Working my way through all this…

It’s been a few months, since I first put 2 and 2 together and realized that there was actually an “umbrella” that I could collect all my internal issues under — Mild Traumatic Brain Injury, or MTBI.

I’ve been talking to folks in support groups and medical professionals, and it just amazes me how little information is readily available, unless you’re “locked on target” and deliberately seeking it out. I am locked on target and I’m on a mission to figure all this out, and it’s my hope that my writing on this blog will help others who are pretty much clueless about what TBI is and how it can affect your life and that of others.

I came across a great book, which I’m gradually working my way through, called Brain, Heal Thyself by a caretaker for a stroke survivor, who helped her friend return to functional health — despite what the medical establishment said was possible. I’m still reading, but on page xvi of the Introduction, one of the great things she says is how medical professionals like to say “Every stroke is different,” as a way to get out of answering our “weird” questions. Amen to that! I am so sick and tired of that lame cop-out, where people who go to school for many years, studying the dead and the dying (they start out with cadavers, after all, and often see only people who are so far gone they can no longer avoid visiting a doctor), can’t bring themselves to study the living… or give us the credence to take in the information we pass along to them, because it can’t be standardized, categorized and controlled the way they’d like.

I am just so sick of it. The conflicting information, the arrogance of a medical establishment that will say, one month — with all confidence — that eggs are undoubtedy very bad for you and will probably kill you if you eat too many of them… And then turn around the next month (apparently, when the Egg Growers Lobby raises a hue and cry and funds a conflicting study) and tells us — with absolutely certainty — that eggs are actually not bad for you, and you’ll probably suffer health defects and slide slowly downhill in a state of painful, irreversible physical decline, if you don’t eat three eggs a week.

These same people are running around doing studies and using advanced equipment for research, and either keeping their findings to themselves — locked away behind the wall of medical terminology — or discouraging “lay” people from finding out about it for themselves. I can’t tell you how many weird looks I get from doctors and clinicians, when I talk about research I’ve read or things I’ve observed in my own life.

And, as was the case yesterday, sometimes I’m contradicted on my findings by doctors who freely admit that they are not experts in TBI — and actually say they know next to nothing about it — but they’re sure I must be wrong about my symptoms. Probably because I’m not a doctor.

But I live in this body. I am living this life. And if anyone should know what’s going on inside my little head, it would be me… provided, of course, I can apply unsparingly rigorous “reality checks” to what I think I’m seeing/hearing/thinking/experiencing.

That’s the pecadillo about impaired self-awareness. The one person who should/could be the expert on their brain, might not be. It’s maddening. But there are ways around this — when you know you’ve got limitations, you can plan for them, work around them, accommodate them, and adjust your standard deviation metrics.

So, I’m just working my way through all this. Trying not to get locked into one “set” way of thinking about how my brain functions, sticking with the facts of the matter:

  • I was struck in the head by a rock around age 8, was knocked out briefly/dazed and groggy afterwards, and I noticed significant changes in my behavior, moods, and cognitive abilities thereafter.
  • I fell down a flight of stairs in 2004, hit the back of my head several times, was intensely dazed/nearly knocked out for a few second, and thereafter found myself missing key information (like not recognizing people I worked with), unable to get a full night’s sleep, having intensified temper flares, and a whole raft of cognitive problems (like suddenly being unable to multitask and switch gears like I used to very fluidly), which I attributed to job stress, but which continued after I left the job (which imploded around me, when I couldn’t keep up with the pace).

I can’t keep second-guessing myself on my TBI(s), and I can’t give in to people who assume that because I do a really good impression of a normal person, it means there’s nothing wrong with me. There’s a whole lot wrong with me. Inside this head. That I can’t articulate very well with other people, when speaking. And I’ll have to work through this, one issue at a time.

If there’s anything I have, it’s time.

I am so tired of paying attention to myself and my brain…

I have to say, I’m getting really, really tired of having to pay such close attention to my brain and my behavior all the time. I long for the days, when I could just take things for granted and not have to worry about the consequences of each and every thought, act, and word.

It makes my head hurt, to pay such close attention all the time. More thinking means more headaches. I have an appointment set up with my doctor later this month to discuss this. The discovery phase continues.

It’s such a change for me, to be paying such close attention to myself all the time. I’ve always just done what I felt like doing, and I didn’t much think about the consequences. But now I see that not paying attention and not accepting my limitations has cost me jobs, has cost me earnings, has cost me relationships, has cost me connections…. Not paying attention to my limits and not accepting my deficits and not being willing to work with/around them has sorely impacted my ability to participate fully in this life and this world.

And I’m sick of it.

Yes, it makes my head hurt to think about all this TBI stuff, day in and day out. But if I don’t pay attention, I find that I get pulled into old patterns of not realizing when I’m going down a tricky path… not realizing when I’m over-tired and not thinking clearly… not realizing when I’m over-extending myself personally and professionally… not realizing when my head is getting ahead of me and I’m falling farther and farther behind in comprehending what’s going on, losing track of conversations, forgetting the way I’m presenting myself… Things can get out of hand so quickly with me, and I can end up saying and doing things that are really counter-productive — snapping at people who are trying to help me who don’t know me very well… biting the heads off loved ones who are on a short leash, as it is… being insubordinate at work… missing important details in conversations… overlooking important steps in things I need to do…

When I don’t pay close attention, I can get lost very quickly. So, I’ll just need to get in the habit of moving more slowly, more deliberately, more mindfully. And have this mindfulness just be an integral part of how I do things in life.

There are worse things than slowing down.

TBI and Mental Illness

I found an interesting post over at Lawyers Attorneys: Brain Injury and Schizophrenia: How to Deal

For victims of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and their families, side effects such as bipolar disorder and memory loss are tragic, but well known and well understood. But in the last decades, scientists have begun to study another serious side effect of brain damage that may go undetected: schizophrenia.

What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia (Greek for “shattered mind”) is a psychotic disorder that affects behavior, mood and thinking. The term was originally coined as “the schizophrenias” because of the wide variety of symptoms characterizing the condition. A misperception that all schizophrenics hear voices is actually untrue. It is a symptom in some suffering from schizophrenia but not all. Psychologists break symptoms of schizophrenia into three categories:

. Positive symptoms are behaviors that are not present in normal individuals. Other symptoms include hearing things, delusional though as well as sporadic thought.

. Negative symptoms are symptoms showing loss of normal abilities. They include loss of ability to show or feel emotion, lack of motivation and trouble with speaking.

. Neurocognitive defects are problems with brain function in areas such as memory, problem-solving, attention and social functioning.

Schizophrenia Related to Brain Injury in Patients

Scientists have established that psychiatric conditions such as bipolar and anxiety disorders are more common in patients who have suffered from traumatic brain injuries. Schizophrenia itself has been associated with individuals who have previously suffered brain damage regardless of family history. But it is only since the early 1990s that researchers have begun to explore in depth that connection between brain damage caused by traumatic brain injury and schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia and Brain Injury: Recent Studies

. Among the findings of those studies:

. TBI-associated schizophrenia is true schizophrenia, not another disorder with similar symptoms, according to a 2001 study by Columbia University. Schizophrenia and TBI are now being associated as hand-in-hand illnesses, one usually occurs in the victim of the other.

. Another study in the same year at the University of New South Wales in Australia discovered that TBI patients with schizophrenia-like psychosis had more widespread brain damage and cognitive impairment than TBI patients without psychosis. It also suggested that a family history of schizophrenia and the severity of the brain damage sustained during TBI increased the risk of schizophrenia.

. Scientists at the Hawaii State Hospital found in 2002 that it took an average of four to five years after a traumatic brain injury for psychosis to manifest, with most cases arriving within two years. Psychosis may be the result of trauma and blunt force to temporal and frontal lobes, for which researchers are attempting to determine.

While the complex nature of schizophrenia makes its cause unclear, as the last study suggests, there is evidence to believe that brain injury directly causes schizophrenia, by damaging the areas of the brain that control higher functions. There is also evidence that a traumatic brain injury may cause psychosis indirectly. Scientists believe that schizophrenia is caused by a combination of genetic susceptibility to the disease and an emotionally or physically traumatic experience that triggers this susceptibility. Researchers are finding that TBI and the trauma that can occur can actually trigger schizophrenia.

Many physicians know a traumatic brain injur may cause neurocognitive disorders such as trouble with speech, and psychiatric problems like bipolar disorder, but not all are aware of the growing evidence linking schizophrenia with brain damage. It is imperative that after a TBI accident, that a victim consult a psychiatrist to ensure that they return to normal behavior. In addition, brain injury patients and their families should consult an experienced brain injury attorney as they seek to recover costs for expenses such as lost wages, current medical costs and future medical care.

A couple of things came to mind when I read this:

  • Okay, so does it mean I’m going to lose my mind, because I sustained a TBI? Am I headed for a psychotic break?
  • If head-injured folks are given proper treatment, rest, nutrition, and time to heal after their injury, will that help prevent a later development of mental illness?
  • How is that these symptoms are ascribed to schizophrenia:

. Positive symptoms are behaviors that are not present in normal individuals. Other symptoms include hearing things, delusional though as well as sporadic thought.

. Negative symptoms are symptoms showing loss of normal abilities. They include loss of ability to show or feel emotion, lack of motivation and trouble with speaking.

. Neurocognitive defects are problems with brain function in areas such as memory, problem-solving, attention and social functioning.

I don’t know nearly enough about schizophrenia, but it seems to me that calling a neuro-physical condition a psychological one not only makes it difficult to properly diagnose, but also makes it difficult, even dangerous, to treat. Approaching an actual physical condition (or a neurological one) with a psychological approach might actually do more harm than good — convincing the specialist and the patient that there’s something wrong with them rather than something wrong with their bodily system.

Might this not actually make matters worse? I think psychotherapists and psychiatrists really need to think this through — familiarize themselves with TBI and its effects and realize what neuro-physical issues might truly come up along the way that mask themselves as psychological issues, and realize that they might be barking up the wrong tree.

Misdiagnosing TBI as schizophrenia or some other psychological disorder is dangerous, not only for the patient but also for the clinician, and it makes both parties chase the wrong ghosts. Not good for anyone involved.

(Note: I have more thoughts on this at this post – More thoughts on Brain Injury and Mental Illness)

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Keep it simple. Or else…

I’m discovering an interesting phenomenon with this blog… that correlates with other facets of my eventful life:

The tendency to complicate things and overwhelm myself. I am naturally inclined to break things down into little tiny pieces and focus on those individual pieces so intently, that the sum total becomes vastly complex, and I get overwhelmed with all the detail.

For example, I started this blog with the simple intention of recording my daily experiences as an MTBI survivor. Just to tell about what it’s like, so others can see how it is to live with a broken brain that doesn’t do justice to their brilliant mind.

Pretty soon, I feeling like I wasn’t offering enough “quality content” and I got caught up in doing all sorts of research and reading and going off on tangents to try to better understand something I was writing about. Comprehension and deeper understanding are admirable goals. All good, right?

Not so much. Because after a while, I started to lose track of what I was trying to do/say. And I ended up getting down on myself for losing my way. My brain couldn’t keep up with my mind, and I ended up in a vicious loop of diminishing effectiveness.

I go through this process with planning. I do it with doing. I do it with everything, from understanding personal relationship issues to parking the car. I get all enthused and discombobulated and turned around and swamped and confused and upset and discouraged with myself, and it takes a toll on my self-esteem. But then I regroup and figure out how to move forward, by breaking down steps into little tiny pieces and doing each one properly. But I need to be able to discern what is a reasonable level of complexity to indulge.

Here’s how the loop goes, in linear terms:

  1. I decide on a simple goal (recording my daily TBI-related experiences)
  2. I start work on that goal
  3. I make good progress, right out of the gate (I posted a whole bunch of stuff and found good info to share)
  4. I start thinking about how I can take it to the next level (I looked at some of my past posts and thought about what more I needed to know/say about them)
  5. I identify a bunch of different tangents to explore (TBI experiences, returning Iraqi vets’ experiences, more details on symptoms, medical research, psychological research, all sorts of research…)
  6. I go off on a tangent and explore that (I start reading up on impaired self-assessment)
  7. I get pulled into reading about other tangents (I start reading up on sleep deprivation, PTSD, military policy, alternative cognitive rehabilitation, alternative healing, complimentary healing modalities… etc.)
  8. I take notes and make outlines of what I want to write (I outlined at least three separate pieces I want to work on and identified various projects that move me.
  9. I get all motivated and fly into action on a handful of these things (I created of my headache journal, with several versions available, not only as PDFs but as coil-bound books, as well)
  10. I think about everything else that needs to be done, and I get overwhelmed with all the work involved (promoting my projects is a full-time job in itself).
  11. I get swamped by the details (I have pages and pages of planning, all of it accurate, all of it necessary, all of it overwhelming).
  12. I get stopped. I can’t ask for help, because by the time I get to a place where I’m stopped, my brain has become so immersed and inundated and absorbed in the details, that articulating any of it to an outside party is just beyond my abilities (I can’t even begin to explain to someone how things are supposed to work — to do that, I’d have to start at the beginning, and that’s so far back, I can’t remember anymore where I started, exactly).
  13. I have to take a break and go off and do something else for a while (I start other projects that motivate me, often with a completely different focus and using a different part of my brain — like drawing or programming).
  14. I start into this same cycle with these new projects, eventually get stopped with them, and then end up with a backlog of all this stuff I’ve started, but haven’t finished (I don’t just have articles I haven’t written, I have headache journals I haven’t properly promoted, I have artwork I need to have scanned, I have hobbies I would like to pursue… none of which are taken to fruition)l.
  15. I look back on my list of things I intended to accomplish, and I feel horrible about it all. I get down on myself, get stressed, get angry, get frustrated, get cruel with my brain… all the while conveniently forgetting that my cerebrum was compromised several times, once upon a time, and I can’t realistically expect it to do everything. For that matter, I can’t expect anyone to do everything I set out to do. There’ s just not enough time in the day, and until I have a full staff or can find someone to help me — with whom I can communicate — I’m going to have to scale back what I’m doing. Big time.
  16. Then I need to take more time off to recap, regroup, reprioritize, and see what I can reasonably expect to get done, so I can feel good about my progress and not be stopped anymore (I take some serious time away, do some “light” reading and/or distract myself with working in the yard, till I feel better… then I pull out all my notes from projects I’ve started, I work down through their status, and I pick out the ones that are closest to being done — the “low-hanging fruit”.)
  17. When I’m all sorted out and my projects are prioritized again, I make my list of things I need to do to complete each one, and I make “punchlists” of items, so I have some guidelines to keep me on track (I collect all my notes in 3-ring binders of multiple sizes, and I keep the notes for individual projects grouped together).
  18. I then take things one at a time and walk through each item, till it gets done. True, being systematic and logical about things is a lot less invigorating than flying into action and “losing myself” in a task. But it actually allows me to make progress.
  19. I try to build in some sort of rewards system for myself, so that when I actually complete something (I have very important projects still going on, that have been start-stall-stop for years on end) I can celebrate… and relax. Take the pressure off. I’m still trying to figure out what those rewards are. Actually, making money is the reward I crave most. So, all my projects need to be money-makers, or I’m just not content.

I really need to be careful that I don’t overwhelm myself. When I do, everything stops. And I have to take a break and regroup. Which works on myself-esteem and makes me feel like I’m “behind”. I haven’t posted to this blog… I haven’t done my chores… I haven’t done this… I haven’t done that… The string of recriminations is just endless. And it works on my self-esteem, because I’m so deep into my work that I can’t see outside myself and I can’t perceive that I’m really in need of a break.

But I have to remind myself that when I take time off to regroup, I’m not actually “behind.” I’m just taking a breather. So I can return and get back in the saddle again. And I need to cut myself some slack.

So, that’s what I’m working on. Ideally, in the 19 steps above, I would really start around step 17 and plan everything out up front. The problem is, when I’m heavily planned and “project-managed”, I lose a lot of my drive and my motivation. I need to engage my heart and my spirit, not just my head. Getting the two together is a huge challenge. But once I figure it out (I’m still working on it), I suspect the sky will be the limit.

Getting up early…

I’ve been having some issues with waking up early, again. I’ve been waking up at 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. Sometimes on the same day, sometimes in the same week. If I can sleep till 7:00, it’s a miracle. 5:00 a.m. seems to be the magic hour, these days. I’ll wake up and lie there, hoping I’ll go back to sleep… then after half an hour of just lying there, I’ll decide to just get up and get moving – do something constructive with my time and energy, other than ruminating.

It helps to move. And then later, if I manage things properly, I can have a nap. Which helps.

I think the stress of finding work hasn’t helped. I find that I get “beside myself” with concern over making ends meet, and then I have trouble relaxing… and staying asleep.

But any kind of stress will do it. Health issues, logistics, you name it. It can and will wake me up. And unless I can get my head around a solution and a plan for later, I’ll be UP.

But the next job interview did go well

The second interview I had with the next recruiter went completely differently, and so much better, it was like night and day. Everything that went wrong, the first time out, went right the second time… in part because of things I did differently, in part because of how the recruiter was handling things.

As a result, I came away from the interview not only energized and excited, but actually willing to work with this guy. And I had a lot more confidence that he’d actually find me work.

Here’s what made the difference:

  1. The first big difference had to do with the working style of the recruiter. The guy actually took his time talking with me and getting to know me and my working style and understanding what my priorities are.
  2. The second, was that he actually followed up with me in a timely manner, kept in touch, and confirmed everything in writing. He confirmed not only by email, but also by phone, which was huge. And it helped.
  3. I got there on time — 20 minutes ahead of time, actually. That gave me time to get my act together, find a bathroom to make sure I wasn’t completely falling apart, and get to the office with 10 minutes to spare. I showed up relaxed and calm and in command of myself.
  4. We actually had an office to sit in — private, behind closed doors, where I could just settle in and talk, without worrying about others listening.
  5. The guy actually told me about himself and we had a lot in common, including that technology is a second career for each of us — both of us had been out in the world as bohemian artiste types for years, before we got pulled into technology.
  6. The guy actually knew about the kind of work I do. Unlike the recent college grads I spoke with last week, he could actually hold a conversation about the kind of work I do, ask intelligent questions and get an actual “read” on what it is I do for a living.
  7. The conversation didn’t take too long, and it didn’t get cut too short. It took almost exactly an hour, and it ended up with me feeling confident in myself and in the recruiter, and feeling hopeful about my future, which is a lot more than I can say for my experience last week.

I suppose in all fairness to the folks last week, I wasn’t particularly well prepared for the meeting. It was my “first time out” in many, many years… after having been hunkered down at a permanent job with the same company for nearly a decade. It’s a little like leaving a doomed, long-term marriage that you tried to salvage, year after year, only to find it collapsing around you… and then getting back into the dating scene. It’s very much like it, in fact.

So, my first foray into the world of recruiters was bound to be a rocky one. And I suspect that I chose those folks last week as my “test run” so I wouldn’t completely screw up a connection with people I actually cared about.

That’s something I’m constantly wary of — screwing things up with people I care about. I tend to “fall behind” and not pick up important clues and cues in how people act/think/behave, and then I say/do the wrong thing which really pisses them off. And if the people I piss off are people I care about, I descend into a morass of self-recrimination and blame.

I just don’t want to have to do that anymore. I need to protect my relationships with the people and connections who mean most to me, not just “wing it” and hope they’ll understand.

So, all in all, I think I’ve handled this job search business brilliantly. Doing a test run with people I don’t have an investment in. Figuring out what went wrong the first time, before my second time “out”. Making sure I follow up and am very clear about everything. And just holding my sh*t…

Yes, this week was much better than last week.

Bottom line is, I need to really pick and choose the people I work with. I also need

Now it’s starting to sink in… avoiding the trap of extremes

I’m starting to get really bummed out about that job interview yesterday. It really set me back, in a way. Or did I set me back? One of the issues I have with the TBI is “intrusive thoughts” — the constant replaying of scenes from an event (or series of events) that I don’t feel like I have resolved properly. I keep thinking back to all those individual instances where I might have said, done, or thought something different than I did, and therefore salvaged the interview.

Or could I have, given the environment I was in? I think it was a lost cause, from the moment I showed up (late).

I have to be careful that I don’t fall into the trap of extremes — either blaming others for my shortcomings, or blaming myself for things beyond my control

On the one hand, I’m tempted to blame the firm for their environment that wasn’t conducive to me being clear. I have to be careful of that thinking pattern, as I tend to find fault with others, when actually their way of doing business is probably quite common (which is why so many boutique recruiting firms pitch themselves as not a bullpen filled with anonymous headhunters). I have a tendency to start blaming everyone except myself for what went wrong.

On the other hand, after I give things more thought, I’m usually tempted to beat myself up for what I didn’t do right. In this case, for not speaking up on my own behalf, not confirming the time and date with the firm, and – frankly – not walking out, when I saw the bullpen they had going. I tend to ride myself pretty hard, once I figure out what went wrong, blaming myself, in place of the others.

A guilt and blame/shame fest, all around.

But there are other interviews and other firms and other jobs. If I’m going to get back in the game and do my utter best, I need to avoid this trap of extremes, be really easy on myself, and just take things as they come. And learn from each experience.

Learning from each experience salvages otherwise hopeless causes. It redeems even the most wretched blunders. Learning is everything. At least I can do that!

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The job interview did not go well. Oh, well…

Well, I had my first face-to-face meeting with recruiters who are helping me look for work. They’re a permanent placement firm that specializes in high tech, and they are not the people I need to be working with. Looking back, I really missed a lot of clues about whether they would be a good fit for me, and I was feeling pretty down on myself yesterday, for “wasting” my time with them. They were not a good fit in so, so many ways. But the more I think about it, the more I realize it was very educational for me, especially with my new information about TBI impacts and after-effects.

The first clue actually came when I was first talking with the recruiter who contacted me — a guy who just wouldn’t take “no” for an answer, when he was trying to get me to come in and talk to them. He kept pushing for me to show up at a certain time, and I told him, “No, I can’t do that time.” I told him I was booked prior to that time, and I couldn’t make it. (I’m getting tense, just thinking about it.)

He just wouldn’t let it go, and I had to really snap at him, before he backed off and agreed to see me at the time I said I could meet him.

I’m kicking myself for not picking up on that clue, first thing. But I’m a kind-hearted sort, and I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Plus, I wanted to get my resume out there, and it sounded like they were a firm that really makes a great effort to find good opportunities. I don’t like to write people off, right away, but as it turned out, I probably should have.

The next clue came when I had to reschedule our meeting, and the recruiter kept pushing me to come in sooner and sooner than I said I could. This guy just wasn’t hearing me, when I said, “No, that time won’t work for me.” He just wouldn’t budge. Thinking about it, now, a whole lot of frustration and anger comes up, but when I was in the moment, it didn’t occur to me that his behavior was inappropriate or pushy or out of line. It just was what it was.

We finally agreed on a time to meet — at least, I think we did. I wrote down 4:00 in my book — right in front of me. The guy kept pushing for 3:00… I don’t think I agreed to 3:00. But I may have… I should have confirmed by e-mail the time we agreed to meet, just so we’d both be on the same page. And I’d have actual written confirmation. Ideally, it would have been best if he’d e-mailed me with the time.

Because when I got there at the time I’d written down (4:00), the guy said, “You finally made it!” and he sounded a little miffed. I didn’t even pick up on it, at that moment. Just went right over my head. I innocently said, “Yes,” like there was nothing wrong. And then he disappeared, after telling me that he was handing me off to some of the other recruiters at the firm.

So, that was odd, and I was wondering why he seemed agitated with me. “Oh, well,” I shrugged, and had a seat. They had a small seating area in front, with a receptionist who wasn’t really that “with it” sitting there watching the clock. She kept asking me if I needed a drink of water or coffee, or whatever. I had just had a cup of coffee, so I declined.

I started to get a bit agitated, sitting there in the reception area. Not only was their clock a few minutes fast, but the receptionist had to print out copies of my resume — I’d been told to bring extras, which I did. But they told her to go ahead and print out additional copies.

I sat in reception, waiting for someone to come see me, as the clock ticked away… watching through the open door into their “bullpen” of recruiters. It looked like a scene from the movie “Wall Street” with everyone sitting at tables, facing each other, phones wedged between chin and shoulder, talking loud and high-fiving each other and passing notes back and forth. That should have been the third clue that told me to get out of there. The whole “bullpen” was chaos, loud, frantic, hustling… I was starting to get nervous, just watching through the door. I could hardly believe that they left the door open to reception, so everyone could see and hear what was going on in there. Not the most discrete — or professional — of presentations. I sat and watched, intending to just observe… and learn what I could. It’s been a while, since I was in the job market, so I thought it couldn’t hurt to do some observing.

Still, what I saw didn’t make me terribly pleased.

Next clue: The first recruiter who came out to talk to me strode purposefully across the room and stuck out her hand. Not a firm handshake. She was pretty speedy and clearly had a pretty high opinion of herself. She whisked me back into the bullpen, pointing out the different groups — .Net, COM, Java — who were working there. I was absolutely overwhelmed with the energy in the place — very speedy, chaotic, frantic, hustling. But I still thought I’d give it a chance…

I was expecting to go to an office to talk, but she sat me down with her at her part of the table, in the midst of the action. I could hardly believe she was just plopping me down at her desk — no privacy, no ability to talk — it was a very intrusive environment, and I began to get really nervous. She commenced to ask me about my past, my jobs, my activities, etc. She asked me a lot of questions about the technologies I used, the percentage of new development vs. maintenance, what applications and operating systems I used, etc. Very high-level, and when I talked about what I’d done, she had this blank, glassy look on her face. Not very confidence-inspiring. But I still thought I’d give her a chance, and not jump to conclusions…

All in all, it was a very weird situation. It felt like she thought I had something to hide, as though there were something wrong with me for taking time off from work for a while… It was kind of strange, she kept asking me about my reasons for leaving, etc., etc. I supposed it’s all standard procedure, but I was getting increasingly nervous, sitting in that room with all those people on phones — distracting and disorienting… she probably interpreted that as me trying to hide something… or being unsure of my history and my abilities.

She asked about my past and got the names of my past managers… and she said she was going to check in with them… check my past/history… as though there were something more she needed to know. She seemed genuinely perplexed that I would make a break from my huge-ass multinational one-time employer and go off to do something else. Well, I suppose if you’re just a few years out of college, and you haven’t been behind the grindstone for the past 20 years, you wouldn’t understand.

Anyway, she passed me off to a couple more recruiters she works with — they all work as a team, apparently, but it was extremely disorienting to be handed off from one person to another, to another… Having to start from scratch each time, was working on my last nerve, and I really wanted to just get out of there. That was yet another clue that this firm is not a good fit for me — one person after another… chaotic frenzy… and other folks commenting, “You finally made it!”

And me standing there, grinning like an idiot, wondering why they kept mentioning that…

I did get to talk to one gal who was very nice and seemed a whole lot more intelligent than the rest of the lot. She had a position that sounded like it might be a good fit for me. But again, it’s a permanent spot, and it’s a ways from home, which is going to put a whole lot of pressure on me, physically, to commute back and forth. I haven’t done a big commute since my ’04 TBI, and I’m not sure I could make it. Having the fatigue issues that I have, I don’t think driving 20 miles each way in rush hour traffic is going to do it for me. Plus, I’ve heard stories about this company from someone who was treacherously ejected from the company, and knowing what I know, I think it would eventually be too great a stressor to live with on a daily basis.

Plus, I suspect they’d want me there all day, every day. Which I really don’t want to do. I need my rest. I need a part-time contract job, really. Something pretty basic and straightforward.

The final clue that this would not work out, was when the recruiter I was talking to pushed and pushed and pushed for me to interview at this company ASAP — time was of the essence!!! Oh, honestly. She pushed and urged and haggled for me to go talk to people tomorrow, of all days. Nope, sorry — I’ve got things I need to do. She was really pushing for Monday, but that wasn’t working, either. So, I agreed to Tuesday — against my better judgment really. I wanted to do it, actually, but in hindsight, I realize that I shouldn’t have committed to that.

Well, anyway, the end result was that I felt pushed and hurried and rushed, and nobody really understood what I do for a living, or why I would step away from a wonderful company like my huge-ass multinational one-time employer. I felt judged and second-guessed and completely underserved. Of course, it could be me and my mind playing tricks on me (again), but the experience was not a good one.

It just brought up all my TBI issues, all my problems and it made me feel like even more of a reject than I did, when I went in.

So, ultimately, it was a beneficial experience, albeit a very uncomfortable and undermining one.

What I learned was:

  1. If someone is not listening to me and keeps pushing me, despite me being very clear about my boundaries and limits, I cannot work with them.
  2. Have firm confirmation of details in an email, not just personal notes jotted down. I can get distracted when I’m writing things down, and I may write down the wrong thing.
  3. Make sure I get there early, because being on time may be too late, if they’ve set their clocks ahead.
  4. If someone makes a comment, always counter with an observation or a question. Had I simply said, “We agreed on 4:00 right?” that would have cleared things up. But I didn’t make any mention of the time and the comment, so there we have it.
  5. I cannot attend an interview in the midst of a bullpen. I need to speak with someone in private, with a door that closes, so I can concentrate only on them and hear them very clearly.
  6. I cannot work with a large group of people who may or may not be able to find me jobs. I can’t just field calls from whomever.
  7. I cannot be rushed and pushed into someone else’s schedule. I just can’t work with someone who doesn’t respect my limits and boundaries… and who’s going to hustle me into a position that suits them (and their earning potential), not me.
  8. If something doesn’t feel right, from the get-go, I need to stop the action and check in with someone who can give me objective feedback about what’s going on. I can’t be afraid to ask for help. I just need to find someone who is impartial and who can offer me some rational input about what can be a very irrational process for me.

So, all in all, it was a beneficial experience. I can’t work with those people, and I need to tell them to remove me from their database. But it was good to find out how… and why… I get hung up on job interviews.

It could be that I need to seek out some rehabilitation or vocational counseling. If I continue to have issues, I’ll need to do that. But for now, I’m pretty focused on just finding a job, so I can make ends meet and introduce more structure into my daily life. And make money using the skills I already have.

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I really am very tired…

I’ve been thinking, these past few days, about how many things I’ve blocked out over the years of living with a tbi… I’ve effectively blocked out the fact that I usually have a headache, that I have constant ringing in my ears, that I sometimes can’t make sense of what people say to me, until 10 minutes after they say it…  So many things I’ve succeeded at ignoring. Including being tired.

I don’t think I’ve had many full nights of restful sleep since my fall in 2004. I’ve had a lot of job stress and a lot of personal stress… and frankly, it’s worn on me. But I believe a lot of my sleep disturbances have been due to my injury, not just external stress, and I’ve just gotten used to being constantly tired.

Fatigue with TBI is a big problem, and I keep coming across discussions of it.

It’s a theme. For sure.

Of course, it doesn’t help that all of American culture seems hell-bent on adding sugar/aspartame/whatever sweetener to every single form of solid food and drinkable liquid. It doesn’t help that we’re all hopped up on caffeine and pushed to constantly go-go-go. It doesn’t help that our food is full of preservatives and God-knows-what-else. And it doesn’t help that the television and radio and internet are constantly pumping  us full of stimuli that offer us little in return for paying attention to them, other than their agreeing to go away and leave us alone.

This country is full of over-tired, over-taxed, under-served citizens, 2% of whom are walking around with TBI’s… a lot of whom (myself included) are having trouble sleeping.

About the last thing we need, on top of our already challenged sleep patterns, is a nationwide campaign to keep us awake long enough to spend whatever money is left in our wallets or on our over-taxed credit cards.

<sigh>

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Ruminations of a high-fuctioning mtbi survivor

Okay, so this post is purely self-serving, in that I need to remind myself that I am indeed a high-functioning mild traumatic brain injury survivor, who has managed to build a pretty incredible life for myself and my family, despite my injuries at age 7-8 and three years ago at age 39.

I’m in the job market again, and I’m looking at my job prospecting with a whole new eye — keeping tabs on my stressors and trying to navigate the world of recruiters and headhunters, who are all so incredibly DRIVEN and don’t give themselves, let alone me, a chance to breathe. Take a deep breath, folks. Honestly…

I’ve been talking to headhunters, on and off, for a few days, and they’re starting to make me crazy. All that go-go-go stuff and the constant pressure to schedule something with them… to make it happen… make it happen! Can-do shit and all that. I have to admit, I’m a bit tired of all that pushy crap, and it’s making me antsy and short-tempered. I actually snapped at a headhunter today who was just pushing too hard. People can’t push me hard, anymore. Not anymore. No thanks. Give it a break.

Still, one must work, one must earn money, one must pay the bills… If only I could find a job I could do from home, instead of going out into the world. I’ve been thinking I really need to work for a company that can offer me structure and reliability and some sort of regular schedule. I’ve been in and out of the regular job scene for a while, back and forth to a part-time job and futzing around for the past year or so. I’ve been thinking that I need more than that — more structure, more involvement…

But the more I talk to people in the working world, especially recruiters for technology companies, the more it gives me the willies. And I don’t relish the idea of going back to a 9-to-5 position. Especially if it involves driving an hour each way. Just too much.

Especially since I’m starting into dealing with this TBI stuff. I really don’t want to have to put my diagnostic testing and rehab on the back burner, while I try to figure things out. I don’t have an unlimited amount of money in the bank, so something must be done. But really, I’d prefer to work at home… telecommute. Work remotely. Not have to go into an office.

Better yet, I’d prefer not to have to work at all.

But that’s not really in the cards, at this point. Unless people buy so many of my headache journals that I can retire. Or they purchase more of my writing/research/resource guides. That’s always a possibility. A slim and distant one, but a possibility, no less.

But seriously, folks, there must be a better way for tbi survivors to make a living, than having to schlep into an office and be surrounded by people who neither understand nor care about your condition. I’ve worked with disabled people before, and while our employer did accommodate them, and they were great friends with everyone they worked with, the simple fact is, they had to work like the dickens just to get by “normally.” And while people did help and reach out to them, there was always that undercurrent of pity that makes my skin crawl.

I just can’t bring myself to “play the disabled card” as a tbi survivor. I’m still up in the air about whether I’d even mention it to an employer. I certainly will not mention it to consulting clients. That would totally work against me, I believe.

I just need to keep it to myself, unless there’s an expressed need to let people know what’s going on. I guess it’s all in a day’s work for a tbi survivor… trying to figure out how to navigate the working world. Or the world in general.

But I don’t think I started this post to bitch and moan about my job situation… where was I? Oh, yes, now I remember: ruminations of a high-functioning mtbi survivor. That means I’m supposed to focus on my strengths, I suppose ;)

The oddly conflicting fact of the matter is, being a high-functioning tbi person can make things all the more difficult, because if you don’t “present” like a tbi person (like me), it can be pretty difficult to get people to take your limitations seriously. I’m having a getting-to-know-you meeting with a counselor who’s seeing a friend of mine, who’s really struggling with my newly discovered tbi status. This counselor knows a bit about tbi, and they don’t think I look or act like a tbi survivor, whatever that may be like. So, I need to sit down and explain things and hopefully elucidate my situation.

I’ve invested a whole lot of time and energy in making sure that nobody, but nobody, realizes I’ve got a disability, and now I have to sit down and explain to someone how my front is often just a front, which makes me a fraud and a fake, I suppose, on a certain level. I’m not nearly as smart as I pretend to be. Or as quick. Or as inspired. I just do a great job of imitating someone who is. Or maybe that makes me a highly resourceful survivor extraordinaire, who just doesn’t want to miss out on life and sucks at self-assessment, so they can’t see that they’re not quite as smart/quick/inspired as they think they are.

It’s all very confusing, and I’m not helping myself any, right now. I’m actually very tired. And stressed. And worried about these interviews I have coming up over the next few days.

Just remember, on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog…

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