Making Progress (originally posted on 27 May 2020)

July 30, 2022

TBI

*A repost of a blog Justin wrote on The Simple Things from 27 May 2020

One of the marvels of life is the knowledge that you don’t know what you don’t know, until you know. And you won’t realize that truth until you’re old enough to not just experience life, but to make mistakes.

If you read last weeks post, you know, that I truly didn’t know how off my brain has been.  Not just since COVID, but for the past few years.  While COVID and its subsequent response has been an incredible strain and has had considerable negative impacts and consequences for many, for me, it’s created a time to heal unlike any I’ve known since my injury in 2016.  Sure, I’ve taken some down time prior but because I didn’t know what I know now, the results were not nearly what they’ve been the past 8 weeks.

So what happened recently that opened my eyes?  I simply had a moment of realization regarding how much clearer my thoughts have become.  How I’ve been able to process normally for longer duration’s.  How my attitude is beginning to change a bit and I don’t feel as anxious, fatigued, and overwhelmed, even though I still have much going on in life.  As a matter of fact, I probably have more going on now than I did a couple months ago.  More projects for sure, more opportunities, more requirements and yet, I don’t feel the same neurological fatigue that have plagued me the past few years.

Whenever such substantial changes happen, it also begs the question, what adjustments occurred that allowed for improvement?

After taking time to investigate my own habits, these are the changes and adjustments I believe have directly impacted my health positively. Truthfully, TBI or not, most if not all, would see benefit from reviewing their own habits and adjusting accordingly.
Sleep Routine
Last night aside, most nights I’ve been sleeping quite well.  I believe this is in large part due to creating a sleep routine.  While I still have some work to do to attain the consistency I desire, most night’s I adhere to a routine that now includes some light stretching, washing my face and hands with warm water, and limiting my screen usage an hour before crawling into bed at around the same time and waking at approximately the same time the following morning.  This has held even through the quarantine period, though admittedly I’ve had a few nights where my bed time was later and thus I arose later.  For more on building sleep routines, check out Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, PHD
Which brings to number two:
Sleep
Admittedly, it’s a serious focus for me.  As mentioned above, I’d like to be on a perfect fall asleep and wake up schedule but do stray from time to time.  I also seek that 8-ish hours a night as we’ve learned through experience that my days of 4-5 of sleep are behind me if I want to live a productive life. Sometimes it’s 7.5 and at times it’s over 9 but I do what I can not to be less 7.  Lack of sleep for me has come to be a known issue with drastic effects on my personality, focus, concentration, and general function-ability so saying it’s a priority is putting it mildly.  And because it’s a priority I also add in a little extra during the day when needed .
Naps
This one varies. Some day’s it’s a necessity (like today likely after a bad nights sleep) and some days I can skip it. Sometimes they’re an hour plus and others 15-20 minutes.  So long as I hit the sweet spot and don’t wake up during a heavy sleep cycle leaving me groggy for hours, naps have been a wonderful addition.
Hydration
There is a noticeable difference in my cognitive abilities when I’m hydrated vs dehydrated.  And it makes sense because our brain is 80% water.  Yet, like my previous self, many people walk around chronically dehydrated.  It’s one of the easiest health changes we can make while it’s also being one of the easiest to overlook.  For myself, I aim for at least 1/2 my body weight in OZ of water per day.  And I find hitting that target makes a difference in how I feel not just that day, but the next as well.
Diet
I DO NOT mean that I’m on a special diet like Atkins or Weight Watchers, ect.  In this case I use the term diet as reference to the foods I eat. I’ve moved to a more protein and fat focused diet while limiting my carbs.  I’m not KETO, I’ve simply found I feel better eating more protein so that’s my focus.  I’ve also drastically cut to near zero consumption of foods that create known issues for me, like dairy.  This is not to say my diet is always perfect because if it was I’d lose weight faster but it’s better now, getting better weekly, and I notice a significant difference in my brain health, which makes sense honestly.  If my brain has to fight issues in my body created by my diet, it becomes more fatigued.  The more fatigued, the worse I feel.  It only makes sense to create habits around my food choices that will allow for the most success.
Driving
This is a huge one for me personally.  Even before COVID overtook the world, I was leaving my former gym.  Not because I didn’t enjoy working there or the people, I absolutely loved and still love, both.  But the driving was creating issues.  Some that were very apparent, some that have become more so since I’ve not had to do it as much.  But the driving was definitely causing symptom increases.  It was 47 miles each way, which equaled about two hours of total drive time and it’s very clear that’s not good for me.  Perhaps someday with continued adjustments the issues with driving will no longer be present, but as this is the second job I’ve been required to exit that involved considerable driving, I cannot ignore the connection any longer.  During this down time, my driving has been limited and the times I am behind the wheel are much more reasonable and don’t seem to cause problems.  There have been a couple of longer drives thrown in during and while they do create fatigue by the end of the day, so long as I take the time I need after to recover, the longer term repercussions have been nil.
Routine
This is a work in progress but the benefits are undeniable. So far I’ve created both morning and evening routines and am working to schedule more and make use of apps on my phone.  I’ve found having a white board and writing out daily tasks makes a tremendous difference as does crossing off those tasks when they’re done.  Knowing when and were certain tasks will be done helps not only accomplish those specific ones, but I’m finding I don’t get as stressed when life happens unexpectedly because my brain isn’t overwhelmed.
Writing
This goes along with routine.  Sometimes it’s writing to write.  Sometimes, like this, it’s to blog.  It may be for a social media post or it might just be a brain dump.  Whatever the method and reason, getting it out means it’s not bouncing around in my brain, mixing with other thoughts, creating anxiety that I’ll forget or creating stress because it’s one more task or detail.  Removing it from my thought processes means I can have the option to put all my focus on it at that time, or know it’s available for me to come back to later when I can focus.  Either way, it’s handled in that moment.

Lists

Damn I create a lot of lists now.  A lot.  Some for different challenges I’m working on.  My routines are written.  I’ve created to-do lists and broken them down for time sensitive purposes.  Lists are helping, though I do need to be careful at times that I don’t spend some much time making lists I don’t actually do that work.  Feel free to laugh but it’s a thing for sure.

Do Now
This is a big one.  Many times, even if I had time to do a quick task, I’d stack it with others.  Tell me if this sounds familiar:

A 5 minute or less tasks needs to be done.  But because it’s 5 minutes, it can wait until later.  And it doesn’t create much stress because it’s just a 5 minute task.  However, by the end of the week you have 10 of them.  So now instead of a 5 minute task, you have 50 minutes worth of additional tasks.  Not only that, now you have to remember the details of all 10 tasks.  This will require time.  Plus, a few have special requirements so you spend time searching for the instructions but can’t locate what you need.  Now those quick 5 minute tasks have taken twice the time, raised your stress and frustration, and create unnecessary problems.  

I’ve eliminated a lot of that by simply trying to knock most of them out when they arise.  And the impact of such a seemingly small change is incredibly noticeable.

The big takeaway here is the increased importance I’ve found in organization and understanding of limitations.  Both of those once seemed like dirty words to me but I’ve made incredible strides in recognizing their utility.  A little organization can save a lot of time so long as I don’t focus so much on the process I’m unable to do the actual work.  Finding my limitations allows me to develop workable solutions instead of consistently trying to push through unsuccessfully.

As such, all roads lead to fewer health issue and thus, increased productivity and life enjoyment.

Seems like a reasonable trade-off to me.

Written By Justin B.

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