Putting Anxiety to Good Use

river winding through green landscape

I had a really good weekend. I made a lot of progress, and I got a lot of plans in place that I think are really going to help me get stuff done. I didn’t clean my gutters, which I really needed to do. And there were a few other things I need to do this morning, to catch up. But all in all, it was a good and satisfying weekend.

My top achievement was getting rid of some serious distractions that have been pulling my attention in all different ways. Those are old projects I was very fond of… and that I was very fond of thinking I’d ever finish. As it turns out, because I had too many things going at the same time, I never advanced down the path I was hoping to, which resulted in me getting nothing done.

So, that’s stopped.

And that’s a big deal for me. Because distraction and dissipate have been regular themes in my life, for as long as I can remember. I’m not sure what’s changed with me, but suddenly I don’t feel drawn to spread myself so thin.

Part of it might be getting a hold of my anxiety. Or just using it for something productive, instead of trying to get rid of it entirely. For quite some time, I’ve tried to manage my anxiety by calming myself down. But at the end of last week, I realized that anxiety is actually a really potent source of energy for me. And it’s constant. It never really goes away.

So, I can use up all my time and energy and attention trying to control / manage something that’s always there, anyway. Or I can redirect the energy into something productive. And really kick it.

That’s what I’ve been doing for the past several days. Kicking it, using my anxiety. Not trying to calm myself down, but directing my energy into something useful. Making plans. Creating a new pace for myself. Letting that old companion anxiety propel me forward…  Turning that often-unwelcome companion into a friend.

And it’s working out pretty well, I have to say. After years and years of being so dissipated and distracted by, well, just about everything, I feel like I have a much better understanding of how my system works — and how it can work for me.

Of course, none of this would have been possible, if I hadn’t worked at my TBI recovery intentionally and with a lot of trial-and-error. I can tell my brain is behaving more, these days, because I’m actually able to focus. I used to be able to do it, at will. Then I fell in 2004, and that went away. I couldn’t manage much of anything, concentration-wise. That’s something that’s come back over time, with lots and lots of practice and (again) trial-and-error. I’ve let myself make mistakes. That’s how I learn. And I gave up worrying about “failure” in the process, which always helps.

So, yes. This is good. I’ve got my mandate for the next year — maybe two. I’m only focusing on one major project, for 2019, funneling my anxious energy into taking steps to do something about each hurdle I come up against — which are many. I will keep this blog going, because it helps me keep my head on straight and also keep focused on what’s most important to me. But I’m not working on a bunch of other side projects that I had going, lo those many years.

And, ironically, that tames my anxiety. Using it for something good not only lets it just be without judgment or blockage, but it also gives it somewhere to go. Like a rushing river, when I let it just flow and direct it in a certain direction, it takes me on some really interesting turns. Instead of damming it up and trying to control it, I just let it flow… and I ride that wave.

Which is good.

And overdue.

Onward.

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Taking it easy… sort of

work sign showing person shoveling a pile of dirtI’m doing my version of “taking it easy” today.

Basically, I’m working on my projects that have been on the back burner for weeks and weeks. Five weeks, pretty much. Count them – five. Ouch. Especially considering how psyched I was about finally getting back into them, about a month ago.

Then I had to travel.

Then I got tired.

Then I had to travel some more.

Then I was exhausted.

I’ve spent the past week swamped at work – two very late-night working sessions, and both nights not getting much sleep at all.

It was really demoralizing and depleting.

But — ha! — now I’m back.

I’ve had the whole day to myself today, to do as I pleased. And it’s been good. I didn’t do the errands I typically have to do on Saturday mornings, because, well, they’ll keep. Those errands aren’t going anywhere, and I needed the down time… the time to just sink into my passion projects and not be governed by someone else’s timeframes, deadlines, limitations.

Even though I worked really hard, this morning, it was very much a vacation from all the intense work at the office, as well as the care-taking for my spouse. Oh, also, my spouse has been ill, so I’ve been doing even more care-taking this week, than I did when we were traveling. And that’s a lot. Nearly constant attention paid. Lots of interruptions. And a trip to the doctor, as well as wrangling with the pharmacist who didn’t understand why I was asking all those questions about the type of medication that was prescribed. My spouse is extremely sensitive to meds, and the pills given before made them violently ill.

So, yeah. I’m going to ask questions. Too bad. At least I kept my wits about me and didn’t yell at anyone. That’s helpful.

Anyway, I spent a great deal of time this morning (and early afternoon) mapping out specific steps I can follow to make the most of my time and not make myself crazy in the process. Now that I have it figured out (mostly), I can move forward.

I hate not knowing what direction to take. It stops me. It blocks me. I’m not a fan.

Anyway, duty calls. I’ve got some things I must take care of this evening, so I’ll sign off for now. I am very much looking forward to this next week, when I’ll have five days off work… to continue to make progress.

 

Sometimes it helps to make a bit of a mess

I spilled water yesterday morning, while I was making my coffee. Twice. Oh, well. It was easily cleaned up. And when I did wipe it up, I also cleaned the counter, which had the odd spot and speck on it.

After the small pond had been sopped up, the whole counter was cleaner, and so was that corner of the kitchen.

I worked most of the day yesterday. Catching up with things I’d fallen behind on. I got an early start and worked through the evening, till late. I took a nap around 4 pm and then got up and go at it again.

It may sound like a lot to do, but it’s actually really relaxing. I actually got to sort out all the things I couldn’t get to during the week, for sheer lack of time.

I love my job. I really do. And it loves me — so much, that I’ve got this never-ending stream of things I love to do… that I need to do. It’s kind of a drag, having so much to do, that you can’t enjoy the things you’re taking care of, but that’s kind of where I’m at. Not much time to relax and recoup. Management has some odd (and fairly uninformed) ideas about what makes people effective. They seem to think that constant change and shifting priorities are exciting.

If you consider adrenal exhaustion exciting, then I suppose it is.

Anyway, I did get a lot done, and I got to do it at my own pace — thoughtfully, mindfully, with an eye on the larger picture. Good stuff. When all was said and done, I didn’t feel like I’d been working — just doing my thing and enjoying it.

I’ve got a new sleeping approach that’s working pretty well for me — not worrying about getting a full 8 hours (and stressing about it, if I don’t), but taking intermittent naps, and pacing myself with time-outs that let me deeply relax. I’ve also found some stretches and pressure points in my neck and lower back that seem to be like “switches” that put me into an incredible state of full-body relaxation when I do them. It’s pretty amazing. I do progressive relaxation at times, working from my toes to my head… but these stretches and points are like an instant shot of relaxation.

Amazing.

Another amazing thing is that I’ve realized that it’s not so much the lack of sleep that wrecks me, as it is stressing about lack of sleep. Getting all tense and uptight just wears me out even more. Of course, it’s not optimal to be running around on 6 hours of sleep each day — and running at a pretty fast pace, too, I might add. But I find that if I don’t stress over it, and I incorporate things like regular stretches throughout the day, as well as naps when I can get them, I can stay in a pretty good space.

When I tense up and get all tight, it actually drains more energy from me. Even with 8 hours of sleep, if I’m stressed and tight, I feel/do worse, than if I have 6 hours and relax into the day.

Mindfulness, too — I have to stay mindful and present and pay attention to what I’m doing. If I get 9 hours of sleep but am just driving myself mindlessly through the day, things have a way of getting completely screwed up. In fact, there’s something challenging about being fully rested. I get so amped up, I tend to overdo it.

Well, it’s all an adventure and an experiment. I got a lot done over the weekend, which makes me really happy. And I found some techniques for instant relaxation, which makes me even happier. I never thought it was possible to feel this good about such mundane things. But I do.

🙂

I finished reading a book

Here’s a blast from the past. About a year ago, I wrote this post (but forgot to publish it), absolutely giddy about having finished reading a book. Looking at where I’m at now, it’s pretty amazing the changes I’ve been through. After not having been able to get through an entire book in years (although one of my favorite pastimes was always reading), last November, I actually finished reading a book.

Here’s the post:

November, 2009

Yesterday afternoon at about 3:30 p.m., I finished reading Aging with Grace, the book about the Nun Study of those long-lived School Sisters of Notre Dame, which explores how and why some people live long and never succumb to Alzheimer’s or dementia, and why others may be more vulnerable. This book has a lot of meaning to me, because as a multiple TBI survivor, I’m statistically more vulnerable to dementia, and about the last thing I want, is to be incapacitated and demented later in life. No thanks…

I found a number of tips and clues about what you can do to avoid dementia — even if you do have some brain degeneration — and I read reports of nuns who had all the signs of advanced Alzheimer’s, but no symptoms whatsoever before they died. Sounds good to me.

I’m invigorated by this new information. I highly recommend it to anyone. And I’m even more invigorated by the fact that I actually finished the book! It took me a month to read all 219 pages, but I did it!!!

This would not be big news for most people I know. Most people I know read books as a matter of course, and when they start a book, they generally finish it (unless it’s truly awful and/or they run out of time). I, on the other hand, have not finished reading a book I started in a number of years. It’s hard for me to remember the last time I actually reached the last page of a book I started.

Let me walk around my study, looking for a book I know I’ve read cover to cover… Let’s see… I am reasonably certain I’ve read about 56 of the books in my study, which constitute maybe 10% of the total on my bookshelves. And the  most recent one I finished prior to Aging with Grace was consumed in a hurry back in 2006. I may have read something from cover to cover in 2007, but I cannot recall.

Now, mind you, I have tons of books, but most of them I’ve only read the first couple of chapters, if that. It’s a lifelong habit that goes way back to when I was a kid, and I never even really realized it was a problem, until this past year or so, when I started to take a long, hard look at my reading habits — or lack thereof — in the context of my TBIs.

It’s a complicated issue — part difficulty with the material, part difficulty with keeping focused on the material. I can be really distractable, so I often end up wandering off on cognitive tangents, when I’m reading. But part of what feeds my distractability, I think, is the fatigue that sets in after I’ve been reading for a while, as well as the discouragement I feel when I realize my eyes have been skimming pages for the last half hour, and I cannot remember what I just read. It’s complicated. And it sucks. And it never occurred to me before that I might have difficulty reading. I’m such an avid infovore — I’m usually reading something. Who would guess that reading is such a challenge for me?

It’s taken some adjusting to get used to this fact. And the adjustment has been as much of a hit to my self-image as anything else. I was always known as a bookworm. Much of my knowledge comes from books. If I’ve been reading at substandard level all these years without knowing it… and also not grasping a lot of what I was reading… what does that say about me, as a person? Does it completely invalidate many of the beliefs and assertions I’ve had about myself, for over 4 decades? It’s troubling to think so.

But now that I know reading is a problem for me, I can take steps to do something about it.  And that’s good. I literally cannot live this way, not being able to read a book from cover to cover. I am NOT going to continue in life this way. Something must be done. I need a plan. Here’s my plan — which so far has worked well, the first time through.

I need to acclimate myself to reading for longer periods of time, by reading for fun and pleasure, getting up to speed with that, and then starting to read for learning and understanding. I need to practice regularly and build up my stamina, and also develop different strategies for how to handle the material I absorb.

First, for the fun reading, I need to identify a topic that interests me which will stimulate me. I need to have some investment in the material, some payoff, some reward that comes with it. Preferably, I need to find something to read that also has “companion” material, like a movie that was made of it. I need to have the information presented in different formats, that different parts of my brain can “hook into”.

I chose The Bourne Identity, because it’s an action adventure novel that’s broken into relatively short chapters. It’s also got a movie made of it that is one of my favorites, and I have visuals of the action to prompt me as I read along

Second, I need to set aside time to read. I have to have time to do it, when I have time to rest either before or afterwards, or both.

I do this on the weekends. I take naps on the weekends to catch up with my rest. And I read during the afternoons.

Third, I need to gradually increase the amount of time I spend reading. I pay attention to how much time I’m spending, how I’m feeling, how my pace is. And I really congratulate myself, when I’ve read more than 10 pages at a sitting and understood what was being said the whole way through.

I can do this, but I also need to make sure I’m not tiring myself out. I need to make special efforts to reward and praise myself for having read as long as I have. I tend to get down on myself and think I’m stupid, when I’m not reading well, and I assume that it should be easy for me. But my reading has never been as strong as I always thought, and since my fall in 2004, it’s got even worse.

Fourth, I will then transfer my stamina and interest and good experiences with action/adventure fiction to my other non-fiction reading. And I must pace myself, gradually working my way up, again, and re-reading the things that I didn’t get the first time around. I need to keep an action/adventure book on hand, to keep my interest bolstered. I don’t worry so much about finishing the fiction in a timely manner. It’s more for the sake of keeping my spirits up and having a good experience while reading, so I can focus my more intent energies on the non-fiction/professional reading.

This is what I’ve been doing, on and off, with Aging With Grace over the past month. And now that I’ve done it and see that it works(!) I am ready to move on to my professional reading.

This is such important work. My survival and success depends on it. I’ve got a bunch of books I bought in the past that I need to read for work, but I haven’t been able to crack them. Now, I’ve got to do it.  Now I have a strategy and a plan, and I’ve proved (at least once) that it works. Reading really is fundamental. And the fact that I have done it with Aging With Grace has really lit a fire under me.

But before I go any further, it’s time for my Sunday afternoon nap.

‘Cause I’m not ten years old, anymore

Source: jon.swanson

While fixing supper tonight, it occurred to me that a lot of what I felt when I heard about the nickname at work reminded me of how I felt when I was in fifth grade, and a couple of kids took an intense dislike to me and teased me mercilessly throughout the school year. I was made a laughingstock over and over again — they said I was weird and clumsy and dorky and strange, and more…. I had a hard time understanding what people were saying to me, because they had different accents than I was used to. Plus, I had a lot of problems with ear infections and “stuffy” ears. But I sure as hell could understand what they were saying to/about me — I was a reject, a loser, an outsider, a freak. When I started fifth grade, I was so determined to prove that I was as good as anybody else. My family had just moved to the area, and I was determined to prove how I was a regular kid like everyone else. Except that I wasn’t. I had a host of problems that nobody could pinpoint, and certainly nobody could fix. For all my determination to do well and fit in, I nearly flunked out of school, and I spent most of my time on the defensive against kids who made fun of me, or outright physically attacked me. I decided I wouldn’t let it get to me. I kept a stiff upper lip and resolved to not let anyone bother me, no matter how badly they treated me.

Anyway, tonight while my spouse was out running errands while I cooked, I had some time to ponder the past few days. And it occurred to me that this feeling I have of being in a new place with new people is a lot like the disorientation I felt in fifth grade. And it occurred to me that my reaction to the (perhaps good-natured) ribbing at work might be harking back to the past times (fifth grade was only one such time) when I resorted to forced good humor and defiance to deal with people being incredibly cruel to me.

See, this is the weird thing about having sustained brain injuries when I was younger. All those difficulties that I had weren’t standard-issue growing up problems. They were worse. Confusing. Perplexing. Undiagnosed. Intolerable. But they actually either resolved in some cases, or I grew out of parts of them, or I adjusted and came up with compensatory strategies to offset them. But even though I’m not dealing directly with those old problems, it feels like I still am. I have grown up and matured and learned to deal with a whole lot of crap. I’m a adult, living an adult life. But I still have this nagging remainder of old “stuff” that colors my choices and my decisions and my reactions.

Someone starts teasing me in a novel situation, and all of a sudden, I feel like I’m ten years old again, working overtime running after everyone — “Hey, wait up!” Listening to them laughing at me. Watching them ditch me. Hearing the whispers behind my back. Bracing for the hit.

But I’m not ten years old anymore. I’m not in fifth grade. I’m not a laughingstock. I’m a highly trained professional who brings a lot of great stuff to the table. And the people I’m working with… well, they want me. The ones that matter, anyway.

Okay, now that’s settled. Time to go to bed.

But what do I really want to do?

I’m in a quandary. The job I’m in, while a step up for me, is not going… it’s just not. Leadership at work is being swapped out, and there’s a full-on political war brewing. The body count is starting to rise.

I don’t think I’m up to the skirmishes, frankly. I’ve been on the receiving end of some pretty vindictive crap, lately, driven at least in part by the fact that I’m actually getting things done, while others are simulating effectiveness. And they seem to think I’m making them look bad.

But in other ways, I’m not quite living up to my promise. I have been having some trouble finishing things I start, and the disparity between what I say I’m going to do, and what really gets done, is a little stark at times. It’s tough, because there is only me working on my projects. I have no team, I have no teammates, I have no support. And the project I’m in charge of is incredibly unpopular in certain camps.

One of the big problems I’m having, is that I just don’t have my heart in this work, anymore. The company morale is very low, people are unhappy and in-fighting, and there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of this tunnel. The work I used to love to do, has become a chore, and it’s a shame. Because I love the work. I do it on my own time, in my own way, because I love it. I do it a lot, and I don’t get paid for everything I do for this company. Hours upon hours of work… for the sake of the work.

I’m really feeling boxed in. I want to love what I do… again. I want to love it because I love it, not because someone else tells me to do it. In a way, I wish I didn’t have the stuff I love be part of what I do for a living. Making it part of my job — a job I do for a company that tends to mistreat me and everyone else working there — sours the experience, and I’m left feeling resentful and angry… when I’m doing the work I love to do most.

Sigh… I guess I need to look for a new job. I actually did some searching today and found a couple of possibilities. Polished my resume and sent it off to a couple of really good co’s in the vicinity. We’ll see what happens. All I know is, something’s gotta give, and it’s time for me to move on. I’ve taken this ride as far as it can go, and it’s time to look into other options.

I’m sure it sounds strange, that I’m talking about going out and finding another job in this economy, but if you know where to look and you have the right skills (which can be learned for free, by the way), you needn’t lack for work.

What do I want to do?

All or nothing – for real

I have been looking at my notes from the past days, seeing what I’ve gotten accomplished, and what I haven’t.

There is a whole hell of a lot I have not gotten accomplished, that I have been promising myself I would. Some of the things I have not done are serious. They are job-related. Survival-related. Pay-related.

I cannot NOT do them. But that’s what I’ve been doing.

Not.

I’ve also been thinking about how long it took me to realize that my fall in 2004 had affected me the way it had. Some call it “denial.” Some call it a “cognitive blind spot.” I call it “not sinking in because I have so many other things to think about.” Things like stray distractions that come across my path that for some strange reason I cannot resist following. Like a mynah bird. Magpie me.

The really freaky thing is, I ‘got’ that my concussions as a kid had affected me tremendously, when I was young. The discipline problems. The meltdowns. The outbursts. The getting kicked out of class because I was too much of a handful and nobody knew what else to do with me. I also ‘got’ that the concussions of my childhood had affected my development and made it difficult for me to really function as a regular adult throughout most of my life. Certainly, I did a great impression on the surface, keeping a job (well, a series of jobs) and getting married and settling down and doing important things.

But nobody on the outside ever saw what went on inside. And very few people ever knew what living with me was really like.

The fact that my spouse has stood by me all these years is nothing short of a miracle.

Anyway, the reason I bring up my cluelessness about the impact of my fall in 2004, is that it’s the same kind of obliviousness that I now sense, around my work and the things I have let slide. It’s like I’ve been in this haze, this wandering-about fog, where my brain is busy thinking about everything except what it’s supposed to think about. And that happily distracted piece of me is quite content to not give much thought to my work.

But I must change this. Because focused attention is what helps restore my everyday function, one task at a time. I hate that I have to approach just about everything I do like some rehabilitation exercise, but I do. I just do. I have to make extra effort to get things started, and I have to make extra effort to stay on track, and I have to make extra effort to finish what I start.

I don’t like it. I hate it, in fact. But that’s how it is. That’s how it is with me.

So, I’ll make the extra effort.

And yes, I’ve decided to drop my shrink, once and for all, because they keep encouraging me to not work so hard, not be so hard on myself, not expect too much of myself.

That’s no way to recover. I need to recover, and not give up. I need to treat each and every day like a chance to recover some part of me I’ve lost — or am in danger of losing, if I don’t pay extra attention. I just can’t end up like the football players and other professional athletes who end up demented and/or dead long before their time, because they had no idea what they were doing to their brains, and they never found out what they could do to fix them — or probably ever realized that they needed to fix anything.

Enough of the blind spots. Enough of the denial. Enough of letting things slide and acting like that’s okay. I have to keep sharp. I don’t want to fade away. I don’t want to end up demented and dazed, because I was too dazed and/or lazy to put in the extra effort to keep my brain healthy and engaged.

I need to be healthy. I need to be engaged. Like the nuns in the Nun Study in “Aging With Grace” I need to keep disciplined and focused and not give in to my lazy streak… the streak in me and my broken brain that loves to wander around and follow whatever little distraction comes along. My brilliant mind knows better than to do that all the live-long day.

I must do better. Each and every day is an occupational therapy opportunity. I need to get back what I’ve lost – and make sure I don’t lose what I’ve worked so hard to get.

I’ve decided not to fire my therapist… yet

Note: I unpublished this post from 2009, for some reason. But reading it again today, it still seems very important to mention. So, I’ve published it again.

I’ve been agonizing a bit over my therapist, lately. And it’s kept me up at night, which is not good. I had intended to come back from Thanksgiving and fire them, since I have not felt like they are totally supportive of my recovery, and in some ways, the innuendos that they toss my way.

They’ve said things like, “You may have to settle for making less money because of your issues,” when I was talking about my job challenges and how frustrated I am with the high tech industry and my future prospects. I was frustrated with my own difficulties, yes, but my frustration was also due to the changing industry and the flood of young guns who are showing up (not necessarily knowing what they’re doing) and snapping up jobs for lower rates, which is a problem for seasoned pros like myself.

I was telling them about trying to repair a relationship I have with someone who is 15 years older than me, and this therapist said “Well, they are getting older, so you can only expect so much of them.” As though this friend of mine were impaired, simply due to their age. And they weren’t going to get any better over time, which meant (in their mind), I had to just accept the flaws in the relationship and take what little I could get, not have high hopes, not have high expectations, not have high… anything.

Truly, that makes me crazy. I am 100% committed to my recovery, and restoring myself to the highest level of functioning that is humanly (even inhumanly) possible. I know the human species is built for amazing things. I’ve watched Cirque de Soleil, and once you see — really see — them, you realize that more is possible than you ever dreamed. I’ve hauled my ass out of some pretty tight spots in my life, some of which looked hopelessly dire.  I’ve had my ass spared from some pretty shocking fates, through total flukes, coincidence, apparent divine intervention, and the kindness of strangers. I’ve been homeless, and I’ve been in the top 10% of the world’s wealthy. I’ve  been bullied and feted. I’ve won blue ribbons, and I’ve defaulted and fouled out. I’ve experienced a fairly wide gamut of human experiences, and since I’m only in my 40s, I don’t expect to stop doing that anytime soon.

For this therapist to tell me what is and is not possible, what I should or should not expect from life, is not only out of line, but flat out wrong.

Yes, it drives me crazy. The problem is, it drives me crazy in retrospect. ‘Cause I’m having trouble keeping up. The conversations we have tend to take on a life of their own and really speed up, to where I’m flying by the seat of my pants, trying to at least appear like I know what I’m talking about. I have been quite nervous with this shrink from the start. I’m not sure exactly why. Maybe it’s that they have these multiple degrees, and they carry themself like God’s gift. Maybe it’s that they’re very well-connected and I’m intimidated by their influence and power. Whatever the reason, when I’m in session, I get nervous. And I think they do, too, because they know I work for a very big and powerful company that is an imposing monolith in the region where we live. Yes, I suspect they’re quite nervous with me, too, and we both set each other off, so the conversations we have tend to jump around and pick up speed, and things get said that I can’t react to in the moment, ’cause I’m back on the last thought, trying to sort out what they meant when they said “_____”

Keeping up has always been a challenge for me, but all those successive challenges have been building up to critical mass. They’ve said a lot of things to me, and I’ve just nodded and uh-huh‘ed my way through the conversation, and then later realized what they said and what I really thought about it. And then, time after time, I’ve gotten upset and tweaked, because I haven’t been able to stand up for myself and set the record straight.

It drives me crazy, not being able to speak up at the instant something is not quite right. And it’s something I need to deal with.

Which is why I’m not firing them… right away.

What I really need to do, is get some practice standing up for myself and working with conversations in a common-sense way. My processing speed is slower than one would expect. That’s been well-established with testing. I also have difficulties understanding what I’m hearing. That also showed up on my neuropsych evaluation. And I have a long history of holding back and not engaging in conversations with people, because I’m trying to figure out in my head what just happened… but my head is not cooperating.

What I really need to do, is develop my skill at having these kinds of conversations, and mastering them in the moment, when they are causing me problems. Not run away right away, but stick with it, and see if I can sort things out — be very, very honest about what I’m thinking, ask for clarification, stop the action periodically to see if I’m following correctly, and not let this therapist make me feel less-than, because I’ve sustained a bunch of concussions over the course of my life.

This is very important practice. Handling conversation is a skill I must learn – even at this “late” date. Because this sort of muck-up doesn’t just happen with them, and it doesn’t just mess me up in therapy. It has messed me up at home, in the past, but I’ve been doing a lot better with it, since my spouse and I have been approaching our discussions and exchanges with my post-concussive state in the backs of our minds. It sometimes messes me up at work, too — the saving grace with work is that I interact with people on a daily basis, and I can check in with people again after the fact, and get clarification. And use email to get it in writing. And check with others to make sure I’ve got things straight in my head.

But not every exchange I have with people manageable with email and foll0w-ups and a deep understanding of my neurological issues. I have the whole outside world I have to deal with, and I need to deal with it well and effectively.

So, I will not be firing my therapist right away. I need to learn to deal with them more directly, to have conversations with them that are not one-sided, but are full conversations — (putting the “con-” which means “with” in “conversation”). I need to get with the conversations we’re having and participate. Even if it means slowing things down and feeling dense in the process. If I can get away from feeling stupid about not following at lightning speed… if I can figure out a different way of thinking about my processing speed being slowed down… if I can find another way of framing my interactive needs… that would be helpful.

Because the way I’m framing it now:

“You’re stupid to be this slow, so you’d better keep up, even if it’s at the cost of not following exactly. And by all means, never let them see that you’re struggling. You have your pride, after all.”

Well, that’s just not working.

Truly, I really don’t have the time to waste on relationships that undermine me. But this pattern with this therapist is part of a larger pattern I need to address. I need to practice having conversations with people that involve me, as well as them. And I need to slow down the pace, so I can have a fully involved exchange, not some mad dash to the finish line. What I really crave is quality of life. To be involved in my own life. To not just put on a good appearance, but also have a full experience — good, bad, or otherwise.

It’s all very well and good, if I look like I’m fine. But if I’m not fully present in the moment, when I’m looking the part, then the life I’m leading is not fully mine. It’s everybody else’s but mine.

Feeling normal. Normal is good.

Back from Thanksgiving for real, now… Back in the swing of things at work, where everything is going crazy for year-end. They had another round of layoffs at work, but I was magically spared.

I’m pluggin’ away at my new job, rallying back after what was a less than stellar review of my first cut at the project I’m working on. Must be smart about this. Will be smart about this. Will use fewer pronouns, so I think faster 😉

But I’m tired. Tired and ready to just relax. After my 10 p.m. call tonight, when people overseas complete a job I asked them to do, and I check their work.

Still digesting Thanksgiving time. And trying to find space in my schedule to just take a break. One of my coworkers stopped by earlier today, saying they didn’t have enough work, and they were just occupying themselves with other things. I wasn’t sure what to say. I’d give anything to have less work — but this way I’m safe(r) from layoffs, I guess, which is good.

The main challenge I’m facing today, is accepting the fact that I had a normal Thanksgiving and I’m having a normal life. A normal life with average expectations. It’s to be expected that this new line of work will tire me out. And it’s to be expected that I can share time with my family and not melt down or lose it or freak out on them. It’s to be expected — today, anyway. In past years, not so much.

So, I’m tired, yes, but I’m still grateful. I’m grateful that I am having a normal life, with all its ups and downs. I’m grateful that I had a good time with my family. Most of all, I’m grateful that I am actually feeling normal. What a change this is, after 40-some years of NOT feeling normal.

I think I’ll celebrate Thanksgiving through the end of the year.

Seeking balance

Every morning I get up and exercise. I don’t always want to, but I do it anyway. As I’m working out, I often have to run through a whole list of reasons why I am doing it, why it’s a good idea, and what I will gain from the experience. I’ve made an agreement and a contract with myself  to do this each morning — in part, to avoid having to go on medication for my trouble waking up in the morning, in part, because it just feels so good to have exercised… after the fact.

One of the big payoffs that I promise myself I’ll enjoy, is improved balance. I have always had vestibular problems (which might have contributed to my falls when I was a kid?), and on and off, I still have trouble with dizziness and lightheadedness. I’m regularly concerned with the threat of additional falls or accidents, due to my intermittently poor balance.

Exercise, it’s my understanding, helps with balance, by strengthening the muscles we use to keep upright. (Especially strengthening the muscles of the pelvic floor — the muscles that keep your internal organs vertical, as well as connect the parts of your pelvis/hips.) It makes sense to me.  I’ve heard that the elderly become more prone to falls if they are weak, so strengthening the muscles with some basic exercises — like I do in the morning, each day — can go a long way towards keeping you stable in a vertical position.

I recently came across the blog Balance Chicago, which talks about vestibular rehabilitation. I will be checking them out, from time to time, as losing my balance is one of the most hazardous things that can happen to me – especially if I’m at the top of a flight of stairs or I am doing something physically strenuous. Falling is a major cause of head injuries — and my most serious TBIs have been due to falling. Out of trees. Down stairs. While playing sports…

But physical balance is only one piece of my puzzle, albeit a very important one.

Just as important to me are emotional and mental balance.  Exercise helps me work out my agitation, first thing in the morning, and it helps me train myself to pay attention to what I’m doing for extended periods AND focus on my form, which also contributes to impulse control. And when I have focus and can manage my attention properly, I find myself more emotionaly and mentally centered.

That’s especially important, this time of year. Thanksgiving is coming up, and with it comes a shift in my daily activities. This could really throw me, if I’m not properly prepared, because I rely on my routine to keep myself stable and sane. Additionally, at the same time that my major support, routine, is being disrupted, more demands are being made on me, in terms of activities and more social interaction. Without proper preparation, it’s a recipe for disaster.

And the fact that I never adequately planned or prepared in the past, is probably a big reason why the holidays in general have been so challenging and traumatic for me.

This year, I’m doing it differently. Together with my spouse and my neuropsych, I am spending a fair amount of time planning and prepping and thinking through the trip out of state to see my biological family. I am walking myself through the days, ahead of time, seeing where I can fit in my exercise routine… checking the weather for the area I’ll be in, so I can tell in advance if I need to take rain gear or not, and I can tell if I’ll need to really motivate myself to get out of the house, first thing in the morning. Next Thursday through Sunday look all clear — a good thing — with highs in the 40s and 50s. So, the weather should not be a discourager for me.

This makes me so happy! 😀

The shift in schedule is also causing me (yet again) to see how important regular routines are for me — and to realize that not having a regularly scheduled time with a psychotherapist is a problem that needs to be solved. My last therapist always had me in the same time slot, with rare exceptions. That was much more doable for me. The next therapist I see needs to make a regular appointment for me. That’s non-negotiable. Well, to a certain point… within reason, of course.

Again, balance is important.

Anyway, one of the other things that’s been in the back of my mind is that this Thanksgiving weekend is the 5-year anniversary of my fall down the stairs of the house I’ll be visiting. I lost my balance at the top of a very steep staircase, and I went down hard, hitting the back of my head on the steps a number of times. And from that point on, my life changed in subtle but rapidly worsening ways, till it was almost too late before I realized something was terribly, terribly wrong with me and my life.

It upsets me so much, that I lost so much — a critical chunk of time out of my promising career, my retirement nest egg, my savings, my credit… and I almost lost my marriage in the process. My inability to parse out what was going on with me caused a lot of things to deteriorate terribly around me, and I’m just now starting to battle back. But I’m battling. And I’m getting back. I’m making amazing progress…

And I need to remind myself of that. Because if I don’t, I get out of balance again, and I start focusing on all the things I’ve done wrong and have messed up.

I don’t want to do that. I want to have a good mix of positives and negatives. I want to be able to see all the amazing progress I’ve been making, over the past few years. And I need to measure my success by new measures that recognize the hidden difficulties I have, and accurately assess my true progress.

I have another appointment with my neuropsych tomorow, who is helping me think through my plans for the holidays. I’m unbelievably fortunate to have this person in my life, and I’m glad that I can help them, too, by doing as well as I am. They’ve told me that I inspire and encourage them, though I’m sometimes not sure why they would say such a thing.

Well, it’s not for me to decide what they should or should not think of me and my progress. It’s just nice to have someone who can objectively understand my issues and truly appreciate my progress — to balance out the people can’t, won’t, and don’t.