It took around a week to re-acclimatise to normal daily life after returning from holiday.
I had already pressed the panic button at least once – pleading with my wife to allow me to get the cleaner in twice a week because I couldn’t keep up with the vacuuming – and was on the cusp of launching into another monologue, then realised I’d had this experience before. See Chapter 6 if you need a reminder.
So how far have I really come since the start of the year? At least it only took a week this time – perhaps I am learning!
That’s one of the major benefits of writing this blog for me. It is as much about helping me to remember what works and what doesn’t as anything else. It can take a while after writing about something for it to bed in, but certainly the act of writing about it – plus being able to read it back – helps to embed the lessons learned.
The re-acclimatisation experience was just the nudge I needed as it turned out, serving to strengthen my resolve to find a way to apply the holiday mindset to day to day life. So I set myself the goal of continuing to focus less on doing and more on just being – starting by letting go of the expectations that I put upon myself and limiting my doing to 1 planned thing each day.
Doing less is not as easy as it might sound. My mentality in life has always been to do a bit more than is necessary – that way you know you have given it your best shot. Flipping things around leaves me feeling guilty that I haven’t done enough – and a bit unfulfilled.
But the reality is that these days it is better to not quite do enough than to do a bit too much. Certainly, the less I do, the better I do it. Better to do 1 thing fairly well than lots of things increasingly badly.
About 2 weeks after getting back home from holiday, I had a rather strange experience. Having managed to keep my doing under control during the day, I sat down to the dinner that my wife had prepared feeling relatively normal – I didn’t quite know how to behave without feeling fatigued! In reality, this experience was preceded by a week of enforced rest, including my wife having cooked all the meals for 5 days in a row. Nevertheless, I took it as a positive indication of what might be possible if I could adopt this new mindset more permanently.
Encouraged by these early signs, over the last few weeks I have been attempting to expand my application of the “doing less, being more” theory.
First and foremost, I have been actively seeking to avoid the “what next?” mentality – and so putting less pressure on myself to do. To help with this, I try to tell myself – “if it happens it happens, if not then it wasn’t that important”. Strangely enough, nothing significant appears to have fallen by the wayside yet – though I am unsure whether that is simply because my wife has been picking up the pieces!
At the same time, I have been trying to suppress my inherent approval seeking behaviour – something that has been with me since my younger days – and hence my tendency to always try to live up to other people’s expectations. Or rather, my perception of them.
Even if those perceptions are occasionally accurate, I have come to realise that it doesn’t help me or anyone else for me to give in to them. Doing so just means that I put more pressure on myself to perform. Prior to my brain injury, I could cope with this pressure – indeed, I would thrive on it. Now, it overloads my brain and so makes me more likely to fail, which in turn leaves me feeling that I have let myself down – and so the cycle continues.
Over the last 9 months, I have become aware of a curious phenomenon whereby my brain functions noticeably better when I am interacting with complete strangers, as opposed to people I know. Previously, I had presumed that this was because there was no need for the conductor to get involved – there is no opportunity to predict what might come up and how to answer it – and so conversation becomes more instinctive, rather than planned.
Whilst this is most likely the case, I now believe that my propensity to try to live up to my perception of other people’s expectations is also a contributory factor.
With complete strangers, they have no expectations of me – or rather, I don’t perceive that they do – so I have nothing to live up to. It doesn’t matter if I say something stupid / inappropriate or come across as incoherent because most likely I will never see them again – the pressure is off.
Perhaps this also explains why I seem to fare much better cognitively at social events once everyone is drunk – they are on my level. I can relax into daft mode – in fact, the more stupid / inappropriate the better! The conductor can put his feet up and take a break for a while too.
Emboldened by these findings, I have come to the realisation that I have been holding on to certain aspects of my old self that are actually making life harder for me. The time has come for me to let these go:
1. Let go of the need to achieve
By focusing less on doing, you are still managing to get the important things done – but using significantly less cognitive resource, which then leaves a bit of room for the other, more important things in life. As part of this, you need to be more willing to ask for and accept help
2. Let go of the need to be in control
It doesn’t get you anywhere. When things inevitably don’t go the way you wanted them to, you feel that you have failed, which then diminishes your chances of succeeding at the next thing. Most of the time, when you do succeed, your perception that this was because you had been in control was probably false anyway
3. Let go of the feeling you have of letting people down when you can’t spend time with them
Accept that by making the choice to step away from a situation and rest, you are maximising the chances that the time you do spend with the people you care about is positive – for you and those around you
4. Let go of the disappointment you have about the new you: the belief that you are no longer good enough
Take pride in who you are now – the person that you have become. No doubt you will continue to say something stupid / inappropriate or come across as incoherent, but how much does that really matter? You can’t change that or make it go away – indeed, the more you try to overcome it, the worse it gets. Instead, you need to accept it – and trust that others will too
We visited sunny Worthing recently for a friend’s 50th birthday – a small, socially distanced gathering that was simultaneously enjoyable and cognitively challenging. To manage my cognitive fatigue, every 30 minutes or so I found myself needing to step away from the group for some quiet time.
On one such occasion, I was walking along by the seafront with these thoughts running through my mind when I noticed the shadow of a man on the promenade in front of me. He was limping along, leaning to his right side – looking a bit like one of those down and outs you see staggering around British seaside towns, usually carrying a can of Special Brew.
Crossing over to the other side of the road, out of the sun, a man came limping towards me – looking very much like the shadow – clearly carrying some kind of impediment / disability (though no Special Brew).
As I smiled sympathetically and said hello, he did the same in return – and that’s when it finally hit home. I have a disability.
That’s when I realised that I have a choice to make. I can continue to pretend otherwise and in so doing make life more difficult for myself. Or I can accept it – like almost everyone that I come across does – and allow myself to belong.
And so I have decided – again (Chapter 6, remember?) – to stop trying (and failing) to be the person that I used to be and welcome in the person that I have become. If we’re honest with each other, the old guy wasn’t that great anyway!
But just because I have a disability, doesn’t mean that I am without ability. And just because I am willing to temper my need to achieve doesn’t mean that I am without ambition. It’s just that I have to find a different way forwards now. I still don’t know what that is, but I am at least more certain of what it isn’t.