Stressful Life Stuff

Going through some stressful life stuff lately. Keeping my head above water, but just barely. One day at a time is another 24hrs of struggle without much reprieve or an end in sight.

This might sound melodramatic, but the life  of an adult with a brain injury is tough. At this stage, especially if your injury is decades behind you, everyone expects that there’s really no reason to use it as an  “excuse” any longer. Neither do they realize, however, that the damage is permanent and with age the brain becomes more and more tired as it has compensated for so long. Sure, the best-case scenario sees an individual surrounded by routine and some type of support system, but unless that support system is ideal and the routine ongoing, there really is no way to guarantee a life that isn’t consumed by exhaustion. 

Throw into this mix an above average intelligence but quite a few “bad breaks” over the years, and the frustration and sense of constant drowning becomes the new norm. Good jobs are not easy to come by, survival requires timing and attention that often seems an impossibility. In a constant state of stress, your bio-chemistry actually changes and your body begins fighting itself. 

Life is cruel to some of us. 

Distraction

Ugh. It’s 10:17pm and I should have been in bed an hour ago. I’m not done putting Christmas away and I’ve been on Facebook for far too long.

I’ve been feeling really distracted and scattered lately – too many things on the “to do” list and too many interactions I want to have (challenging elitist thinking on social media, standing up for the causes I believe in), and then of course there are the obligatory job commitments. 

I’ve known for a while that I want to blog more and do more intentional things like read, write, and play my guitar. I’ve tried on a number of occasions to delete my Facebook app or even limit my time spent on it. Each time, though, I get sucked back in. 

But today was the last straw. A friend posted something promoting Kevin O’Leary and I challenged her, commenting that I would be more supportive of the PC Party if they had a different leader. Her response was that I likely wouldn’t like her thoughts on the matter – so we left it at that. After days of reading and reposting Trump articles and the preaching against his craziness and that of his followers, I have become emotionally exhausted even thinking of the possibility of someone supporting these tyrants. 

It reminds me of this meme I shared a few weeks back:

And that’s exactly it. I’m tired of the ugliness of this world and the people in it (many of them people of faith who fuel the bigotry and hatred with their judgmental ways). 

Being an empath, it is very important that I first preserve myself if I am to be of any support to anyone else. To me, this means disconnecting from my Facebook attachment. I wouldn’t say I have a full-blown addiction to the social media platform, but I’d say that it’s definitely my worst form of distraction. The social media platform has done many good things for me: it has allowed me to advertise my business for free, to connect with family all over the world, and it has taught me valuable lessons about intersectionality and community. It has also, sadly, caused me a lot of heartache and sadness and frustration as my brain struggles to keep my feelings in check and refrain from speaking when I shouldn’t. I allow myself to get sucked into the vortex too easily and I am way too willing to waste an hour interacting online rather than taking down my Christmas decorations. 😉

So, here I am, getting back to being intentional. When I am feeling a need to discuss or vent, I have decided to do it here (and thus meet my goal of writing again). When I’m feeling a need to connect, I will chat with my Twitter peeps, and I’m hoping that by disconnecting from checking how many likes that last post received or what comments people had on today’s rant then I will be more able to focus on my list of tasks and feel better about getting myself organized at home.

This was a long time coming and I’m already ecstatic that I’m doing this. Stay tuned for updates on my struggles and the positive outcome of this commitment. 

Elitist/Ableist Thinking

It really bugs me that people think that those of us who struggle to find work in a terrible economy are lazy or simply taking advantage of the system. 

Both my sister and I have benefited from EI and its social assistance over the years. It’s a very necessary program considering the economy these days. Even the Welfare program is beneficial to those without options and in terrible situations. I’ve heard stories of single women who were left to raise children and a not a penny to their name. Without these social supports, our society would be in serious trouble.

So, when I hear elitist friends say they don’t agree with living off of the hard work of others, it really irks me. At some point even the elitist may need that support. What goes around comes around. We never know what lies around the corner for us. Life is funny that way.

The same goes for the ableist mentality. This is not often thought about. People who are fully physically and cognitively able don’t think twice about their attitude toward those of us who may have challenges – be it chronic fatigue or cognitive delay or physical inabilities. It’s so easy to assume that we are lazy (which is so far from the truth). And if you don’t agree, come live a day in our shoes and see how exhausting simple daily living activities can be. Add to that the emotional stress of relationships with people who don’t “get it”, and a society whose ignorance permeates the very air we breathe…the struggle is real. If you thought tension in the air feels thick, you should experience the feeling of ignorance (and arrogance) thrust upon you. It leaves me speechless – believe it or not (😉).

Why don’t you get a job and stop living off the system? You look fine. What’s wrong with you? 

First of all, appearances mean nothing. Mental health challenges are one of the most common issues in society right now. These challenges leave a person immobilized and unable to focus or think. Even on medications, our bodies are exhausted from fighting ourselves. Secondly, jobs (especially in London, On) do not grow on trees. Many decent paying positions require very specific education and training. Without the money and cognitive ability and energy to pursue such training, a person is sunk. 

So what’s left then? Where does that leave us? Minimum wage jobs do not pay the bills. Sadly, since moving back from Calgary almost 10yrs ago, I have had only one job with full time hours and decent pay. It lasted a little over a year and was an abusive situation. I was forced to quit as the owners were tired of working with my exceptionality. 

So, here I am, having been forced to start my own business just so that I had a job, and specifically one without a boss breathing down my back with unrealistic expectations. But the work of running ones own business is not exactly ideal for someone with brain injury. The payment per hour barely covers travel expenses and time spent “working”, never mind administration. I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. 

But of course, I look fine. So what’s my problem? Just find another job, right? Lots of people work multiple jobs to pay the bills. Go ahead and judge me and tell me again that I’m not worth the money I charge for the service I provide. And by all means, let me know again that you don’t appreciate having to pay for someone else’s life (which is not mine, just for the record).

Lately, I just can’t stand people. 😒

Today’s Rant: Some people think it’s laziness….

It’s 5pm and I’m about ready to fall asleep.  Yesterday was the same, as was the day before.  I think you get the idea.

Some people think it’s laziness…I mean, we all get tired after a gruelling day at work, right?  So how am I so much more tired than anyone else? Some go to the extent of talking slowly as if to a child, or in a condescending tone with obvious references so as to insinuate a misunderstanding.  No, I’m not lazy.  No, I’m not simple.  I have a brain injury.  I become tired more easily because I have to consciously “turn on my brain” to hold focus on anything for more than two seconds.  And then anytime I have to change focus or move from one activity to the next, that change alone takes another conscious effort and consequently another bout of energy (as does the planning of said activities, deciding which to do when – heaven forbid that plan not work out, which it rarely does).  It’s called executive functioning.

“Executive function refers to a set of mental skills that are coordinated in the brain’s frontal lobe. Executive functions work together to help a person achieve goals.

Executive function includes the ability to:

  • manage time and attention
  • switch focus
  • plan and organize
  • remember details
  • curb inappropriate speech or behavior
  • integrate past experience with present action

When executive function breaks down, behavior becomes poorly controlled. This can affect a person’s ability to:

  • work or go to school
  • function independently
  • maintain appropriate social relationships

Types of Executive Function

Executive function can be divided into two categories:

  • organization
  • regulation

Organization involves gathering information and structuring it for evaluation. Regulation involves taking stock of the environment and changing behavior in response to it.”

http://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/executive-function

So we (with my type of injury) are taught to create as much routine as possible in life so as to minimize the effort required, given that the brain power involved in just remembering to brush my teeth in the morning is overwhelming. LOL. I laugh because I get how ridiculous it sounds.  And I laugh so as not to cry at the thought of how pathetic my life seems sometimes.

Every time I leave the house I consciously go through my list (did I lock the doors? did I turn off the flat iron? did I remember to brush my teeth?) And sometimes, because I can’t remember and to make sure I’ve done it, I go back and do it again. (Obsessive compulsive much?) Talk about exhausting!!

But a friend reminded me the other day…you are not pathetic! You own your own house! You lift weights at the gym three times a week! You volunteer with dogs, support others with brain injuries, you play the clarinet in a band every Saturday morning and you’re learning to play guitar! How is that pathetic?!

And yes…I have to actually remind myself of these things on a daily basis.  Because if I don’t, I will be eaten up by the cloud of negativity that swarms.  I liked this saying I saw on Facebook once: “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, surrounded by assholes.” 🙂 I’ve learned to eliminate these people from my life as much as possible, and to stand up to the ones I don’t want to fully eliminate.  But, again…it takes effort. It takes effort to control my emotions, to objectify the situation, and to be the mature one who speaks about the situation intellectually rather than getting caught up in the fact that the other person is treating me like garbage.  If I don’t, I will get sucked into the vortex of intense emotion.  I will try to soothe that intense emotion with unrealistic coping mechanisms, and I will hate myself because of it.  And, yes, that too is exhausting.  But the benefit far outweighs the costs involved.

So, having said all of that, I get to the crux of my discussion.  In reference to the title: Do people honestly think I have it easy?  That I’m being lazy with my lifestyle (because I’m not working at the moment)? or that with all my positive social networking posts, my life must be hunky dory?  It sometimes comes across that way.

First of all, hopefully from the above introduction, people realize that there is nothing “easy” about my life.  Everything from feeding my cat to brushing my teeth, planning my meals, grocery shopping, cooking my meals, planning my route, driving my car, getting to the gym class on time, lifting the weights properly…everything takes effortful energy to turn on my brain to that particular activity, remain focussed throughout, and change attention to the next thing.  How does that seem easy to anyone?

Secondly, I am not working right now only because I overextended myself in both of my last jobs over the past three years and I essentially went crazy – couldn’t be in public without breaking down crying at the drop of a hat, was experiencing extreme OCD and wasn’t looking after myself AT ALL (slept all day, no shower for a week, etc). And due to my now very limited income I have had to make some very serious budget cuts (including food intake some days) to be able to still pay my bills and meet financial obligations.  Do people actually think I WANT to have no money?!  Sure, not working allows me a few extra hours in the day, but I still have a house to look after, volunteer commitments to keep and self-betterment to think about.  Oh yes….and that talk we had earlier about energy and exhaustion? Having limited finances takes a LOT of planning.

Thirdly, most of what I post on my social networking sites are quotes and affirmations that I need to see to be reminded that I am going to make it through this day, that my life matters, and that I too can find success in life. I have a lot of days when I am grateful for my circumstances, for special people in my life, and for the “little” and not-so-little ways in which I am blessed.  I also have many days when the negativity overcomes me and I feel like an unaccomplished so-and-so with a pathetic existence.  But I know that’s not true.  I know that because I’ve had many experiences and known many people that have affirmed my existential value.

So whether I feel it on any given day or not, the reality is: I have a pretty great life.  I am blessed and accomplished with strengths and talents that make me happy and bring joy to those around me.  I am not lazy, I am not simple.  I have a brain injury that makes me more tired than most people, and it sometimes makes me more emotional and/or reflective.  That is all.

…end rant.

Image

…this is my life…and I really do love it.

Brutal Honesty

Today I hate my life. Sounds dramatic…I know. Emotional, over the top, a bit excessive…yes, yes, and yes. But you know what? It’s the reality of my experience lately. This is depression.

Have you ever been “stuck”? …on a thought, a feeling, or in a place in life? Have you ever felt so overwhelmed with negativity that you are literally immobilized with sadness? Have you ever wondered if people would actually notice if you were gone?

I think about it a lot. I often think about the fact that if it weren’t for my own exhausting efforts to connect with and reach out to others, I would probably never hear from anyone. In fact, I’ve actually put this theory to the test and have found it to be true.

We are such an independent, individualistic society. And while to some degree I find myself relatively confident in my independence because of my introverted personality, I am also very “relational” and find myself needing to connect with others for a sense of community. I love relationships, learning from others, supporting and encouraging those who need it and sharing a laugh at the world’s craziness.

But let me ask you something: How often do you express genuine gratitude to those people around you? How often do you check in on people – friends, family, even acquaintances on Facebook. How often do you freely offer a hug, a genuine smile, or a helping hand? It’s so easy to get wrapped up in your own world, rushing from one activity to the next, focused on your personal obligations, never considering how you can contribute positively to the world around you.

This is definitely where I’m at today…feeling like an island in a big nasty world. As I went about my day of errands and activities today, thinking about all of the things on my “to do” list, I was suddenly struck by an incredible emotional fatigue. I am tired of life, tired of the rat-race, tired of trying, tired of keeping face. The energy it takes to live life just seems like an overwhelming burden right now. I made it to band this morning, played for two exhausting hours, remembered to stop at the market and grocery store for food, and now I’m at home curled up with a warm blanket and my kitty.

In a world so interconnected with social media and instant communication, life-tracking with “check-in’s” and insta-photos, I think we are so used to people broadcasting their thoughts, feelings, and daily activities that we have lost our empathic ability to inquisitively and actively care about those around us. It makes me think about a really specific example from my concert band practice on Saturdays.

During our coffee break time, I have noticed that there are always a fringe group of members who line the benches or stand quietly against the wall. Then the other 75% mingle freely in the middle, enjoying the snacks and refreshments, debriefing the week between practices. During these times, there is a lovely retired gentleman in the band who regularly makes sure to check in on me. We carry on a genuine exchange of experiences and ideas, thoughts and reflections. It’s really nice. And I see it as a true example of community and well-developed social skills.

This is what I miss. I miss the connections of family and friends who actually give a shit (pardon my French)…people who miss you when you’re gone or when they don’t hear from you…people who actually wonder how you’re doing and what they can do to help you. It’s like people don’t have time to care about others these days because they are so wrapped up in their own stuff.

I rarely hear a genuine “how are you?” anymore – with the intent to listen and not just respond. In much the same way, I have even found myself apologizing for who I am or how I feel simply to appease those around me (knowing that everything I do and say seems to draw an “annoyed” response). My personal feelings don’t matter. But my-oh-my…if I don’t consider the position of someone else at certain moments, do I ever hear about it!!

In a world that supposedly values objectivism, we are losing our innate human ability to sense and respond to emotions. They are not acknowledged or valued or understood. Given this fact, then, I find we are becoming more and more disconnected as a society, and less and less capable of communicating with or relating to those around us.

No wonder I am in such a dark place today.

…this is my life…

Focus

It’s been another couple of weeks since I’ve written.  Gosh, this life gets overwhelming sometimes. For anyone who hasn’t read my blog posts in the past, I encourage you to have a look at some of them to give some context for this one.  My Blog is a place of personal expression and enlightenment where I hope to connect with others through my experiences – many of which are due to an brain injury sustained as an adolescent.

Today I have chosen to write about focus.  It’s something that I struggle with a lot, both on a macro and micro-management scale.  I fully believe that more and more people are plagued with this as well, living in this fast-moving society that we live in.  In this busy, loud, multi-tasking world, it’s difficult to stay on track these days – whether with one particular task, or on a grander scale of aligning life choices with one end goal in mind.

Focus is such an abstract concept, but an important one.  I see people all around me struggling with this same thing, so I don’t feel alone – nor do I believe that my struggle is “due to” my injury.  I think that’s a huge thing for anyone to accept post-trauma.  The awareness that we are not alone in our experiences is one level of acceptance, but that our experience is not necessarily an isolated incident due to only this type of injury (brain injury) is a deeper level of acceptance.  But I digress…. (ironic, as I discuss the concept of focus…) lol

Whether it be in our moment-to-moment interaction with the world around us, or our overall commitment of energy as a whole, I believe we can all benefit from an increased level of focus.  “And what might that look like,” you ask?  Tuning in more intently in a conversation, directing more energy in a physical exertion, or simply freeing up your mind to attend without inhibition to the task at hand – all of these instances can amount to greater focus and, in turn, greater performance or a deeper, more alert experience.

Try it sometime.

It’s how the best physical training coaches direct their athletes, how musicians perfect their craft, and how good friends establish such a strong connection.  It’s the practice of “presence” – being fully in the moment, physically/intectually/emotionally.  If you are looking to improve a skill, deepen a relationship, or just experience life more fully, I highly recommend this personal practice.

And don’t be discouraged when you find you have to take a break, or you feel your mind wandering, or you feel like you’re making the same mistakes over and over.  Let your awareness expand through the experience.  Take a minute to reflect and notice what you notice about your presence, your performance and what is happening around you.  The repetition of this practice will help to increase your mind’s sensitivity to the experience, and you will surprise yourself with the improvements you will see.

This is my life.

The Beauty of Simplicity

After a conversation yesterday about the complexities of life and the beauty of simplicity, I thought today was a perfect day for checking this one off my list. I have a list of blog topics that come to mind at random times and when there are no “pressing” topics for the day, I work my way through the list. My list contains topics that I find myself facing on a daily basis – random challenges specific to my experience, or delights which come out of them.

The beauty of simplicity is something I have learned from several sources in my life. Having grown up in the country, my siblings and I learned to amuse ourselves with nature and our imaginations rather than being bombarded by technology. Since then, my experience with a brain injury provided setbacks which in turn allowed for the development of a unique perspective – literally “dialing it back” as I learned to walk and talk again at the age of 16, acquiring more subtle social skills into my 20’s. I have come to a new appreciation of the efforts made to do seemingly “simple” tasks in life – things we take for granted. These tasks are important but often unaccounted for in the average persons life: planning meals, buying groceries, prioritizing time for a shower, brushing teeth, adequate driving time and sleep.

One of the techniques we are taught in learning to deal with our challenges is improved self-awareness. As mentioned in previous blogs, a more thorough self-awareness amounts to more effective life choices. I likened my teachings in cognitive behavioural therapy to the guided enlightenment of the yoga practice. I had been instructed to participate in yoga as a part of my physiotherapy program, however I found there were many many more psychological benefits as well.

There was something that my yoga teacher would say that has always stuck with me. She would encourage us to “notice what you notice” as we moved from one pose to another. She was literally teaching us how to be aware without actually saying so. She facilitated the awareness experience in a way that made it automatic after a few classes. And soon I found myself “noticing what I noticed” about everything in life – the colours of the world around me, the sense of alertness after a restful sleep, the crisp feeling and fresh smell of the air on a cold winters day.

All of those experiences bring my awareness back to the beauty of simplicity in life – the warmth of a genuine smile, the awe of a child learning a new skill, the appreciation of the sound of silence. Despite all of the challenges and frustrations in my life, I have come to use my awareness practice – recognizing and acknowledging the beauty of simplicity – to bring balance to my life. The neat thing about it is that the awareness allows for a more positive outlook and attitude which helps to actually enjoy the happenings in the day rather than just going through the motions. This inner joy brings meaning to life which then spills out and effects the happiness of others, which in turn reflects back! I find myself in a better mood, surrounded by positive, empowering people, and even more enlightening experiences. Simply put, it’s beautiful.

…this is my life…