Oh, this is so much better

speedometer

If I hadn’t messed up my laptop the other day, it would be slower than it is right now. I had a whole bunch of crap programs running “in the background” that I didn’t need at all.

And now my laptop is much faster. Cleaner. Nicer.

So, it’s a good thing that I messed up in a small way. Because that let me fix things in a big way. Plus, I learned a bunch of new tricks for how to make my computer really work much better.

The main hurdle in my way was my anxiety and thinking that I couldn’t figure it out. But I took my time and was patient with myself and I got a good night’s rest before I managed to fix it. When I stopped worrying and just “worked the problem”, things came together for me.

Bad experience for half a day.

Good experiences to come for weeks and months and years.

Cleaning up and clearing out

Ah, the sound of an old computer cranking away in the background…

I have unearthed an old computers that I never threw away, and I’m cleaning out the hard drive – putting all the extra files on a portable hard drive, so I can open up some more space for doing audio and video. I’m working on a project with some friends, and the project calls for a video. We’ll see how this goes. It’s the first I’ve really worked with video, but I think I have some good ideas, so I’m optimistic.

We shall see.

Right now, the hard drive is defragmenting and is at 87%. It’s taken it about half an hour to get this far. I pulled a lot of stuff off it, and now it has to think about what to do with all that extra space.

It’s kind of a metaphor for my life. I’ve been culling a lot of non-productive activities out of my life, focusing my attention and energy on doing the things that are the most relevant for my current life. A lot less noodling around, and a lot more actual work. Cleaning out the garage. Working on the yard. Fixing things. Organizing piles of supplies and hardware into containers with actual dividers in them, instead of one big pile of stuff.

Getting to bed at a decent hour, and getting a lot done each day.

And learning as I go.

I’ve had a couple of really big realizations, lately, and it’s given me plenty to think about. But I haven’t been thinking too hard. I’m pacing myself. Taking things slow, or sometimes not taking them at all. I’ve stopped worrying about things being wrong and out of whack, in a lot of ways. They are what they are. Oh, well. Yes, I had a sick headache all day today. But I’ve also lost 5 pounds in the past month or so. And yes, I have had some weakness in my arms and hands. But my back is more limber than I can recall in recent memory. I haven’t been sleeping well, and I am pretty wiped out, pretty much all the time. But I’m feeling really positive and relaxed, overall. Whatever happens, I’m going to be okay.

It’s summertime, and it feels like time to clean out my study again. I have new projects to work on and think about, and I need to clear out a bunch of stuff that no longer serves any useful purpose in my daily life. It really is time to clean house. My study is pretty cluttered — not “Hoarders” cluttered, but still piled high with papers and books and correspondence and old bills (and some new ones) that need to be taken care of. That needs to change.

Likewise, I need to close down a bank account I opened about ten years ago, which made good interest, back in the day. It’s just been a placeholder account for me, for some years now — a way to move money from one bank account to another. But now I don’t need it anymore. Plus, the account got sold to another bank, and that new bank sucks. They hold my money and won’t let go of it. Ten days to complete a money transfer and make the funds available to me? Really?

Yeah, not so much. Good bye, bank. I like your commercials, but as a bank, you really suck.

And it feels good to do this — say “No” to people and things and situations that are no damn’ good. Half of my team got hauled off to HQ on a day’s notice, because the People In Charge can’t manage their time or their projects, and now they’re stuck away from their families, off in the middle of nowhere, doing the job(s) that others should have been doing months ago. Oh, well… So it goes. It’s easy for me to say, being here – I really feel badly for them, but what can you do?

I’ll be they’ll be glad when they are home.

Anyway, it feels really good to not be worrying about this the way I was, when I didn’t think I could get out. Now I know I can get out, and I’m going to do exactly that. I figure I have maybe 3 more months there. I start my job search in earnest in July/August, with a September timeframe in mind. I’m sure it will be stressful at times, but I’ve gotten to this “zen” kind of place that just flows with it.

Of course, I say that now… the night before I go on vacation for a few days…

My computer is still thinking. I’m now cleaning up old files and compressing to save space. By the time all is said and done, I’ll have a huge honkin’ hard drive where I can mix up all the video I like.

Life is good.

And now, it’s time for bed.

 

 

Getting the most sleep possible

If only…

A recurrent problem cropped up again last night — or, shall we say, early this morning.

I got to bed a bit later than I wanted to, last night. I was working on a project till fairly late, and then I ate late… and watched a bit more t.v. than I intended or should have. Anyway, when I went to bed, I was bushed. Just wiped. And I had an early call for work this morning, so I was between a rock and a hard place. But I figured if I timed things right, I could get a little over 8 hours of sleep, which would be good. Better than 6, that’s for sure.

The thing is, with the weather changing, I woke up at 4 a.m. really hot. I can’t sleep when I’m hot, and I need to have heavy blankets on me, or I don’t sleep very well. So, as you can imagine, when spring arrives and it starts to get warmer overnight, I can heat up.

Which I did.

So, I made some adjustments, took off some layers, and tried to get back to sleep. I wasn’t terribly optimistic, because usually when I’m awake at 4 or 4:30, then I’m UP, and that’s that. I figured I’d be taking a nap later this afternoon, since I’m working from home today, so it wasn’t that bad. But still… I really didn’t want to get behind on my sleep, because that starts a vicious cycle that is so hard to get out of.

What to do… well, first I had to stop my head from spinning in all different directions. I’ve got a project going on that is really exciting for me, and I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about it. I started thinking about it at 4:15 a.m., too, much to my dismay. It was the right thing to think about at the wrong time. I also got into a mental “loop” over job stuff. All these things were nothing that I could anything about at the moment… and thankfully I realized that it made a lot more sense to turn off my head and come back to everything when I was rested and fresh.

But how to get back to sleep?

Well, I stretched a little bit, which always helps. I also did some slow breathing. And I turned my focus to my body, rather than the stuff rattling ’round in my head. I relaxed… really relaxed, which I realized I was not doing, when my head was going a million miles a second. I could feel the tension slip away… and then I slipped back to sleep.

I woke up with my alarm, turned it off… and went right back to sleep. I woke up three minutes before my call was supposed to start, which was a little alarming (though it was good I woke up before the call instead of after)… and then after dialing in, I learned that the call was cancelled anyway, so I could just take my time having breakfast and getting into my day.

All good.

And by my calculations, I got about 8-1/2 hours of sleep. Not continuous, but cumulative. And that’s pretty good for having all but given up hope around 4:20 a.m.

So, when it comes to sleeping, it’s pretty clear that my head can be my worst enemy. When I am wiped out, especially, I can have real problems getting to sleep (going to bed at a decent hour) and staying that way. I am very sensitive to sound, when I am over-tired, too, so if I don’t have earplugs in and there’s a noise, I can wake up over the littlest thing, with my heart pounding and my head racing. Even if it’s just a little noise, it can set me off. And then when my head gets going, I can “loop” for hours, if I let it do its thing.

Unfortunately, getting my head to stop is easier said than done. The best thing to do is just ignore it, quite frankly. Get my attention on my body, somehow — progressive relaxation, breathing, stretching… anything to get out of my head. Once I can do that, my body can rest, and a lot of times I can get back to sleep.

Even if I can’t get back to sleep, at least I can let my body relax, and that counts for a lot.

But the time for thinking about sleep is over. Now it’s time to get on with my day.

Onward!

Learning to do it anyway

Sometimes it feels like the weight of the world…

Woke up this morning feeling sick – headache, sick on my stomach, foggy… Going back to work tomorrow probably isn’t helping any, but life goes on. There it is.

I’m pretty much in the Emotions/Moods “section” of those 84 ways TBI can make your life really interesting

Emotions/Moods

8. Agitated, can’t settle down – I’m all wound up and can’t seem to get myself to chill to get to bed at a decent hour each night. I’m way agitated, and fidgety and am having trouble focusing in to get shit done.
9. Angerrrrrr!!! – I’m pissed off. At work. At my spouse. At myself. I’m just angry. It’s driving me — it’s driving me crazy.
10. Anxiety – Feeling vague fear, worry, anticipation of doom – Yeah, when I go back to work tomorrow, I have the feeling that I’m going to be so totally screwed by my workload and the “lost week+” that I’ve had away. Not that it’s any different than it’s been for the past year or so, but now the sense of doom is really coming in.
11. Depression, feeling down – My mood has actually been pretty good… but I have to really fight back the depression. It sets in quickly if I don’t stay on it.
12. Excitability! – I get all worked up over stuff, then I come back to it later and I can’t see what all the excitement was about. The worst thing about the excitability is that it distracts me and takes me off-course, so it takes me longer to get where I’m going.
13. Everything feels like an effort – Yeah, pretty much. It feels like everything is a massive effort, and I can’t figure out where to start.
14. Feeling unsure of yourself – Yeah, pretty much all the time, these days. I know better (rationally) and I fight it back, but that feeling is always there… like I never know what’s going to come out of my mouth or what I’m going to do next. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I don’t, but I’m never 100% sure what’s going to happen.
15. Feelings of dread – Yeah, that. Dread and anxiety. Like I just can’t deal with sh*t.
16. Feeling like you’re observing yourself from afar – This is a weird one, because it’s really like that. It’s like I’m standing at a distance and watching myself do and say things that don’t make any sense to me.
17. Feelings of well-being – On and off. It’s not all bad, all the time. Sometimes I have these sudden rushes of feeling really good, really solid, really sound. It’s a nice break.
18. Feeling guilty – Guilty over what I’ve done and what I haven’t done… what I should have done, what I forgot to do.
19. Feeling hostile towards others – Yeah, this is a tough one. I’m not feeling that great today, and we have a friend staying over, and I have to watch myself to not come across as hostile and aggressive, because they’re pretty sensitive and have a hard time making and keeping friends, as it is. My hostility has nothing to do with them, but they could easily become a target, if I don’t manage this.
20. Impatience – Yeah – what’s taking everything so long?
21. Irritability – Like the hostility, I’ve gotta keep a handle on this. Others shouldn’t have to pay for my issues. It has nothing to do with them.
22. No desire to talk or  move – This one set in when I woke up, and it’s still there. The antidote? Get the hell up and do something. Anything. Just move, goddammit.
23. Feeling lonely – Yeah. That. The consolation I get is that I’m not alone in feeling lonely. Plenty of people do. I also need to focus on the fact of what I’ve got in common with others, and that helps.
24. Nervousness – Nervous about work, nervous about money, nervous about life. Nervous.
25. Feelings of panic – On and off. This is much less extreme than it was several years ago. I’ve learned how to relax. I’ve learned how to recognize the signs that I’m just panicking, and it has nothing to do with actual reality. Breathing helps.
26. Rapid mood swings – Yeah, gotta watch that. I’m sick and tired today, so I know I’m more susceptible.
27. Restlessness – I want to run, I want to walk, I want to jump in the car and drive away. I want to go out and pick a fight. Not my best ideas… and I know it’s just the fatigue, the fogginess, the feeling of being “off” that’s doing this. Adrenaline and novelty blocks out all the distracting what-not-ness that’s swirling in my head. Surely, doing something extreme will take my mind off it. Well, sure – but at what cost?
28. Tearfulness, crying spells – Not so far, which is good. A few days ago, when I was feeling really sick, I had this. Thankfully it passed. Of all the TBI issues that come up, the tearfulness is the worst for me.
29. Feeling tense – Yeah. That. Like I’m wound so tight, I’m either going to snap, or I’m going to shoot straight to the moon. Tense. Really Tense. Black Flag Tense.
30. Feeling vague longing/yearning – Absolutely – for something I want and need, but can’t quite put my finger on. I used to have an antidote for this: daily meditation and breathing. Then I got sick of it and stopped doing it, because I just wanted to get on with my days with out having a lot of ritual and sh*t to do, first thing in the morning.

And as a result of these things, I’m also grappling with the follwing:

Day-to-Day Activities
31. Being overly busy (more than usual) – I’ve got all this stuff I want to do, and it’s piling up. I’m making myself crazy with it.
32. Feeling like you can’t get moving, you’re stuck – And under this pile of stuff, there I am, pinned down and feeling like I can’t move.
33. Feeling like you can’t get anything done – It’s just a feeling, I know, but that’s how I feel right now — nothing is moving, I can’t get anything accomplished.

Geeze. Enough of this. Yeah, things aren’t great right now, but once I get moving, I’m sure they’ll loosen up. That’s the thing that I’ve had to learn, over and over again. I can’t start from where I want to be (feeling great and having a lot of stuff done). I need to start from where I am — even if it’s sick and tired and foggy and aggressive and a bit ragged around the edges.

Gotta get out of my head and find something to really focus on. Just gotta. I’ve got to get my mind off this headache, this nausea, this fogginess, and all the above-mentioned crap. I’ve got to just get moving and do what needs to be done today. I do have things I need to take care of, and I just need to do them. I’ve had two days to recover and recoup, and that’s been good. Now I need to kick it again and get a move on. No matter how I feel, just do what needs to be done, and then enjoy having done it.

Yeah, it’s turning out to be a beautiful day, so I can get some work done in the yard and hang out with this friend. I will need to watch myself today, to make sure I’m not all edgy around them, so I don’t chase them off the way I have chased off many other people. I just need to keep cool, keep focused on what needs to get done, and do it.

And then sleep this afternoon. Get some rest. And get ready to go back to everyday normal life. Things will take care of themselves, if I’m just honest with myself and keep an eye on myself. This is not rocket science, it’s just life. Everybody has to contend with this, TBI or no. So deal with it, I shall.

After all, it is a beautiful day.

Okay, fine – I’m up

This is going to be another one of those nights/days, I have a feeling. I woke up at 3:00 a.m. again, thinking — among other things — about work, and everything I need to get done. I just need to clear a bunch of things off my plate, and at the same time, there are all-day trainings that have been going on all day. So, I work late, and since there are so many moving pieces and there are so many different people involved, I end up basically sending out emails to people and then chasing them down, trying to get an answer.

I’m hopeful that I can get a bunch of things just finished in the next week or so. There is a LOT going on, and I need to clear away the old stuff to make room for the new. There’s a lot of new stuff coming down the pike, and I can’t start on them, till I get the old stuff finished.

At least I’m not the only one in this situation. The rest of my team are all waking up at 3:30 a.m., too. Just the other morning, we all gathered unexpectedly and reported how little sleep we’ve been getting.

Maybe it’s not just me… we were thinking maybe it was the full moon. Or maybe it’s the impending move. I think a lot of people may be leaving, come the end of the year. Tacking an extra half hour onto people’s commutes, doesn’t do much for loyalty. Plus, a lot of us picked this company because it was closer to our homes than many other jobs. I’m really not sure what I’m going to do, when it comes time to start doing this. Work remotely sometimes, I suppose. But you really need to be THERE to make good progress, so maybe I’ll find some good audiobooks and just entertain myself during the drive.

One good thing is that the training I’ve been in yesterday and today is really good for my resume. It’s in a skill I need to have, to stay competitive, and it really helps me get good perspective on my job and everything about it. It puts things in a larger context, which has been a huge challenge, considering all the “trees” I’m dealing with. Lots and lots of details, lots and lots of little hooks to get caught on. Working through the different steps of my work is like walking through a bramble patch — and it’s that way for all of us — we’re constantly getting snagged on some jagged point or thorn. The technical systems and the processes (or lack thereof) that are in place are very ad-hoc, catch-as-catch-can. There’s not much about the place that’s systematic – they like to run the place like a small business, which it is not – and it takes a huge toll on productivity and effectiveness.

Sure, we all get to be individuals with our own particular point of view, but geez, do ya think ya could do the same thing the same way twice? It’s a little maddening.

BUT, with some basic changes to how I do things, and with some extra project management help, I’m sure this can turn around.

I hope…

This job situation is pretty wild. And I’m starting to get that it’s not all me, that’s got the issues. I get a slightly different message each and every day — one day, I’m encouraged to take time off… no, TOLD to take time off… then less than a week later, my boss gives me crap because I worked from home for a few days. They tell me, “Take your time — don’t make yourself crazy over things,” then they ask me “Why isn’t it done yet?” My immediate boss is an operator who likes to play “puppet-master” with projects and schedules, and who feels the need to “manage situations” to their specifications. Forget about actually doing the work. They’d much rather be spinning things and taking credit for everyone else’s work. Oh, my.

If they keep this up, they’re going to lose everyone. Hey – maybe they’ll get promoted. That would be fitting. Let someone else at a different level take care of them.

Anyway, back to the joy… It’s been a while, since I felt real joy at doing the work I do. There are moments when I really do love what I do, but there is so much to do, and so little time to actually enjoy it, to really get into the work. It’s wild – it’s like we’re just being driven to do more than anyone can humanly accomplish, largely for the purpose of our bosses proving that they can do just that.

Well, I can’t worry about it. I’m going to just focus on getting done what I can get done, and move on to the next thing. I need to tally up my accomplishments and clean up my resume, just so I’m not caught out, if things get really bad with the commute and the workload, and I need to find another situation.

And I need to sleep. I’ve heard it said that being fully relaxed for 15 minutes is the equivalent of 30 minutes of sleep, so I’m going to try to relax for a little bit… and simulate sleep.

So, how DO I tell if I’m hurt?

I’ve been taking it easy, the past few days, trying to settle my nerves after that last fall. It was more like a slip-and-collapse than a fall, really. I think I did the right thing by just letting myself go down, instead of trying to break my fall. Still, I did hit my head, and I’ve been a little “off” ever since.

I really think it’s just nerves. Anxiety fiddling with my head. I’ve been a little uncoordinated, a bit edgy, and I haven’t felt quite like myself. But I’ve been working like a crazy person, lately, putting in super long hours, and that’s got to have an effect on me.

It couldn’t ALL be the fall.

Anyway, it’s been a challenge, figuring out whether the problems I’ve been having have been because I really got hurt, or I just got scared. The aches and pains and bruises on my arm are clearing up, but I still have this painful knot on the side of my head that bothers me when I touch it. I try not to touch it, but I also like to check in and see how it’s doing. I expected it to go down sooner, but it’s still bothering me, still feels tender.

I see my neuropsych tomorrow. They may be able to tell me something about that. Or not. They’re not a doctor, after all.

This is the big problem (for me, anyway) with head injuries — how do I tell which of my problems are neurological, and which are psychological, and which are physiological? I’ve definitely been “off” since the fall, and I think it may have plenty to do with anxiety, nerves, being worried about getting hurt. And also feeling stupid about falling in the first place.

Then there’s the physical problems — being off balance because I wrenched my shoulder and neck, and my muscles are not balance the way they usually are.

Then there’s the psychological stuff, the anxiety and nerves. The sick sinking feeling of helplessness as that slow-motion action happens and I can’t stop myself — or things happen so fast, I don’t have time to stop myself. Sense of helplessness. Loss of control.

Well, I’m tired. I need to go to bed. I try not to think about it too much, but what if I’m actually hurt?

Pay no attention to that drastic mood swing

Probably one of the most annoying things about TBI is the power and speed with which moods can change. You’re going along, doing your thing, and all seems well. But all of a sudden, you’re flipping out – for no reason that anyone can tell.

Our TBI Flies have something to say about this. Meet Jenny, a perfectly normal, nice gal who has a bit of a mood swing problem.

Jenny is Happy

Jenny is NOT HappyJenny is Happy again
Green seems to think it’s cool that Jenny’s happy again – “so long as she’s happy” right?

Not necessarily. It’s important to understand why folks get bent out of shape with TBI. Depending on the person — and this is not true for all TBI folks — anger can become rage and rage can escalate to violence with the kind of speed that will make your head spin.

Green Fly above seems to think it’s all a convenient excuse for bad behavior. Green obviously doesn’t know a whole lot about TBI-related anger.

You see, anger comes with TBI for a number of reasons, the big one being that pesky constant restlessness that takes over your brain, as though all our synapses were on high alert, looking for a new way to make the connections it was used to making before the injury. That constant restlessness can lead to fatigue — our brain is something like 2% of our body’s weight, but it consumes 20% of our body’s energy. And when we get fatigued, TBI folks can get irritable.

When you get irritable, if you interpret that as that there’s something wrong with you — you’re defective or flawed or a bad person — it can mess with your mind and make you do and say things you would normally not do. It can make you mean. It can make you cold. It can make you aggressive. That sick, sinking feeling that you’re behind and you’re just not going to be able to catch up… that sick, sinking feeling that you’re damaged beyond repair and you’ll never be the person you once were… that sick, sinking feeling that you and everyone around you is completely screwed and you will never be able to dig yourself out of the hole you’re in… that can make people do some pretty desperate things — including lash out at the people around them, doing and saying whatever the hell comes to mind, regardless of any consequences.

When you think you’re damaged beyond repair, you think you don’t have a lot to lose, so you can sometimes do and say things that will cause you to lose the things that mean most to you — love, respect, dignity, grace under pressure — and each episode of high drama chips away at the inner reserves you have, till you end up walking around like a shell of the person you once were.

The people around you may not realize it, however. They may not see any reason to think you’re any different than you were before, and so they react to your outbursts with understandable irritation and puzzlement. And when they don’t factor in what’s going on inside of you, it can be easy to consider them stupid in their own right(s) and treat them like the blind idiots you know they are. They’re so blind, they can’t see what’s going on with you, and they earn your contempt, through and through, by simply treating you like you’re capable of dealing with things like you did before you got hurt.

It’s a vicious cycle that I believe contributes to the downward spiral that can often accompany TBI. Even mild traumatic brain injury can result in this dynamic — sometimes it’s even more likely, than if there was a severe injury, because people outside your head literally cannot tell that there’s anything amiss with you. And they may vehemently deny that you are any different than you were before, or that you’re any different than everyone else around you.

This kind of dynamic is all too common. But it’s somewhat preventable. Keeping chilled out and rested and learning to handle your anger is an important step in this. Also, realizing that everything you feel isn’t necessarily true. And sometimes the things you feel most strongly are the ones that are farthest off the mark. In my case, the more extreme the mood swing, the less likely it is to have merit. The most intense, drastic fluctuations in my moods are clearly neurologically fed, not psychologically justifiable. And the better I am at dealing with the flares of emotion that come out of nowhere — accepting them for what they are, but not feeding them any energy — even ignoring them, if at all possible — the better off I am.

Of course, when I’m tired and stressed, the chances of me being able to do that drop pretty sharply.

So, it’s important to pay attention up front to what’s going on, so you don’t create the kinds of conditions that lead to rage:

  • Fatigue
  • Frustration
  • Telling yourself stories about yourself that convince you you’re damaged and inept and worthless
  • Telling yourself stories about yourself that convince you that they are idiotic wastes of space who don’t deserve courtesy or respect
  • Continuous stress that you feed, in order to keep the steady supply of stress hormones pumping so you feel “sharp”
  • Etc.

Keeping an eye on things can go a long way towards helping. Of course, you can always laugh at yourself, too. Not ridiculing or belittling, but understanding that this too shall pass, and there’s no point in getting completely BENT over stupid shit that is gone almost as quickly as it appeared.

Getting better… getting worse – life resumes years after tbi

Balance scale
It's all about the balance

Had a great trip down to see family, this past weekend. Truth to tell, I was a bit apprehensive about it all – there was a LOT of driving involved, and multiple family units, some of whom I have not seen in decades (not all of them friendly, the last time we spoke)… all on top of a seemingly unsustainable lack of sleep. Between the driving and visiting and events, there was simply no way I could have gotten 8 hours each night.

And sure enough, I didn’t.

But it all turned out alright, in part because I was prepared for it. I knew I was going to be tired. I knew I was going to be “behind” on my sleep. And I monitored my behavior pretty closely for the duration, to make sure I didn’t get ahead of myself and start down a road that would mess up my whole trip.

Only twice did I get out of hand – once when my siblings kids were disobeying their parents and doing something that was potentially dangerous, and my siblings were not pro-active at all and didn’t get them in line for their own safety. I spoke up sharply, and I think I scared the kids. But it kept them out of danger. And my siblings got a little miffed that I said anything to the kids. That kind of threw me a little bit, because in years past we’ve had a lot of confrontations where I acted out and was pretty aggressive with people around me, and they all remember that — all too well.

So there was the old “vibe” about “BB is up to their old tricks again – they just can’t be trusted in polite company – just a bad seed” that I had to work so hard to overcome in my mind over the years. It threw me for a couple of hours that morning, but then I went to lie down for a nap, had a little rest, and then I got up feeling a little better. But when I joined everyone else, I was still out of sorts, and I had an argument with my spouse that got very tense. They were also on edge, because my family can be very demanding and judgmental and pretty rough on everyone, and my spouse has never been comfortable with that level of harshness in family settings. They think that family should unconditionally support one another, while my family thinks that it’s the family’s duty to find fault with and correct each others’ “flaws”.

So, we had a bit of a squabble that day. We weren’t the only ones, though. My siblings were all having trouble with their spouses, and at various points, they were all split off in different rooms, having “talks” to sort things out.

But at least we did.

So, things actually went okay, for the duration of the trip. And I had some good conversations with family members.

One thing I noticed, however, is that my “flashpoint” is higher than it used to be, but it’s more powerful. The things that used to always set me off with my family didn’t affect me as much as they used to, but when they did hit, my reaction to them was much stronger than in the past. In the past, the discomfort and issues would simmer in the background and be like this sub-text of my experience. Now, however, they just bubble right up to the top and explode. Not as extremely as they used to, when I was a kid, but still…

Just ask my spouse. It’s a wonder I didn’t threaten divorce in the course of our conversation. I thought about it. Seriously. And I was prepared to go through with it. But when I gave myself some time to simmer down and chill out, I saw how ridiculous I was being. I wish I could say I had a good laugh about it, but it bothered me. I knew I was being stupid and ridiculous, but it wasn’t amusing to me. It was bothersome.

So, in the after-hours since getting home late-late-late last night, I’m looking back at the weekend, choosing how I will think about it. I could choose to focus on those two stages of a near-meltdown and think the whole time was ruined by them. Or I could focus on all the really great times I had with people I haven’t seen in years, who genuinely care about me and were very loving and engaging, despite my troubled past.

I feel in a lot of ways, as though my life with my extended family has “resumed”. For many years, I kept my distance from them because I had so many troubles communicating with them, and I felt like I was always getting turned around — and that really upset me. People in my family “knew I had problems” but they didn’t understand why that was, and they often didn’t treat me well. So, I kept my distance. Or when I was with them, I didn’t come out of my shell very well.

I was literally a captive of my perceptions of myself. I felt like I was too “problematic” for them, and they probably picked up on that and treated me accordingly. I sort of have this reputation in my family as being a bit of a loser — plenty of potential, but somehow lacking the moral fortitude to do anything with it. That reputation has dragged me down so very much, and in the past, I didn’t have much hope of interacting well with them, so I never gave myself a chance to just be who I was with them.

That has changed dramatically, however, in the past several years. Working with my neuropsych, they’ve just about convinced me that I’m not profoundly, mortally flawed and an intermittent danger to myself and others. I’ve been learning to give myself a chance around people, engaging with them, striking up conversations and interacting in healthy, productive ways. And I’ve been really gingerly resuming contact with people who I’d steered clear of in the past.

Now, it hasn’t been easy going. It’s been touch and go, and I’ve actually backed off on a lot of social interactions that I once had. I’ve stepped away from a lot of old friendships and acquaintances, to keep myself sane and centered. But sometimes I’ve distanced myself from people just out of laziness. And a desire to withdraw, isolate, and do my own thing without having to work with others. That has not been the biggest improvement in my life.

And yet, it serves its purpose. When it comes time to interact with people, I’m far less depleted. I am aware of my challenges, and I take proactive steps to deal with them. Being aware helps. So long as it doesn’t hold me back. Fortunately, this past weekend, it didn’t hold me back very much, aside from a few blips in the road.

I would like to get to a point where I can freely interact with people, connect, and just have a conversation… eventually building up friendships.  I’m not quite there, yet. I think this is one way I’ve slid back over the past few years, while I’ve advanced in other ways. I think I’ll get there, eventually. Maybe sooner than later. But I’m not quite there yet.  Sometimes I get down on myself, thinking I should be farther along. These things take time, though. It will come.

I guess this is just how it is… Steps forward, steps back. TBI is never easy, and it has its share of surprises. I’ll count my blessings that I had such a good weekend and such a good time with my relatives. Right now, that’s what counts.

Therapy + TBI = Disaster

"My therapist told me the way to achieve true inner peace is to finish what I start. So far today, I have finished 2 bags of M&M's and a chocolate cake. I feel better already"

I’d like to propose something controversial here that probably won’t be well-received in psychotherapeutic circles. I’ve said it before, I believe, but I’m going to say it more emphatically now. Someone recently commented on another one of my posts, right when I’ve been thinking about it a lot, so I’ll say it again:

Therapists/mental health counselors (without a strong grounding in neurological information) are about the last people who are able to effectively deal with mTBI. And in the early stages of recovery, seeing a therapist to “figure things out” can do more harm than good. Much more harm than good.

It’s unfortunate, and I hate to say it, but I believe it to be true, based on personal experience with therapists and with friends/acquaintances who are therapists. What I’m about to say comes from years and years of observation, and no matter how seriously therapists may question my point of view (after all, I might be mentally impaired), I still believe it and I stand by it.

See, here’s the thing — TBI seriously screws with the functioning of your brain. Even a “minor” concussion and shear and shred axons and synapses and all those connectors that you’ve built up over the years to learn to live your life. Plus, it releases interesting chemicals into the brain that kill cells. Don’t be alarmed – the brain is a marvelously resilient organ that ingeniously figures out how to re-route connections, recruit other parts of the brain to do the jobs of parts that can’t do it anymore, and generally adapts to changing conditions in ways we are only beginning to recognize and understand.

The thing is, in the early stages of injury (and by early, I also mean the first couple of years after the incident — TBI is a gift that keeps on giving 😉 ) your brain is still trying to figure things out and it is organizing itself around a new way of needing to live your life. Generally folks with TBI don’t have a full and complete understanding of how they’ve been impacted and how it’s affecting their life – we just thing that the world has suddenly gotten all screwed up for no apparent reason. So, our brains are floundering and confused and not quite sure how to find their way out of the messes we’ve gotten into.

And the reorganization that normally takes place as a natural part of recovering from an injury — the reorganization of our brains along certain lines, so that we can resume some level of functionality — can be a bit haywire. The “plastic” brain is a lot like modeling clay. If you press it into a certain mold and leave it there, it will assume that shape and become like its environment. If you leave a lump of it lying on a table and walk away, when you come back a week later, it will be hardened into a chunk that may shatter if you drop it. If you stretch it into lots of thin, haphazard shapes and you leave it that way, it will harden into those thin and haphazard shapes.

So, when your brain is coming back from an injury and it’s looking for different ways to reshape itself, it can get all pulled in a gazillion different directions, because in the aftermath of TBI, things can be crazy and confusing, and we can come up with all sorts of skewed perceptions of ourselves. And if those perceptions are not questioned, challenged and corrected, they can harden into “truth” — which leads us even further down an erring path — into yet more trouble.

Hm. So, the crazier things get, the crazier you feel, and you wonder if you’re just plain losing your mind. You feel depressed and confused and out of sorts, and you don’t know why. So, you do the “logical” thing and you seek professional help. Your friends and family applaud you, because you’ve been getting harder and harder to deal with, and it seems like you have “emotional problems”. (Well, duh – emotional lability and impulse control are often “bundled” with TBI, as a neat little package of insult, injury, and humiliation for everyone involved.)

The only problem is, the therapist you start to see doesn’t know jack about TBI, and they come from the camp of “repressed memory” and how an unhappy childhood marked by long-forgotten/denied/overlooked abuse and neglect is to blame for adult issues. They believe with all their professional soul that most people are walking around in life cut off from their emotions, and that the true path to happiness is to connect with your inner hurt, name your pain, confront the things you are avoiding, and learn to love your demons.

There’s only one problem — none of what they say actually applies to you. The issues you have didn’t start until after your traumatic brain injury, and prior to that head injury, you were a reasonably happy and functional person with their share of troubles, but no “ticking time bomb” of forgotten abuse and neglect to throw you off course. They think that like certain childhood abuse survivors, you have been in denial most of your life, until you reached a certain point in your life when you had “advanced” enough to confront the challenges of resolving a difficult childhood… and they’re going to help you do just that — get in touch with your repressed memories, love the shadow, dance with your demons, and ultimately come to accept and love yourself, no matter what.

Great.

What they don’t realize, however, is that your brain is still recovering, still changing, still modifying itself to the world as it now is (rather than as it was before your injury). It’s volatile and highly subject to suggestion, and you’ve been wrestling for so long with not knowing for sure what’s going on with you or how best to deal with it, that your system is highly tweaked and on an emotional hair trigger. They think you’re in need of emotional “tough love” — but what you really need is some good regular exercise, a daily routine to take the guesswork out of your life, and extra patience and rest.

So, they push you. They challenge you. They test your limits. They try to get you to open up to them… pushing and pushing to get you to “admit” what’s going on inside of you, when internally, you’re in storm of emotion that’s neurologically based and totally inexplicable from a purely psychological point of view. They think you’re in denial and resisting necessary change, and you’re sitting there, week after week, looking at them like they’re from another planet, wondering “What’s wrong with me?!” and getting more and more confused and depressed by the week. You take it out on your friends and family, who have really had it with you, by now, and pull even farther away from you than before, thinking you’re just not trying hard enough.

Your therapist thinks you’re making great progress, getting in touch with your feelings and emotions, letting them come up and processing them. But you’re sinking farther and farther into a morass of emotional confusion, volatility, self-doubt, even desperation. Of course, this is all helping to create repeat business for the therapist who is “helping” you, and they can add even more diagnoses to the insurance bill, so what do they care? (Okay, in fairness, I’m sure that not all therapists are interested in creating repeat business, but any time you combine “care” with making a living, you get into gray areas and tricky territory.)

You’re increasingly worried about your emotional and mental health, and that’s keeping you stressed. You’re not sleeping well, which is taking a toll on your ability to self-regulate — your ability to do, well, everything. You’ve got all of the following TBI after-effects in abundance:

emotions, moods, agitated, can’t settle down, anger, anxiety, feeling vague fear, worry, anticipation of doom, depression, feeling down, excitability, everything feels like an effort, feeling unsure of yourself, feelings of dread, feeling like you’re observing yourself from afar, feelings of well-being, feeling guilty, feeling hostile towards others, impatience, irritability, no desire to talk or  move, feeling lonely, nervousness, feelings of panic, rapid mood swings, restlessness, tearfulness, crying spells, feeling tense, feeling vague longing/yearning, etc…

And according to your therapist, it’s all due to mental health issues. Not brain issues. Emotional ones. It’s not your body that’s the problem. It’s your soul. You’re screwed.

Your brain is getting a steady stream of messages from your therapist and from yourself about “the way things are” — which is that you’re screwed up and in need of some serious intervention — and it’s causing your very plastic brain to re-form itself along the lines they’re suggesting. You feel like you’re getting worse, so your therapist dials up the intensity … and tells you all the drama is good — you’re “feeling things for the first time” (which is total, utter crap) and you’re acknowledging the difficult-to-handle aspects of your life (which really only emerged after your TBI). It throws you into even more of a tailspin, and before you know it, you’re planning on breaking up with your partner/spouse/lover, you’re riding the roller-coaster of withdrawal on one hand and aggression on the other, and you’re more and more convinced that you can’t live without your therapist, who is the one person who will sit in a room with you for more than a few minutes, as you’ve effectively chased everyone else away.

Anybody else have this happen to them? It happened to me, and looking back, all the advice from my friends and family about getting professional help from a licensed psychotherapist, was about the worst I could have gotten — and followed. It almost cost me my marriage, it turned my life into an extended experience in chaos, and the only reason I managed to escape the bogus-psychotherapy merry go round, was that I ended up seeing a truly well-meaning but neurologically clueless psychotherapist who scared the crap out of me because they had connections at a local mental hospital who could have me committed (against my will) at their say-so. A narrow escape, but an escape no less.

In fairness, I do believe that a lot of therapists are well-meaning and they are acting on the information and the training they have. But too often that training does NOT include a neurological element, and/or they decide that the awful ills of the world have psychological roots.

Another thing that makes it difficult is that a lot of therapists have mental health issues of their own. A lot of my therapist friends got into therapy because they were helped by counselors, themselves. While I applaud their eagerness to help others, it puts up a huge red flag for me. Because the nature of their mental health issues — incest or eating disorders or some other awful trauma — caused them to distance themselves from their bodies at a fairly early age, and they have grown up living outside their bodies. My therapist friends are by and large antagonistic towards their own bodies. They don’t really exercise, and if they do, it’s “gentle stretching” or yoga or something really non-challenging. They are not on friendly terms with their own physical selves, which closes their minds when I suggest that exercise and taking care of your body (as if your life depends on it, which it does) is key to mental health.

It’s all “mind over matter” for them — and I’ve witnessed the same mindset in other psychologists and therapists I’ve met. Not physically vigorous. Not physically healthy. Sitting all day in small rooms, gaining weight, losing muscle tone, planning on knee and shoulder replacements to repair the damage that their sedentary lifestyles have done to their bodies. And complaining all the while about stupid little things that a little exercise would make seem inconsequential.

Good grief.

Anyway, I’ll quit ranting, now. It’s a beautiful day, and thank heaven I remembered I need to move money into my bank account to cover a monthly autobill. Just to wrap up, when it comes to deciding whether or not you really need therapy, consider your neuropsychological state, and make sure you don’t get stuck with someone who doesn’t have a clue about how neurology can make you a little crazy… but that passes with time, and with the proper training and reinforcement for what your life can really be like.

‘Cuz if you aren’t crazy when you start seeing them, regular visits can make sure you really get there.

Caveat emptor.

Just stay safe

Source: Peter Kaminski

Little alarm bells have  been going off in the back of my head, lately. I am at the kind of place in my life that previously has resulted in a number of mild traumatic brain injuries:

I’m tired. I’ve been (over)tired for months, now, as I’ve been looking for a new job and going through the process of interviewing.

I’m anxious. Money is tight, and I am starting to get nervous about this new job.

I’m behind on my chores. Bills are outstanding. I’m behind in my yardwork. I need to make some repairs to the house, but I can’t seem to get started.

I’m rushing and pushing and overdoing it. I am driving a lot more, these days, than usual. I am also driving when I am tired — but jazzed on caffeine or amped up on adrenaline from anxiety and nerves. I have been drinking more coffee than I would like. And eating more cheap, crappy carbs which make me feel like crap and stress me out.

I’m desperate to keep it together. I so want to do a good job with this new position. I don’t want to start out on the wrong foot. I’m stressing about it, worried I’m not going to keep it together. Already, I’ve had some discussions with the HR folks about some questions I have about the legal aspects of the job, and I’m not sure I’m coming across as someone who has half a brain. I’m trying a little too hard. I feel like I’m already behind.

But I can’t give in to that feeling. “It’s a feeling, not a fact,” as one of my alcoholic friends used to (annoyingly) tell me. I need to find a way to enhance my tonic arousal and keep myself alert and awake without using cheap carbs and caffeine and stressors that pump me up with adrenaline.

Right now, my main priority is literally keeping myself physically safe. I can’t afford to have another TBI. I’m not being paranoid — I am living in conditions that are very similar to ones that occasioned my past accidents, and it’s making me even more nervous than I already am.

I need to chill out. I need to not overdo my schedule, to the point where I can’t  pay attention while I’m driving, or I fall down the stairs, or I slip and fall, or I run into something. I need to stay extremely present in my life, right now, just focus on the most basic things, when I’m not doing my job. Keep things very, very simple. Don’t complicate life any more than it already is. Just focus on keeping my balance – literally – and be very, very aware of what and when I eat, and how late I stay up at night.

This is so incredibly boring for me, I can’t even say.  I’m not in the mood to pay attention to staying upright/vertical. I know I’ve talked about the unbearable fulness of being before, but tonight I’m not in the mood to take good care. I’m not in the mood to cook real food and eat on a regular schedule. I don’t want to pay attention to how much money I’m spending, and whether my clothes are clean. I want to run around like a chicken with my head cut off, bouncing from one frantic activity to another, racing around at top speed, zipping up and down the highway, careening from one appointment to the next. I don’t want to have to stop and consider, to ponder, to assess. I don’t want to analyze and examine.

I’m whining, I know, but that’s how I feel. I’m tired. And I’m a little concerned about my state of mind. I’m starting a new job on Friday, and I need to take care of myself. Get more sleep. Eat right. Quit eating all that sugar, already.

Speaking of taking care of myself, let me stop writing, already. I’ve got to get to bed. Early. Sensibly.

I can do this.

I can keep myself safe, in one piece.

I can do this.