I remind myself that “we don’t grow from comfortable situations”, but it feels hollow. Tears well up, and I grit my teeth and stifle them, frustrated, angry. With myself, mostly. With the circumstances, definitely. There’s too much good fortune in my experience right now for this bullshit, I tell myself, echoing something my partner said to me moments ago, from his own pissed off, frustrated perspective. The feeling of futility I am presently mired in is a painful challenge to overcome. It’s all too human. It’s also baggage, and bullshit, and probably almost entirely self-imposed, if I could get to a clear-headed place to examine it with less visceral emotional involvement.

…Breathe…Exhale…Relax…

My writing stalls. My coffee just sits. There’s no eagerness to embrace the moment. No acceptance from with which to step forward, walk on, and begin again. I exist, presently, as a moment of pain. A living, breathing, emotional wound… but I’m not quite sure what this hurt is truly about, and so don’t know how to comfort myself or heal me. I think about my partner, doing his own best in another room. Cross words exchanged before we could even enjoy our coffee. I’m disappointed with myself for losing control; I know how much damage emotional volatility can do in a single moment. That delicate balance that is feeling the feelings while also holding oneself to a standard of appropriate behavior suitable for all circumstances, that lives my values moment to moment, in spite of whatever emotional storm is blowing in… is hard. It’s a feat that requires steady practice, and it has to matter… and, and this is the hardest bit, the win nearly always comes in spite of someone else’s volatility, turmoil, or provocation. It’s not enough to be steady, calm, and to listen deeply alone in a silent room. It’s about a practice that makes that possible in the face of someone else’s storm of emotion. My results definitely vary. This morning I failed utterly. I’d barely woken up. I honestly don’t even understand how or why everything went sideways so suddenly… nor do I think there is much value in troubleshooting that. It would be a distraction.

…From…? I don’t even know, right now. This headache is complicating my ability to think clearly and reason well.

…Breathe…Exhale…Relax…

I’m annoyed with myself. That’s not helping. I said some ridiculous (and vile) things, and it’s not okay, and at some point, how much does an apology really help? I take a deep breath. The breath “timer” pulses on my desktop out of the corner of my eye. I don’t know how much it really helps. I’m so frustrated with some of the challenges I face each day… I keep expecting at some point any part of this will feel properly routine and effortless, but any amount of study makes it immediately clear that my results may “always” vary – for any practical definition of “always” – and some damage is lasting. Frustrating. (Incremental change over time is a real thing…but some increments are too small to see individually.)

…Breathe…Exhale…Relax…

I’m struggling to be positive. I look back on my own words – recent, and less so – and there is so much positivity reflected there. So much will. This morning, right now, I just feel… bleak and defeated. I struggle to find meaning. I find myself reliably “missing the point”. The promising morning ahead that I was facing so eagerly has morphed into something less enticing. I’m eager to see darkness return, to go back to bed, to start over tomorrow… on a work day. That saddens me, further, and I feel my hopefulness sort of just trickling away.

…Breathe…Exhale…Relax…

It’s all very dramatic, is it not? Fucking hell. My head aches (partly from crying). “You’re creating this experience,” I remind myself. “Let it go,” I suggest, more helpfully than not (I hope). I feel a bit like a mechanic facing an easily repairable problem… without tools or parts to work with, and too stupid to look behind me to see that the tools are neatly laid out on my bench, with the parts ready to go. I suspect my partner feels a bit more like a parent in a grocery store trying to discreetly deal with a toddler having a screaming tantrum over something they can’t have; their love for their child is undiminished, but fucking hell – right now? Seriously? What a shitty experience all around. I could choose differently… couldn’t I?

…Breathe…Exhale…Relax…

Damn, I fucking failed hard this morning. My brain reaches for The Four Agreements, because… yeah… this could have gone a lot better, even if the only thing I’d done differently was these four things. For real. Not fancy.

Where this really started, back in 2010, and a moment of gratitude for the love of the man who shared it with me, then, and remains with me, still.

11 years is a long time to work on something without seeing lasting permanent verifiable results that have positive impact. If that were legitimately where I were standing this morning, feeling this despair become futility would make a lot of sense. That’s some real shit. BUT, and this is important (for me to observe and acknowledge, for myself), that’s not where I am standing this morning, at all. I take another deep breath and let it out as a loud sigh. Life is very different now than it was 11 years ago, this morning’s drama doesn’t even show on the same scale. Yes, I’ve still got challenges. Yes, the brain damage creates some headaches (literal and metaphorical) that continue to trouble me (and complicate my relationships). Yes, the PTSD complicates things rather a lot, and I utterly rely on every good health and emotional wellness practice I can master to maintain my balance day-to-day – and my results do still vary. I’m just saying, if you are mired in despair right now, feeling a profound sense of futility and hopelessness… I hope you take away from this reading the following things:

1. You are creating a large part of that experience, yourself, and you can choose to change it.

2. It won’t feel easy or comfortable to make changes, possibly ever.

3. What you practice you do become.

4. When you fail, however horribly, you can begin again.

Yeah, okay, I’ll be honest on that last one – there are no guarantees regarding the outcomes of new beginnings. I can begin again a million times, and likely will – it does not provide me any assurance that my relationships will be unaffected by my chaos and damage, or that every traveler on my path will choose to continue to travel with me. I’ve lost friends. Some I chose to let go, others turned away from me. Relationships come and go. People are human and it’s not fair or reasonable to expect they will endure our bullshit indefinitely, ever. So… the value in practicing the practices that allow me to become the woman I most want to be is in becoming the woman I most want to be. Period. End of goal-setting. Be a better human being, generally. Would I like to live that experience in the company of my current partner? Definitely. Do I have any guarantees? Nope. Not ever. Gotta just let that one go, too. There is a ton of work involved in lasting sustained love, and no guarantee of success. Definitely makes sense to treat each other well along the journey.

I take another breath. I sip my cold coffee. I think about The Four Agreements. When I am “impeccable with my word” I refrain from saying vile upsetting shit when I’m angry, because I’m committed to truth and working to keep my raw emotions separate from the words I say about my experience. That would have been an improvement this morning. When I avoid taking things personally, I am less likely to escalate emotionally when my partner is frustrated with me, or when I am frustrated with him. That would have been super useful this morning. I could certainly use more practice there. When I avoid making assumptions, it opens to door to listening more deeply, and requires me to ask clarifying questions, and leaves room in my awareness to appreciate my partner’s affection for me, in spite of his emotional experience in the moment. It would have been very helpful this morning to have refrained from making assumptions about my partner’s thinking, and to have given him a chance to share it in words. I suppose all these things are true for both of us, really. Good practices often work that way. I’d love to insist I was doing my best, this morning…that is, after all, the fourth agreement referenced in The Four Agreements… but… was I really? Pre-coffee? Less than an hour after waking? I give that a “maybe”, and a very frank admission that it’s quite likely I could have done better by being more willful, more present, and by taking my own bullshit less fucking personally, myself. So… Yeah. I could have done nothing more/better/differently than to have practiced the 4 simple practices outlined in The Four Agreements, and the morning would likely have gone very very differently. Maybe it wouldn’t have… but… did I really give it a chance? I see room for improvement.

…Breathe… Exhale… Relax…

I’m not in this relationship alone. That’s true. We’re in this together – and we’re each also having our own experience. We’ve each got our own personal demons. Our own chaos and damage. Our own trauma to heal. Our own baggage to lug around. Our own intolerable bullshit that we’re both each working individually to resolve or to master. It’s very human. It’s not about fault or blame, though, and it’s not about who is guilty or wrong, or who said what to whom… there’s little value in that. I can’t really work on anyone’s issues but my own, though, so I sit down and reflect on what I can do, what I can change, and how I can be the best version of this particular human being that I happen to be. Love asks us to unpack our own baggage.

…Breathe…Exhale…Relax…

…Begin again.

I’ve got this headache plaguing my every minute again, today. It sucks. It’s a small irritant in a generally good experience, though, and things could be far worse. Weirdly, “things seem strange” – the ratio and size of this window looks somehow wrong. The font seems small compared to my expectations. I check that I’m wearing the right glasses. I find myself clenching my jaw, and make a point to breathe and relax my face. Where is this stress and feeling of aggravation and enduring frustration coming from? I feel a bit… generally peeved. Did I miss the mark on my morning coffee…? No, I definitely had two cups.

I increase the magnification on this window, and let that go. I take an OTC pain reliever for the headache, and let that go, too. I breathe, exhale, relax – and take a minute to savor the excitement of the upcoming job change. There’s a moment of satisfaction in each piece of paperwork in that process that is completed. I give myself a moment to feel the sense of satisfaction that comes from finishing the tax paperwork for the year, and let go any lingering stress left behind from that process, too. Small details. Life, lived.

…This headache, though…

A couple weeks ago, my lack of enthusiasm for vacuuming found itself notably worsened by the earnest-but-inadequate efforts of the wee cheap plastic upright vacuum I’d purchased back in 2015, when I moved into #27. Tiny apartment – it didn’t need an expensive feature-packed vacuum cleaner, just a vacuum cleaner sufficient to keep up with one women in less than 700 sq feet of space, one third of which wasn’t carpeted. This house is bigger than that, and although only the bedrooms are carpeted, it’s still quite a bit of vacuuming each week keeping up with two busy adults venturing in/out, onto the deck, into the front yard, out into the shop (in the garage)… and, I can’t say I was successfully keeping up, at all. Neither was that vacuum. It did its best, and it got me by for… 6 years. Wow. Not bad. 🙂 Just not enough, anymore. My Traveling Partner and I talked it over and decided a new vacuum cleaner would be the next quality of life improvement, and did some pre-shopping, settled on a make/model, determined the likely date of purchase (if available). That was two weeks ago. This morning, I was up early, and out the door between my first and second coffees, heading up the road to the retailer with the vacuum cleaner we’d selected.

…It rained the entire drive there and back…

This is not an exciting tale of adventure. I bought a vacuum cleaner. Not exciting. It’s a good one, though, and I’m delighted with the results. I mean… the rugs in the living room actually look clean, for the first time in quite a while. Satisfying. I make room to savor even this small emotional victory. (This headache sucks so much, truly, that contemplating a good result with a quality household appliance feels like real greatness. lol)

…I let go of how irked I am with myself that I hurt too much to aggressively persistently vacuum every inch of flooring across every square foot of house; I can only do my best, and still need to care for myself. I definitely do not want to be the sort of human being willing to make myself cry over the vacuuming. I mean… seriously. It matters so much more that I am in pain. I give myself a minute to consider next steps to care for myself well.

I breathe, exhale, relax… and I feel my irritation resurface recalling that I confused “W-4” with “W-2” in conversation with my partner – which, after a tax-paying lifetime as an American adult, one would figure I’d have mastered as just too fucking basic to get wrong. I let it go. Small mistakes are common enough for people. Even the sharpest, wittiest, most educated, most well-spoken, most erudite, most fluent human beings make mistakes when they speak. Wrong words. Mixed metaphors. Poor choice of verbiage. Slips of the tongue. All too human. I happen to be prone to those things as much as anyone… maybe the tiniest bit more because of my TBI. I’m likely far more sensitive to my errors than other people are, and more so in these later years when I am more prepared to be authentically myself, and less likely to rely on a “script” that conforms to social norms and expectations. Still, I find it awkward and embarassing, and I take a moment to wonder what drives that, instead of focusing on the mistakes that are so human, themselves. It’s the expectations, isn’t it? It’s not the mistake that is the “problem”, in this instance – it’s that I have expectations of myself that don’t allow for those mistakes. That seems like a bit of a dick move… I certainly don’t treat other people that way. Another breath. Another moment to relax. I left all that go, too. I can treat myself better. 🙂 Clearly I need practice.

I review my writing for grammatical errors – a particular sort that is specific to my issues, which is to say, messed up suffixes, opposites, and missing words. They’ve gotten to be pretty common, unfortunately, and I wouldn’t bother about it if they weren’t the sort to entirely change the meanings of sentences. I mean, rather a lot, actually. I look over my writing, correct the mistakes I find. Breathe. Exhale. Relax.

…Fuck this headache…

I’m fatigued from fighting my pain, and managing my mood. I feel tears well up over nothing at all – just the frustration of being in pain. Still. Again. (“Other people have it much worse,” I remind myself, “It’s just physical pain. Just the arthritis and the chill and the damp. Let it go.”) Another breathe. Another moment.

…Time to begin again.

I woke with a headache and a stuffy head. A cold? Allergies? I’m not certain. Already there is uncertainty creeping into the day. I’m dealing with arthritis pain today, too, but… I’m not sure whether it is because the weather is chilly, or for some other reason. More uncertainty. I’m working through the final week at this job, ready to step into a role in a new place – there’s certainly (lol) no certainty about what that future experience will hold. Perspective matters; my sense of “certainty” is quite often simply a choice to favor one way of viewing circumstances over another, not really anything to do with what I do or don’t actually know. What do I even actually “know” with legitimate certainty? What do you “know”? How did you test and verify that knowledge? Or… did you simply sip it up with a cognitive straw based on what someone else said they “know”, and you’ve chosen to be fine with that? I mean… I can’t judge harshly on that. We all do it. Might be good to do that less, though…

I sit in a rainy forest, along a wet dirt road, near a puddle, listening to the rain fall, thinking things over… Well, not really… it’s a video, and a moment of reflection over coffee, is all. It’s “not real”… I mean, in the sense that I am not actually there. It’s quite real, inasmuch as it is a video of a real place and time. So… Moving on with the uncertainties…

I’d planned to walk the trail, but the park is still closed after the recent storms.

There’s a work day ahead. I also need to run to the store. These things feel “certain”. I mean, they’ll definitely happen, right? There are still a ton of assumptions that go into that carefully crafted feeling of certainty. I turn it over in my head, admiring my handiwork; that’s some careful craftwork, there. I feel comfortable with it, as “reality” goes. I’ll likely make choices and take actions that lead to those things coming to pass, more or less as expected.

…Expectations… Assumptions…

I breathe with the timer on my desktop, listening to the rain fall. In spite of my stuffy head, and in spite of my pain, and in spite of “life’s uncertainties” – which is, like, everything to do with living life – I feel pretty okay right now. That is a reality I can definitely embrace.

…Of course, I’ve still got to begin again. My results will continue to vary. All of that is okay, too. I’m just practicing. 😉

I slept okay. My coffee was fine. The morning was routine and sufficiently pleasant to be quite unremarkable. Work is going smoothly. The day has some sunshine. Some clouds. My appointment with my VA doctor seemed productive. The biscuits I made from scratch last night were delightful, and even this morning, cold, they were tasty. It’s an adequately lovely Tuesday.

I’ve got a raging headache, today. I am fatigued from dealing with my headache, and my arthritis pain. My fierce commitment to doing the most skillful possible transition as I leave one employer for another is also contributing to my fatigue. I feel… “over it”. Tired. Much of the fatigue is “cognitive fatigue” – I’m not actually sleepy. Nonetheless, I’d happily crash right out for a nap, right now, this very minute, if I actually thought there was any chance at all I might actually sleep and wake rested.

My Traveling Partner is in pain today, too. We are careful to be considerate and kind with one another. As days go, this one is… “fine”, for all imaginable positive impressions of the word “fine” as applied to how days go. lol Sincerely, authentically, “fine”. No better. No worse. I even feel a mighty measure of gratitude that the day is indeed going so well. It’s enough, at the moment, for this moment to be the moment that it is busy being. “Sufficiency” isn’t fancy. LOL Today it’s just “fine”.

I keep thinking about going for a walk. My feet itch to hit the trail. My back resists with the full weight of today’s pain. I don’t actually “feel up to it”, pain-wise. Probably be good for me, anyway…

…I think ahead to dinner. Ennui. No imagination. No fucks to give. Yep. Cognitive fatigue. Shit. So… I dunno.

I’ll have to figure out where/when to begin again. 🙂

I’m sipping my Sunday morning coffee in solitude. Best that I do so. I’m in a lot of pain after a long walk on a windy winter beach, yesterday, which, while it provided wonderful time to reflect and listen to my own thoughts, was also physically taxing. I’m definitely glad I wore base layers, too; it was chilly!!

Windy, rainy, cold, and the tide coming in. There’s no stopping the tide.

Things went seriously sideways Friday night, and Saturday’s walk on the beach was moody and bleak. It felt wholly necessary, but there was little joy in the moment. This saddens me, even now. It is, at this point, just something I’m adding to the recollection. I breathe, exhale, and let that go.

…I got some great pictures…

Friday might not have turned into the emotional shitstorm it did if I had been paying more attention… or… if I were altogether someone else, I suppose. My Traveling Partner woke in pain Friday morning, and was in an absolutely foul mood as a result (not unlike where I find myself this morning). He made a point of saying so, and was very kind and careful in our interactions all day, although he was cross and irritable. I finally ended my work day and … the whole delicate considerate assembled-with-care framework crumbled. I’m still sipping my first coffee, right now, this morning, and my brain is not yet entirely “on line”; I struggle to recall specifically what went wrong. Something I said, or my reaction to something he said, and suddenly we were lobbing raw emotions at each other in the form of angry words. I wept. We took turns shouting. We both ended up triggered – and triggering each other – and just fucking mired in our individual pain and heartache. To call it “unpleasant” seems insufficient. To make more of it than that seems simultaneously disrespectful of any underlying legitimate concerns that ought be addressed with love and consideration – but also seems likely to elevate those painful hours to something more important than what they were. Chaos fueled by emotions. Emotions that had less to do with the moments we found ourselves in than other moments, in other relationships, that left us scarred. Both unpleasant and unfair. How is it “unfair”? Isn’t it always unfair to ask love to sweep up the mess left behind by circumstances that had little, if any, actual love in them?

Friday morning became a painting, instead of an argument. 8″ x 10″ acrylic on canvas, untitled.

Yesterday was strained and awkward. This morning I woke up in pain, and found myself saying so, much in the same manner that he had on Friday morning. A cold chill rolls up my spine, and my mouth goes dry, and my anxiety spikes over fear that today will be another Friday, and end poorly. I breathe. Exhale. Relax. I do it again. Then another breath. Followed by another. I keep at the breathing until the hinted-at-future-but-not-now feelings of anxiety recede. I definitely don’t need to invite or cultivate that shit.

I sit with my coffee this morning, thinking about my walk, my work, my relationships… I consider how my TBI affects the way I communicate, not just the part where I talk (a lot), or interrupt (too much), but also the part that is the step beyond listening; my ability to make sense of what I am hearing, and to correctly reply to what has actually been said. I do pretty well, generally, but… when I am tired, or in pain, or distracted, I’m not just “less good at that”, I’m pretty horrible – and when I look at that, and also consider the “performance pressure” I tend to feel that pushes me to answer any question very quickly, I see how easily this can go very wrong, leaving someone trying to have a conversation with me feeling perhaps I am not listening at all. It’s rough. It can go a bit like this:

“Did you hear from your friend about that painting?” someone asks.

“No.” I say, “Well, they texted me. I didn’t feel up to talking right then, so I said I would call back today after work,” I add, followed by “They did say they really like the painting, in their message to me.”

(no shit, a real conversation I had)

So… yeah. What the hell?? When I see it written down, I totally get why that would be not just incredibly frustrating to wade through to get a simple “Yes, they liked it.” It also tends to seem potentially … dishonest? Misleading? Manipulative? Crafty? Vague? Withholding? Dissembling? A whole bunch of adjectives could apply. It’s not actually about any of that, though. I started answering the question I was asked before I actually understood the question at all. Along the way, my brain mixed up “hear from” with “speak to” – similar but quite different – and entirely missed the point of the fucking question until I’d provided a bunch of utterly unsolicited other information. So… slow down? Fuck yes. Easy, right? Well… maybe? It’ll take practice. I’ll say very bluntly that I’ve had “reply immediately” literally beaten into me (first marriage was a domestic violence nightmare I’m lucky to have survived). It’s hard to change behaviors that were heavily reinforced with violence or trauma. It takes more work and practice and commitment and awareness and encouragement and kindness and support than I can describe. It can be done. My results vary, though, and every failure is heart-breaking for at least a moment of pure distilled disappointment with myself.

…This isn’t “all about me” though. This particular challenge is very specifically the sort that commonly affects the people interacting with me, most. I’m kind, honest, open, and well-intentioned, but I’ve also got PTSD… and I’ve got brain damage. That’s going to present a combinations of characteristics some people just aren’t going to be willing to deal with long-term. So far my Traveling Partner still chooses to share this complicated journey with me. I’m very fortunate, and very grateful. I know it isn’t easy.

Caution.

So, yesterday, I walked on the beach alone, reflecting on my challenges, my abilities, love, and life, and work, and gave some thought to life’s curriculum on the topics of boundaries, and of communication. I was missing my partner long before I noticed my knees were aching, and headed home when the rain began to fall heavily.

I find myself, now, bringing my thinking “back to basics”: breathing, listening deeply, my “Big 5” relationship values (Respect, Reciprocity, Consideration, Compassion, Openness), and the book my own beloved recommended to me, early in our relationship…

It’s hard to go wrong with good basics…

Yep. I am re-reading The Four Agreements, again. Sometimes beginning again is simply a step forward, with new thinking. Sometimes beginning again means a new commitment to something that is proven to work well, when applied consistently. Now there is a day ahead of me… I see sunshine through the window shade. The aquarium needs maintenance. There is housework to be done. In spite of aching knees, I’d enjoy a walk in the forest, now that the storm damage from the recent ice storm is cleared away. All of that, and Love to nurture besides… looks like a busy day ahead.

…I guess it’s time to begin again…