” or “no”, but “what kind of headache?” and “where precisely do you mean?” It’s a given, that my  head will hurt. And my body, too. It’s just a question of degrees.

At its worst, the pain is debilitating. 20 years ago, I had to stop working and drop out of life for about 5 years to get myself back on my feet. Over the decades since then, the pain has fluctuated, its impact on my life varying. The variation has been due, in no small part, to my mental determination to not let it stop me. In many cases, I refused to even acknowledge it, even though objectively I knew it was there. I went for years telling myself  I was pain-free, while at night I would be forced to stretch and press points up and down my legs and take plenty of Advil to get myself past the searing ache in my legs, hips, and back.

Denial is a funny thing — so useful, so essential, at times, and so easily used, even when facts to the contrary are obvious and intrusive.

Over the past several years, however, as I’ve become more and more cognizant of my TBI-related issues, pain has made itself known to me, and I have ceased to deny it. It’s a double-edged sword, that. Even if I don’t deny it and am determined to do something about it, my plans don’t always work, and I cannot always accomplish the level of pain control I would like.

In those moments when my honesty is far more than my ability to deal effectively with my discomfort, I curse my newfound determination to be upfront and frank about every little thing that is amiss with me. I have so many other issues to think about — do I need to add unstoppable, unmanageable, uncontrollable pain to the mix? Wouldn’t it make a whole lot more sense, to acknowledge and focus on issues I can actually fix?

But now that the lid is off Pandora’s box, there’s no sticking it back on. I have to address this pain situation, I have to do something about it. I cannot just sit around and boo-hoo. Nor can I run away from it and keep telling myself it’s not an issue. It is an issue. A very sticky, troubling, problematic one that holds me back, perhaps more than any other issue I have. It’s not just physical, it’s emotional and psychological, too. And it demands acknowledgement and work, to address it.

So, I do. I get up in the morning — like it or not — and I exercise. I roll my aching, complaining body out of bed, pull on my sweatshirt over my pajamas, slip my feet into my slippers, grab my clipboard and pen, and I haul my ass downstairs. I fill the kettle with water, put it on the stove, and turn the knob to 3 or 4, to give myself plenty of time to work out before the water boils. Then I pull the curtains in the room where the exercise bike is, so I can work out in private, put my clipboard on the magazine holder on the exercise bike, climb on, make a note of the time I started, and I begin to pedal.

I ride for at least 20 minutes — 15, if I’m really behind in my schedule — and I work up a sweat. I hate and resent the first 10 minues of every ride. It is boring. It is monotonous. It is sheer drudgery. But it is necessary. If I don’t exercise, move lymph through my veins (the milky white substance that moves toxins out of our systems doesn’t move on its own — it requires circulation to clear out the junk we put in), and oxygenate my brain.

After the first 10 minutes, my brain has started to wake up and is complaining less about the ride. About that time, I start to think of things I’m going to do for the day, and I start to make notes. I scribble on my clipboard, trying to control my handwriting well enough to read my notes later, and I make an effort to be careful and legible. On and off, I pick up my pace and push myself, working up a sweat and an oxygen debt that gets my lungs pumping. When I’m warmed up and getting into a groove, my mind wakes up even more, and I let it wander a bit — kind of like letting a squirrelly puppy off its lead when you take it for a walk in the park. I let my thoughts ramble, let my mind race here and there, and then like walking a puppy, I eventually call it back, focus once more on my day, and make more notes about what I need to accomplish.

When I’ve reached my 20-30 minute mark, I stop pedaling, get off the bike, and go check on my hot water. I turn up the heat, if it’s not already boiling, and stretch in the kitchen while the kettle starts to rumble. When the whistle goes, I make myself a cup of strong coffee, and while it’s cooling, I stretch some more. I drink a big glass of water as I stretch, feeling the muscles and tendons and fascia giving way to my insistence. I’m warmed up, after pedaling, so I can stretch more easily. I can move a lot better than when I got out of bed, and I’m actually starting to feel pretty good about doing this exercise thing, as soon as I get up.

Once I’ve stretched, I head back to the exercise room and lift my dumbbells. I work with 5 pound weights (for now), moving slowly and deliberately. I focus intently on my form — practicing my impulse control. I make sure my body is aligned properly and my motions are smooth and not stressing my joints and ligaments and tendons. There’s no point in exercising if I’m going to just injure myself. I do a full range of upper-body exercises, presses, curls, flys, extensions, pull-ups… all the different ways I can move my arms with my 5-lb dumbbells, I work into the third part of my routine. I take my time — deliberately, for discipline and focus and impulse control are big problems for me that really get in my way — and I work up a sweat as I hold certain positions and move far more slowly than I prefer.

When all is said and done, my legs are a little wobbly and my upper body is warm with exertion. I am sweating and a little out of breath, and my body is starting to work overtime to catch up with itself again.

By the time I’m done, my coffee has cooled enough to drink it, and I can make myself a bowl of cereal and cut up an apple to eat.  I sit down with my clipboard again, make more notes, review what I need to accomplish, and I get on with my day.

The days when I skimp on the effort and take it easy, are the days when I am in the most pain at the end of the day. The days when I really push myself with my weights, moving sloooooowly through the motions and keeping myself to a strict form, are the days when I have the most energy and am feeling the most fluid. The days when I don’t stretch very much, are the days I have trouble falling asleep at night. And the days when I do stretch are the ones when I am able to just crash into bed and am down like a log all night.

Two days, this past week, I did not do my workout full justice, and I paid dearly for it, the rest of both days. I learned my lesson. I haul myself out of bed, now, and I hold myself to a disciplined workout. Anything less gets me in trouble.

I’ve got enough trouble, without the pain on top of it. And if there is any way I can cut back on whatever complications I can, I’ll do what I can to do just that.

It’s hard to start, it can be tedious to do, and it often feels like an interruption to my morning, but without it, my day is toast. And I am lost at sea… floating in a brine of burning, searing agony that surely must have informed the medieval concept of eternal hellfire and brimstone.

And yet, something so simple can push back the waves, like Moses parted the Red Sea. Something so simple, so basic, so good for me. Salvation comes in strange packages, sometimes. But it’s salvation nonetheless, so I’ll take it.

After all, I’ve got much better things to do with my life than suffer needlessly.

Remembering how good it feels to move

Changing the cat’s litter box, last night, on a whim, I hoisted the 20-lb bag of litter and did 10 overhead presses, just for the feel of it. Pressing against the weight felt good, in a way I remembered from my youth. In high school, I was a thrower in track and field, and lifting heavy weights overhead was a regular part of our training.

To this day, I still have pretty well-developed upper body strength. It’s diminshed, over the past five years or so, since my fall down the stairs and my “decision” to quit going to the gym. But I still walk with a thrower’s posture — poised for action, and leading with my shoulders.

It feels good to move. I had forgotten that, over my years of post MTBI inactivity. I became intensely uncomfortable in public places, and I became almost agorophobic in ways. I also became a lot more sedentary, just sitting for hours, literally doing nothing. Strange, how that goes.

But in the past several months, since I started getting on the exercise bike and riding, I’ve rediscovered how good it feels to move. Just to exercise, to engage my muscles in motion. To feel the blood rushing through my veins, the breath quickening in my lungs. And sweat trickling down my torso — a feeling I had all but forgotten.

And when I spontaneously lifted that bag of litter over my head and did 10 quick presses, my muscles warmed with a welcome glow, and part of me remembered — I used to know how to do this. And I used to do it a lot.

It’s true. I did used to do it a lot. In the years before my fall in 2004, I was a regular at the gym, and the “extra” weight I carried was all muscle. My doctor would lecture me, when I got on the scales and they showed I was “over”, but when I rolled up my sleeve and flexed my bicep, they stopped complaining at me being 10 pounds “overweight”.

I haven’t seen that doctor in quite a few years. I’ve moved on. My new doctor has never seen me in peak physical condition, and they don’t know I’m capable of it.

But what nobody probably knows — or would guess from looking at me — is that my body responds extremely well to exercise, especially weight training. Perhaps it was my athletic youth that set the stage. Perhaps it’s just a genetic thing. My dad has always been lithe and athletic, and he’s pretty much kept in shape over the years, as his brothers and friends have all gone to pot. On my mom’s side, my grandfather is also wiry and fit, despite pushing 100 years of age. Now, the women on both sides of my family tend to be heavier, which is where I’ve been leaning. But as a kid, I always took after my dad’s looks and build, so I’m guessing (hoping) that once I get past this lumpish existence, I can restore at least some of that past grandeur. Not all of it, perhaps… no, wait — why not all of it? Why not go even farther? Why not get even more fit? When I was weight training regularly, I consciously held back from my workouts, not wanting to bulk up so much that I’d have to work like the dickens to maintain it over time. I know for a fact, I could have gotten even more fit, back then. Why not do it now?

Why not indeed?

Well, anyway, first things first — I need to ease into this, so I don’t injure myself right out of the gate. I’ll need to use lighter weights from the get-go, so my muscles can get re-acclimated to moving in that specialized way. I’ll need to make sure I do some light lifting on a regular basis, and ease into the heavier weights slowly but surely. And I’ll leave plenty of time for rest. If there’s one thing that knocks the stuffing out of weight-trainers and compromises the quality of their training, it’s lack of rest. And poor nutrition. In training, I’ll need to eat right — and have plenty of protein. Keep the carbs as complex as I can get them — but don’t eliminate them entirely. My brain needs to quality glucose. No sense in getting physically fit, if my brain suffers as a result!

Balance. It’s all about balance. And as a former thrower, I know all too well what improper balance can do to someone who’s handling very heavy weights. It’s a recipe for serious injury. I’ve already been injured — plenty of times. The last thing I need, is more.

So, onward and upward. Back to the movements. Back to the sensation. Back to the muscle and sweat and fitness.

Back…