Friday, October 30, 2015

Mind Change Day 30: The End for Now

In the time I've been waiting, and then actively trying to complete my recovery from a series of concussions, I've been super-sensitive to the opinions of others, and everything they say irks:
  • I sound like something's wrong
  • I act completely normal
  • I'm different than I used to be
  • I'm the same as ever, just muted
Nothing fits as an overall assessment because in one set of circumstances I'm really suffering, and in the next I'm comical and can't  help but laugh at myself. In a third I might feel like my old, super-smart self. In another I feel like I've become a more grounded and level-headed person. 

In truth, I'm the only one who's with me all the time, and although my abilities and reactions don't vary within the same situation (i.e. dueling conversations vs. a game on in a bar is always going to silence me and focus my attention on drinking my pint and then getting the hell outside), they vary a ton throughout the day because the situations are different. And it's weird to be on high alert every time I come into contact with someone, waiting to be judged. It skews your energy with people toward the self-conscious and suspicious.

I want out. 


There's only one way, of course--to stop caring about others' opinions. Yes I still need to care about those closest to me, but others? I have to let their opinion of me go. It's a snap judgement based on one moment in time and can't be an accurate description of how I'm doing overall, because that's complicated. So I need to stop treating them like a final grade in a year-long course. 

This week I walked into a school PPT and gave everyone a careful look for familiarity. I knew two of them and introduced myself (with handshakes, I'm so friendly) to the other five. All of whom introduced themselves by name, explaining how they knew me from multiple meetings in the past. They gave a smile. I apologized, flushed with embarrassment, and sat. 

What happened next is the issue. We launched into the meeting and reports were read. Sure, the reports weren't gripping or surprising but if they were I wouldn't have known because I was dealing with all my feelings about making the introduction mistakes. Did they think I was nuts? Did they know I'm out of work for these kinds of problems? 

Mind you--this PPT was not about me, it was held for my foster son and involved issues I really cared about. I needed to get in the game with the important stuff. This turned out to be quite difficult because of a conference call, poor reception, hearing and speaking were frazzled for everyone and I kept forgetting the points I wanted to make. And when I was frazzled and frustrated, the other feelings from the introductions (shame for not recognizing people I knew, worry over what they thought of me) intruded as well, making an emotional sandwich of with layers of negativity. 

Did I write down my negative thoughts or concerns, check them for whether they were distortions, and rip them up? 

No. I did not. 

Did I focus my breathing, let a tree outside catch my eye, center myself and let those anxieties drift past me like fallen leaves on a stream? 

You know I didn't. 

I wanted to pull out some gum and chew it because I was suddenly nervous and very emotional in a situation I have been in dozens of times in my lifetime, either at work or with my kids. But wasn't gum forbidden in school? I had a side conversation with my foster son over the gum in my purse.

Why was I flipping out? I was capable here. In theory. 

In reality I was a mess, but that had started before the meeting. My oldest son at home (he's 22) didn't have day program and had talked incessantly for hours that morning. His staff had said she would be late, not arriving until after I was in the PPT (what was I supposed to do, take him with me?  Have him sit in the hall?), then a few calls and emails came at me about other family-related issues I needed to deal with, I had homework due for a writing class. My son's staff arrived just as I was leaving so I didn't have to take him but filling her in on the morning made me late. I was low on gas, out of cash, forgot my debit card and realized on the drive that I hadn't taken my meds. There was an accident in the front of the school and some little orange ad-covered car took the last visitor spot while I was patiently waiting to be waved past the accident so I had to park in a far-off lot, making me even more late. Then the security guard reminded me of the new policy where I had to present a driver's license for scanning and printing of my visitor's pass (I did have my license, but it was in the far-off car so I had to troop back there), and a friend of mine who was a secretary tried to talk to me while I rushed by, in the midst of about five hundred other people talking. I couldn't answer the question she asked (or hear it, even) and was flustered.

Then I walked into the meeting. 

Here's why I need to be more gentle with myself. On another day, in other circumstances I can easily imagine, I could have breezed into a spot, through security, had a nice little chat with my friend and then entered the room smiling. In that circumstance would I have recognized the people I knew? 

I'm not sure, but if not I would have done the "smart" thing and held back from saying anything. Since I know I forget faces I would have waited until they introduced themselves. It was the rushing, "flustered" part of me that made that blunder.

She's not me, or not all of me. All of me includes the woman who can--when given enough time--fire off a pretty cohesive and convincing email, who can have the best insights into our kids' behavior, who can organize a vacation or stormproof the house. All of me includes my sweetness, my devotion, my playfulness, my creativity and especially my organizational strategies that get most important things in my life done well. I'm capable in all kinds of situations, just not all. 

I really stumbled in the meeting, making my points in a slow, disjointed kind of way that had the teacher running the meeting (who I've known for years and really like) summarizing what I said and checking to make sure he had it right. And that was really hard. My frustration with myself grew. 

But afterward the only damage was to my ego. I was fine. Hunter was fine. The people in the meeting probably forgot all about me the minute they left that room, and all the points I'd meant to raise were made and managed to everyone's satisfaction.

No harm, no foul. 

Honestly, no one cares about most of this "what's up with her?" stuff but me. And if I choose to ruminate about it, I'll increase my suffering. If I let it go, I'm free. 

That's a liberating goal, but I'm not there yet, and that's part of why I'm still in Stage 3 of the DOCC Program, and specifically stuck on Judgment. Until this month I was on leave from a job that was important to me, even though it was apparent from early on that I could no longer do my job. There's no overt shame in this--most people couldn't do my job--but I could for a long time, and that was "mine," a validation of my expertise, skill and worth.

Ah, there it is. That last word. What am I worth now that said job is no longer mine?

The Back in Control take on neuroplasticity is that the neural pathways that we've reinforced for years (in my case, decades) can be reprogrammed, but this work takes time.  Eighteen months minimum for chronic pain, and my neurologist says "there's no known timeline" for how long it might take with PCS (Post-concussive Syndrome), or even if it will be an effective treatment.

So what keeps me truckin'?

There's no downside to using the structure of this program to improve my symptoms and quality of life. It covers almost all the bases--self-care, judgments, stress management, mindfulness and awareness, self-talk, dealing with anger, anxiety and setbacks, going from a reactive to a creative mindset, acceptance of what will not change, building the life that I want, giving up victimhood, understanding how what I think lays down neural pathways, learning that I still choose whether to do what my brain wants, getting organized, accepting spiritual guidance, working on family issues, letting go of the parts of the past I still crave.

Like my job. Former job. Ex.

Hmm. Have you ever had passionate longing for a job? How silly is that? When I had this job it often drove me crazy. It took 90+ percent of my work week energy, and a chunk of the weekends I was on call. I loved working with a lot of the people there but I still see them sometimes (like earlier tonight, which was great). Yes I helped a lot of kids and families there but they're still being helped by other people. And is it my manic work ethic that has kept me from taking even one day in the many months I've been home to go to the beach and read for pleasure   So I'm dealing with about four kinds of cognitive distortions here, all blended into a craptastic stew I can eat or wrinkle my nose at and chuck.

Creating the stew means I'm still at Stage Three. But the fact that I'm wholeheartedly wrinkling and chucking means I'm making progress.

That and thirty freaking posts this month. Wow, that still seems like a me-made miracle. So what will I take on next? I'll let you know in another (possibly shorter ;)) series next year. For now I'll enjoy this blog burst being done

Love, Lisa



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