The up-sides of the down-sides

construction worker with ratchet on a steel beamIt’s been a wild couple of days. I had to work overtime twice in two days, which meant I was up from 4 a.m. on Tuesday morning till 3 a.m. yesterday, and I was working intensely for most of that time. We had a big project we had to get done, and we were missing two people on the team, since they had previously scheduled vacation and the big project’s schedule got changed to the worst possible dates.

Oh, well. We just had to deal with it.

And deal with it, I did.

I got 90 minutes of sleep between the two marathon testing sessions, and that was it. Half the time, I felt like I was dead on my feet, and my brain was mush. I was doubled over in pain, part of the time, because of eating the wrong stuff to keep my energy up, which led to digestive problems.

I have to be honest – it was pretty rough. But I got through it. And I ended up lasting longer than just about everybody else, which is typical. One of the upsides of dealing with fatigue and confusion and pain all the time, is that when things get really rough, all across the board, I can  — and usually will — persevere. I can stick it out and still perform. Because I’ve had plenty of practice. I know how to do it, because I do it, every single day, pretty much.

I’m usually tired, usually brain-fogged, usually struggling a bit at something or another. That’s pretty much the cards in the hand I’ve been dealt, because even if I weren’t dealing with TBI issues, I’d still be pushing myself — always harder, always farther, always faster. That’s just how I am. I’m not all that competitive against others. I’m mainly competitive against myself, and I always want to see how much better I can be, how much I can improve.

That’s just how I’m built.

So, of course, I’m going to experience these kinds of stresses and strains, these challenges, these difficulties. And when I’m called upon to kick in and contribute, I’ll do that to the max. To the utmost. I’m not going to hold back. It can be a problem, of course, because I can push myself too hard and overextend myself, but I’m aware of that risk, so I do something about it.

Bottom line, all the difficulties I’ve been up against, over the course of my life have strengthened and sharpened and honed me to this point. And even if I’m not as sharp and strong and honed as I’d ideally like to be, I’m still able to persevere, to hang in there. To stick it out and really do my best, no matter what.

That’s a huge up-side, for me and everyone around me.

And it makes the down-sides manageable.

It’s all part of it.

Onward.

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No sooner do I say I need more movement, than my day fills up with meetings

brain with arms and legs walking on a treadmillToday there is not one minute of my day that is not scheduled for a meeting. Non-stop. Eight hours. No fun.

But that’s the deal, today, so that’s that.

Fortunately, I’ll be working from home today, so I can walk around the house while I talk on the phone. I can’t do that at the office… at least, not on the scale I can do it here. I can’t walk around the halls, talking on the phone. I can reserve a conference room and then walk around it, while I’m listening. I could even project the meeting proceedings on the big screen, so I can watch what’s happening as I pace. But it’s not the same as being able to walk around my house.

So, at least there’s that.

And man, do I need that today. Yesterday I was stuck in an all-day workshop where we just sat… and sat… and sat. It started early, so I didn’t have time to exercise in the  morning before I went. But it ended earlier than my normal days typically do, so I was able to get to the pool and go for a swim. That was productive. And much needed. So, it’s all good.

I noticed that I was getting really tired towards the end of the day, and I was starting to get cranky and a little confrontational. But I managed to pull up and not blurt whatever came to mind. There was this module we were working through that just seemed like such B.S., and I wanted to say so. But I held my tongue and said nothing. Mission accomplished. I got out of it without wrecking my reputation, which is what I often do at those kinds of things, towards the end of the day when I’m tired. I blurt out crap that makes me look belligerent and confrontational, when I’m just tired.

And then all the work I put into cultivating rapport with others goes out the window. Fly away, little reputation. Fly away.

But yesterday, I held my tongue, and that was good. It was very, very good.

And today… Well, I’m looking at another day of non-stop paying attention to important stuff, and potentially being virtually motionless the whole time. I can’t let that happen. Not two days in a row. I just have to get creative and think outside the box. Find ways to keep myself moving. Heck, maybe I’ll even ride my exercise bike while I’m on a call — except that I get out of breath, and speaking up when I sound like I’m in the middle of an exercise routine is not the most professional thing to do.

So, scrap that. No riding the bike while I’m on a conference call.

I’ll just pace in my living room, walk around the downstairs. Do some movement… knee bends… stretching… anything to keep my body awake. ‘Cause if my body isn’t awake, neither is my brain.

And not-so-great things happen when my brain is foggy and asleep.

Onward.

A little more coffee, then I’m on my way

coffee and notepad and pen on a tableThis is pretty much how my morning looks – me with a cup of strong, black coffee and a notepad with a pen to write down what I’m supposed to be doing, this morning.

Under normal conditions, I’m usually out and about by this time (it’s nearly noon). But today is different. I’m more tired than normal, and I have a lot of catching up with myself to do from this past week.

Reading… blogging… organizing…

Getting myself together for the rest of the day, which will be all about getting my spouse together to go to the even they’re hosting tonight. It’s a lot of work. There’s a lot to remember. I don’t feel up to it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it needs to be done.

I need some motivation. Something to perk me up.

Then again, I think just resting tonight, spending time in my own home in solitude and peace is probably motivation enough. It’s been months, since I had any time to myself. I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like.

Almost, but not quite.

I think tonight, I’ll spend some time organizing my study. I have a whole room with books and workspace(s) for myself, but I’ve taken to using it just as a storage area, where I put things I don’t want to think about anymore. That’s gotta change. For sure.

So, I’ll do that tonight. It’ll be a really good use of time.

And now, out I go into the world today. It’s cold and windy and clear, and I have trash that needs to go to the dump. Recycling, too. And I’ve got to run to the store to get some supplies for tonight. It’ll all get done. I just need to rouse myself and get my act in gear.

Off I go… list in hand…

Onward.

Changing plans and shifting priorities

tree growing above a rainbowI love my routines. They’ve saved my s$$ over the past 12 years. They helped me retrain my body and brain to be a heck of a lot more functional than they were in 2006. And when it comes to TBI recover, routine and repetition are my friends.

Seriously, they’re like the secret weapon against the disruptions of TBI. Just figuring out how to do things exactly the same way, over and over, till that way become ingrained and you don’t have to think about it anymore… it’s magic. And it does so much to rebuild and solidify the new connections that replace the ones that got frayed and pulled to pieces in the brain injury itself.

Every now and then, it’s good to change things up, though.

That’s where I am, now. I’ve done a lot of hard thinking, over the past weeks and months, and I realize I need to have a different focus in my daily life. I need to spend a lot less time focusing on my career and professional prospects, and spend a lot more time focusing on my health and quality of life.

I’m not gonna lie — I really had to double down on my work situations, over the past years. I was in a downward spiral of sorts, in one overly challenging job after another, working in very hostile conditions that eroded my physical and mental health. And the past 3-1/2 years have also been a real challenge, in some ways. The thing that’s made it the most challenging is that I got caught up in ideas about advancing, getting promoted, moving up in the world. And that sucked me into a vortex of caring about what other people thought of me, what other people said about me, what other people did to me at work.

And that wasn’t a good use of time. Because here I am, years later, no further along on my professional path (even set back, compared to where I was before), and just looking back at a whole lot of frustration and dead-ends.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m highly ambitious. I’m driven. That’s for sure. But at some point, being ambitious according to someone else’s rules is just a bad idea for me. I need to be ambitious according to my own rules. I need to drive towards things that matter to me — having decent relationships with people, doing my best work, learning and growing as I go — rather than getting caught up in other people’s power games.

Somehow, those games never work out in my favor. I just get played.

So, I’m pretty much over that. Time to focus on other priorities. Time to funnel my energy into things that are going to build me up, not tear me down, and pay off in the short- and long-term, when it comes to just doing a decent job.

Heck, I’m not even sure I want to get promoted, anyway, considering the kinds of people who are climbing to the top, these days. It seems like a much better use of my time to focus on my mental and physical health… learning interesting things and applying them to my life… sharing what I know…. and just having the best life possible. So long as I make enough money to support myself and I have the time and opportunity to do something truly useful with my life, that’s what matters.

And that’s where my head is at today.

Ha… we’ll see how I’m feeling tomorrow… or next week… 😉

Back into the thick of it

windrader foundationThe title of this post is probably a misnomer of sorts. Because I actually never really got out of the thick of it, this weekend… er… the past month. Day after day, it’s been one thing or another, to the point where I’m not even sure what day it is, anymore.

Except for my calendar, which shows me what I’m supposed to be doing, and when.

I feel like I’m continuously building on all my past experiences, which is as it should be, I suppose. The bad experiences, along with the good — but that’s how life should be, right?

I just wish I didn’t get so tired…

Fatigue and brain injury are not a good combination. And more than anything else in my life, fatigue has really torn me down. It’s made my moods unpredictable, even extreme, it’s made my behavior volatile, it’s impacted friendships and work relationships, it cost me jobs, and it nearly ruined my marriage.

So, what to do?

First, have a decent sleep routine. I’m not perfect, by any stretch, but I do keep track of how I’m doing, and I make an effort to get good sleep whenever I can.

Second, work on my endurance. Do my daily exercises. Pace myself. Build up my strength and my ability to go for longer periods of time doing what needs to be done.

Third, stop doing things that tear me down. Quit watching t.v. shows that stress me out. Stop eating food that isn’t good for me and spikes my blood sugar, then wipes me out. Quit hanging around with people who drain me. And stop all the negative chatter inside my head.

There are things I can do to get myself headed in the right direction, and that’s what my life has to be about. I can’t control what’s going on around me, so I need to strengthen myself to handle whatever comes.

And yes… watch other people do amazing things and perform well.

Like the Olympics. It’s been really good for me to watch the games, this month. Lots of great lessons there.

And now it’s time to get ready for work.

Onward… and upward.

A second bowl of cereal and another break before the next work stint

I just finished my 2nd (of 3) extended work session.

I look outside — oh, it snowed… and then it rained. I hadn’t even noticed. I was buried so deep in my work that I didn’t even notice the snow falling.

Well, in all fairness, it was dark outside for most of the time.

Yesterday was pretty intense. I worked from 8 a.m. till 5 p.m., went to bed for a little bit, then got up at 2:30 to work from 3:00 till just a little bit ago. I got a break, this last time, because it was only 5 hours, instead of the 9 hours like yesterday.

Be thankful for small favors.

Another small favor is that it’s cold and damp outside, so there’s no great rush to go anywhere. I do have to run an errand later, before I get on my last work session later this afternoon. But for now, it’s time to kick back, have another bowl of cereal, drink some water, and read a book until I go back to bed to rest some more.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

And… go. At my own pace and on my own terms.

human head with light switch and finger turning it on
I just have to think about things correctly

So, today’s the day we start our 36 hour project. I’ve got 20 minutes to prepare, then everything kicks off.

I’ll be working for the next 8 hours, then I get a few hours off to sleep, then I work another 6 hours overnight. I get to sleep in the a.m., then I may have to work in the afternoon.

My sleeping schedule is going to be completely screwed up, and that’s a problem. I don’t know why this job involves so much sleep disruption. Either it’s cross-country travel, or it’s off-hours work. Either way, it’s not healthy, and it doesn’t let me do my best work.

I haven’t done my best work in years.

Oh, well.

I’m not sure I even care, anymore. The company gives me a paycheck, yes, but I no longer have any emotional investment in them — or my work for them. They’ve made it clear what they think of their workforce. They’ve shorted us on our performance bonus, time and time again, and they lay people off whenever they like. I show up, I do the bare minimum — for the sake of self-preservation — and I collect my paycheck.

They still get more than they pay for, even when I’m not over-the-top productive and 1000% invested. I’m still a top performer, even when I’m not bothering to indulge in any loyalty to them.

It’s a shame, really. I used to be so invested and invigorated by my work. But that’s changed over the past years. And I have to say I’m actually happier now than I was, when I was anguished and fretting over everything I did, how I did it, and whether or not it turned out exactly the way I planned.

I’ve let a lot of stuff go, and it’s helped me.

But still, I do feel a bit of a void, where my personal investment used to be.

Oh, well. There are other things that brighten my day. Like my own interests and projects. Like my hobbies. Like my books.

There’s plenty of other things to fill that void.

Like taking the best care of myself, that I possibly can. No matter what everybody else does.

I just miss caring deeply about my work, sometimes…

Putting one foot in front of the other

footprint in sand with wave coming nearWell, this has been an interesting couple of weeks. I totally screwed something up at work, and I’ve been working overtime since the beginning of February to make it right.

It’s been so wrong, it’s been mind-boggling. How could I have screwed up that badly? Huh. It’s been a long time since I’ve done anything this egregious. In fact, I’m not sure I ever have.

But there’s a first time for everything.

Seriously, I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner. But it was bound to happen, eventually, under the current conditions:

  • Limited sleep
  • Additional travel
  • Intense pressure
  • No management support
  • Uncooperative coworkers who don’t keep me in the loop

The whole thing is really messed up, and I ended up at the forefront of it all. The good/bad news is that there are more pieces of this Monster Project coming not far behind that will have the same kinds of problems that my part of the project did.

So, I won’t be so alone, anymore.

Not that it’s any consolation.

I was pretty torn up about the whole situation, last week. Wrecked. But I’ve acclimated to this particular failure, and now… well, I just don’t care. What it means for my future… don’t care.

They’re going to re-org us, anyway.

Some people dislike my boss, and a lot of other people dislike my boss’es boss. And chances are, they’ll interpret this failure of mine as a failure of leadership (which would be nice, to not have to take the fall for a broken system). Everybody knows I’m smarter than the person who screwed up, last week. Something else must be wrong.

Well, anyway, it’s Saturday night, and I’m exhausted. Had a full day today, after a full week. Tomorrow might give me a break. We’ll see. I’m tempted to just stay in bed all day, but that will never work. I often think about doing that, and then 20 minutes after I wake up, I can’t take just lying there anymore. So, I get up. And get out. And put one foot in front of the other.

Some days, that’s all you can do.

 

Yeah, well, nobody ever said it would be easy…

pier and lighthouse in distance across a lakeI’m regaining my balance, after a pretty intense week. I’ve been working long hours, sitting for long hours, and that’s brought me a whole bunch of pain. On top of that, I attended a memorial service for a friend who passed, yesterday. They were very close friends with my spouse, who is taking the loss very hard. Death is never easy, but when it happens at a relatively young age, and the person taken is a central part of the community and people’s lives, it takes on a whole other dimension.

I’ve been up to my neck in one problem after another. It’s been like trying to stay afloat in the ocean during storm surges. No sooner does one wave ease up, and I catch my breath, than another one comes along.

It’s been pretty brutal on me, and having to juggle the logistics of the memorial service arrangements added to the overall stress. I was one of the people who spoke about the deceased, and I had to come up with something meaningful to say, which I did – and it was very well received. It was an honor. But it happened at a really bad time. Which, of course, I can’t control. At all. These things happen.

And I bottomed out. It was like driving down a rutted road and hearing the undercarriage of my car scrape every couple of meters. Nerve-wracking. Grueling. And I know my “miss” at work, which really screwed up the project I’ve been managing, is being taken very badly by others. Even though I’m not the only one working on it, I still seem to be getting the blame. And lo and behold, before my follow-up meeting yesterday, I was informed that my boss’es boss and his boss’es boss and his boss’es boss had a meeting. I’m quite sure they were talking about my project. How could they not? It was such a glaring failure, it’s breathtaking.

But hey, at least I go all-out, when I do things. There’s no half-measures for me.

All in all, looking at the project in whole, it occurs to me that one of the things that made my “miss” so dramatic was that I rolled it back. I pulled it back from the live website and went back to the technology that we were replacing. That doesn’t happen in the company that acquired my former employer. They roll stuff out and move on — even if it’s broken. They leave broken sh*t hang around on the website for years, and they don’t think twice about it. That will never do. And if they fire me over this, good riddance. I don’t want to work at a company that does that.

No wonder they’ve been losing close to a billion dollars a quarter. Not a million (with an “m”), but a Billion (with a “b”).  Kinda makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about why it hit me so hard, and I think the big reason was that it just wasn’t consistent with what I expect of myself. It went directly against my Sense-Of-Self, and the person I believe I am. It also went against the kind of person I present myself to be around other people. It was a flaming disconnect between Who I Am, and what I did. And I lost all sense of who I was, where I was going, and what was to become of me, in the process.

I had the same level of intense personal anxiety and despair that I had for years, after my TBI in 2004. And it was even more extreme, because I believed with all my heart that I’d gotten beyond the “lost-ness” of my past. I believed I’d trained myself out of my ineptitude, that I was keeping up, that I was on top of things. And when it turned out I wasn’t, it hit me hard.

And that’s exactly what happens to you after TBI, in general. You lose yourself. You lose connection to the person you were. And the more advanced you are, the more disorienting it can be. It can be absolutely crushing, to lose access to the Whole You that was so well trained in life, who could do things just by reflex before… but suddenly can’t manage the simplest things like tying a shoe properly or remembering more than 2 things on a shopping list.

It’s crushing. And I got crushed last week. Absolutely hammered. From the   inside, and the outside. Because I’m not supposed to do that. I’m not supposed to fail that majestically. People are relying on me to NOT screw up to the degree I did (and I fully admit it and take responsibility for that). I let them down. I let myself down. I messed up. And now I have to dig myself out of the hole I fell down.

Of course, it’s not all about me. It’s not 100% my fault. What happened was the result of an extended process of everything being supremely screwed up, and people in a position to help not doing anything — in fact, doing the opposite: withholding help, keeping me out of the loop, not communicating, not collaborating, and forcing me to do their damn’ job. I was the last best defense against those people, and I wasn’t up to the task.

So, we live and learn. I’m working my way back to firm footing, even though everyone around me (except for people in my immediate group) are backing away from me like I’m anathema.

Well, good riddance. They’re part of what’s made the company lose so much money over the past years, and losing their allegiance is no loss to me at all.

Life goes on. Some days are better than others. Some years are better than others. This year is off to a crappy start. So it goes. Here’s hoping it gets better. If it doesn’t, it won’t be for lack of my trying.

Back again

Some days it feels like this

Well, that was interesting.

The pit of despair was cold and drafty, and it wasn’t much fun. It’s been a while since I was stuck there, and I’d forgotten how unproductive and self-defeating it is to get stuck there.

Even at the bottom of a well, if I keep looking up, I see light.

So, I got down to work, did something constructive with all my energy, and just took it one hour at a time.

And I remembered, for all my difficulties, there are many people in the world who would love to have my problems. Because they happen in the process of me living what’s overall a really good life. And all my worry and distress really makes me more aware of how others feel and how they, too, struggle with things — whether those things are “hard” or “easy” for others.

Compassion. That’s what came of it. For myself and for everybody else.

Now I’m back, and life goes on.

Better, though, this time.

Much better.