There is no shame in asking for help

I was watching an old episode of “Northern Exposure” last night — remember that? the show about the New York doctor who has to work off his tuition in the wilds of Alaska? I watched it religiously when it was on, in the early 1990s, and thankfully it’s now available on DVD through my local library. (Have I mentioned yet, today, how much I love my library — indeed, the whole system they belong to, which lets me request books from all over, even colleges that would normally be off-limits to me?)

Anyway, the show was about knowing how to ask for help. Swallowing your pride and accepting the help that others offer. It was a great episode, I believe from the fifth season. A bunch of people in town were in situations where they needed a little (or a lot) outside help, and they were eventually able to see past their own pride to either ask for or accept assistance from others.

Having a brain injury (even a “mild” one) that leaves traces of impairment can be devastating, in and of itself. All of a sudden, things don’t work the way they really should (I’m not going to pretend that I think my memory issues and emotional volatility and mood problems and cognitive issues are absolutely okay — they’re really problematic, at times, and a lot of the time, my life would very likely be a lot less complicated, if I had all the functionality available to me, had I not been hit on the head so many times). All of a sudden, the world gets turned upside-down, and very little seems to work like it once did. It can really lay a person low, losing faculties and abilities that you used to once take for granted. And it can really do a job on you, when your difficulties are not immediately apparent to others, but you’re dealing with them, all the same.

Things like slower cognitive processing — figuring out what someone just said to you and how you should respond… constant crazy-making ringing in your ears… wild mood swings and sudden temper outbursts… sleep disturbances… the whole raft of issues and challenges that can accompany mTBI, may be well-hidden from the outside world, but that doesn’t make them any less real or any less difficult to deal with.

Things get even more complicated by the fact that it’s your brain that’s been affected. It makes it harder to figure out just WHAT is going wrong, and how, and when, and what you’d like to do/see/feel/experience instead of what’s going on inside and around you. It can make it harder to even see that there IS something wrong, and you can spend a lot of time (like I did, for several years after my last fall) walking through the world in a kind of daze, wondering what they hell is wrong with you and why you’re having so many problems with such simple things.

That’s where help from other people comes in. That’s where assistance offered from others really comes in handy. I’ve had years and years of experience dealing with my head injuries, and much of that time has been spent trying to go it alone and do things myself. I’ll do it myself! was my battle cry for most of my life, especially during childhood. It was so hard for me to figure out what was going wrong, what the cause was, and what should be done about things, that conceptualizing it in a way I could explain to others — and then effectively communicating it to others — was an almost insurmountable task. So, I ended up taking on a lot by myself, and I really muddled through my life, one day after another… for decades.

But when I finally started to put two and two together, and I realized that many, many of my difficulties could be traced back to my head injuries — my behavior and my life experience changed dramatically either immediately after the injuries, or they went downhill very precipitously within months — it became all the more clear to me that I did need help. That I had limitations. That there are parts of me that don’t function the way I want/need them to. And that I couldn’t go it alone anymore.

So, I started asking for help. In small ways, then building up to larger and larger ones. I have to admit, I still have a lot of trouble at times asking for help, in part because of my pride, in part because I sometimes have a really difficult time knowing whom to ask and what to ask for. But I am learning that if someone offers me help, it’s often best to accept. And not only for my sake — for the sake of others, as well.

Asking for and accepting help isn’t just for you. It’s not just for me. It’s not just for the benefit of the person who needs assistance. It’s for the person who wants to help, too. It’s for the person who sees another human being in need, and wants to reach out and lighten their burden. It’s for the person who longs to make a valuable contribution to life, who longs to pitch in, who longs to be of use. I’m one such person — I love to help other people, and I love to contribute to their well-being. It’s been that way all my life, and I’ve actually gotten in trouble for being “too helpful”.

Helping others is a need I have. It’s a need I feel compelled to fill. And I know for a fact that others share that same need. We want to be valued. We want to be included. We want to be part of the solution and help overcome others’ problems. We want to pitch in. We want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We want to be the best people we can be, by helping others to do the same.

So, accepting help from others doesn’t just help me — it helps them, too. It includes them in my life. It makes them part of something good. We all need that.

So, the next time someone offers you help, whether you’ve had a TBI or not, please accept their offer (within reason of course). The next time you’re struggling, and someone offers to help you out, let them. Let them carry something for you. Let them help you complete something you started. Let them come to your assistance. Let them hold the door open for you. Let them be of use to another human being. When you accept help from another person, you don’t make yourself weaker. You make yourself stronger.

And that’s how it should be.

A brilliant opportunity

I woke up today thinking that the TBI survivor community has a great opportunity before it — with the power of the internet and new electronic publishing technologies like blogs and forums and emerging print-on-demand technologies, we really do have the ability to offer each other the support that we cannot (and probably will not) find from the “system” that’s supposed to help us.

The medical industry doesn’t seem to have much interest in helping us address our issues in a consistent and substantive way.

All that some can manage to tell us is, “Every TBI is different,” without mentioning the myriad similarities so many of us have — and can benefit from hearing/learning about.

And frankly, there’s not a lot of money in rehabilitating someone who is no longer “able” to function at the same level they were before…

So many of us just get sent out to pasture. We fall between the cracks. And people who are in public positions to change that, don’t seem to care. I’m sure, on some level, they do, but so much is not known about this condition, and so many other conditions are more obvious and more easily tracked and more easily conceptualized… and are less frightening to the average person, that TBI just isn’t on the radar the way, say, cancer and heart disease are.

Now, I lost one of my little sisters to breast cancer, 2-1/2 years ago. I sat at her side and held her hand during her last hours of dying, so I’m certainly not opposed to cancer getting as much attention and funding as possible. And people close to me have had heart issues, so I’m all for addressing that, as well.

But doesn’t anyone have any attention to spare for TBI folks?

Perhaps not — but we do. We, the survivors. We, the family and friends. We, the ones with the most to lose and the most to gain. We can — and should — be there for each other and pool our resources and experience and strength and hope, for the benefit of everyone concerned.

Ultimately, the very society which doesn’t have much time for us, will ultimately benefit. But that’s not something I can prove right now, and it’s not something I can substantiate with numbers and metrics, so society at large will just have to wait and see how well we can rebound… and how well we can serve one another in the best way humanly possible.

An opportunity lies before us, to come together and pool our resources and offer one another help and support — largely in the form of information that’s distributed across the world wide web. Our info can go a long way. We can do for ourselves, what others cannot do for us. So, let’s do it!

My second neuro visit OR If only they could walk in my shoes…

Here are details from my most recent neuro visit, I believe back in August. As you can see, it was a less than stellar experience, and I’m still recovering a bit from it. It’s hard to believe that someone who specializes in neurological disorders can be so callous, but here we have it…

I had a 9:30 appointment scheduled with Dr. X to discuss headaches I’ve been having. I had been to see another neurologist about my series of mTBI’s some time back, but the results had not been conclusive, and I felt I’d just been shoved off. I didn’t mention this past visit to this new neuro — In retrospect, that was probably a tactical error, but I wasn’t sure how to explain what had happened, so I decided it was better to say nothing. When in doubt, I tend to do/say nothing, rather than initiating and seeing things blow up in my face. Plus, I wanted to start with a clean slate and get this doctor’s opinion without input from anyone else.

I had been to see this neuro on other occasions with a friend of mine who has some issues of their own. I thought it would be a good idea to work with someone who already knew me in a different capacity. I thought it would be easier for me to work with someone with whom I was already familiar. So, I had high hopes for this meeting. Hopes that didn’t pan out.

Here’s what I recall happening:

I arrived early at 9:20 and finished filling out my paperwork.

The receptionist was unpacking boxes at the time. I settled up with her for the co-pay and gave her my license and insurance card. I thought that the co-pay was $15, and when she corrected me that it was $25, I felt as though she thought I was trying to “get one over on them” and get out of paying the $10. I felt as though she was treating me like I was hostile. It was an innocent mistake on my part, and not intentional.

Around 9:30, the receptionist  had me go in to Dr. X’s office. I wasn’t sure about which door to go in, and she said “You know which one it is.” I honestly didn’t. I couldn’t remember which one was his, but when she pointed me to the door, I walked in and took a seat.

Dr. X greeted me cordially, shook my hand, and we chatted a little while.

He asked me why I was there, and I said I’d been having constant headaches.

He looked over my papers and told me that I had forgotten to fill in my employer and my occupation. He seemed miffed that I’d forgotten. It wasn’t intentional on my part. I gave him the information then, and he filled it in. We chatted a little about my work.

He asked me how old I was, and I hesitated when I answered. I don’t tend to think of myself as any certain age, and I will usually have to calculate how old I am, based in the year it is, less 1965, and then figuring out where in the calendar year I am. Dr. X commented that it took me a while to answer, as though there were something wrong with that, and I told him I usually have to do math to figure that out.

He then started to look over my information sheet, which I’d taken great pains to complete as thoroughly as possible. He flipped through the pages, and then started to work his way down through.

I pulled out my notebook with my family medical history, my history of injuries, my symptoms, and other information I’d collected which I thought might be important to know. I also had many pages of a headache journal I’d been keeping for a number of months, which showed exactly where and with what intensity I’d been having headaches. I had compiled this information over a period of more than 6 months, and it contained my most complete understanding of my cognitive situation. I also brought the notes with me to consult, so I could be accurate in my accounts. I tend to get turned around and unintentionally confabulate when I try to recount things (more when I’m under stress, but even under regular conditions, I have had a lifelong issue with unintentional confabulation), and I had hoped that I could rely on my notes to help me be as accurate as possible.

Dr. X told me to put away the notes. He didn’t want to see them. He also didn’t allow me to refer to them.

He proceeded to ask me questions about my headaches, the intensity, the frequency, the nature, the duration, and when I took a while to answer him, he became very impatient and told me I was over-thinking things.

He told me not to over-think my answers, but just to answer off the top of my head, which is very difficult for me to do.

I had to pause a lot to think, and my answers were not instantaneous. I could not verbalize my answers as quickly as he wanted me to, apparently, because he kept telling me to just answer with averages.

It’s very difficult for me to answer that simply, because nothing is that simple to me. I do not think in terms of a “bottom line” and I have a very precise and logical thinking process that sometimes takes longer than “normal” to complete. Being accurate and truthful is very important to me, and when I cannot be accurate, I become anxious. He really pressed me for quicker answers. “Just off the top of your head,” he said. “Just on average.”

It felt as though he were intentionally trying to trip me up and make me contradict myself, or find some “hole” in my “alibi”. I felt like I was being grilled, and I had done something wrong.

I had to stop and think a lot — I could see the answers to his questoins right in front of me — when he asked me about timeframes and durations of my headaches, I saaw images of calendars with days marked, and the severity of my headaches marked on the calendar (some were in colors). I could also see the pages of the calendars flipping by, and I tried to see what information was where. It was very hard for me, though, because he was moving faster than I could go, and I kept losing my place with the images. I had to close my eyes a lot to think, and I had to look down at the ground. I couldn’t look him in the eye AND figure things out, because looking at him distracted me from my thinking — and I started trying to “clue in” to him, instead of the answers to my questions.

At one point, he appeared to be very frustrated and said I needed to speed things up, or “We would be here till next Tuesday” before we got all the answers to the questions. I agreed with him, but I told him that I had to translate my visuals into words, and I am not a primarily verbal person. I tried to explain that I see the answers as images, and then I need to translate them into words, but I’m not sure it sank in with him. I was getting very frustrated, and I was tearing up, which seemed to annoy him.

He also asked me about any addiction background, and I told him I had quit drinking in 1989. It had been 19 years since my last drink, and I had not touched a single drop since. He asked if I’d taken drugs, and I told him a little bit — speed in high school, but only a few times a week, as it made me too speedy and upset my stomach. I told him had smoked marijuana while I was drinking during high school and college.

I may have left the addiction piece of information off my form, but it was not intentional. It was an oversight. He didn’t seem to see it that way.

He asked about any medication I was on, and I told him that I didn’t take any, and I was not a big medication person. I told him that I took Advil, now and then, and I had once taken it for headaches, but it had since stopped working at all.

We talked about my head injury experiences, and I gave him details from what I knew and could remember. It was very difficult for me to think on my feet, and I was becoming increasingly anxious. He was moving very fast, so I’m not sure I answered everything completely. I had my notes, but he would not allow me to consult them. When I tried to pull them out, he told me to put them away.

Dr. X seemed to become increasingly impatient with me, and he said we were just going to focus on my headaches.

He asked about the nature of them, if anything helped, if I exercised regularly, if I was under stress.

I told him that I’ve had a lot of stress, and that my headaches have gotten worse over the past 6 months. He asked if I’d been under more stress, and I told him I’d been in a very stressful job for 3 months.

He said he’s not a big “pill person”, and I said I was not, either. I prefer to deal with my aches and pains in other ways, and sometimes I’d rather just live with pain, instead of taking medications that gave me side effects.

He asked about the vertigo, and I told him it was worse when I had allergies. I told him that it was very intense and I had to hold onto things to keep from falling over at times.

He asked about my history with other injuries or conditions, and I told him about a diagnosis of lupus diagnosis in the late 1980’s, early 1990’s. He asked if it was discoid or systemic, and I believed it was systemic, but when I told him about the skin rash, he said that sounded like discoid, not systemic, and I became confused and said it may have been discoid, but not tests were ever conclusive. Also, the medications I’d been on had not helped.

After a while, we went into the examination room, and he conducted a physical neurological exam. It was standard, and he seemed to go very quickly — more quickly than I’d seen him go with a friend of mine. He seemed to be in a rush, and it was painful when he checked the reflexes on the bottoms of my feet. It was hard for me to answer quickly, when he pricked me with the pin, and sometimes it took a little while for me to verbalize I’d had the sensation. He seemed to think that I was “fixing” my answer to fit what he wanted to hear. I was getting confused and felt like the room was pulling away from me, and my reaction time was slowing.

During the exam, he asked me again if I had taken drugs recently. I told him no, I had not taken any drugs since stopping drinking in 1989. I believe he repeated the question, and I answered him again in the negative. I couldn’t figure out why he was asking me if I’d taken any drugs. It didn’t seem like the kind of thing he’d be asking me while he was checking my reflexes.

He told me that my exam was normal, and everything looked good.

We went back into his office, and he said that my exam looks clear – no indication of a tumor or vascular issues. He said he believed my headaches are tension headaches and he wrote some notes on a piece of paper. He gave it to me, and he said that my headaches are probably muscular in nature, related to stress. He also said that he thinks the vertigo is probably BPPV (Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo) or Meniere’s Syndrome, and I could check with an Ear-Nose-Throat (ENT) specialist if I chose to. He didn’t seem to think I needed to see someone, but my ears have been hurting me a lot, and I said I would like to talk to an ENT specialist. He referred me to a doctor he knew and believed was good. He wrote that down on a piece of paper (his prescription pad?), as well, and gave me that.

He said that he didn’t think that medication would necessarily help, as it may cause side effects, and I agreed with him. He also said he didn’t think an MRI or EEG would show anything, which was really disappointing. I mean, I have a whole lot of issues, and I have trouble sorting them out, and the one way I can think of reducing some of the mystery, is to have an MRI or an EEG or something like that. I really didn’t know what to say at that point. All I could manage, was to agree with him, which irritated me when I did it, but I was helpless to do anything else. My thinking process had slowed considerably by that time, and I was feeling very overwhelmed and confused by everything. I wasn’t sure if he was being congenial or if he was upset with me. He seemed distant. But I couldn’t really tell for sure how he was being with me.

He asked if I exercise, and I didn’t know what to say. I lead a pretty active life, and I move a lot through the course of each day. I could see myself walking and moving a lot at work, walking across parking lots, and making extra effort to incorporate exercise into my daily life, but I couldn’t just come up with a simple “yes” or “no”. I had to think about whether or not I was going for walks. I eventually answered “Not regularly,” and he said, “No” and wrote that down. He said he wanted to see me exercising on a regular basis, nothing really heavy, just maybe going for a brisk walk with a friend several times a week. I saw a friend of mine and me walking along a road near my home, but I didn’t know when that would or could happen, as I work such long hours during the week. Dr. X appeared a little exasperated with me, as though he thought I wasn’t being fully cooperative.

He asked me if there was anything I do that relaxes me, but I was having a hard time processing at that point. I couldn’t think of anything — I was drawing a blank. I told him I draw and I write, and he recommended I draw 15 minutes a day. I couldn’t figure out how to explain that when I draw, I get very absorbed in my work, and I lose track of time, but there was no time for me to figure out how to say that. He also recommended that I exercise regularly, go for a brisk walk with a friend on a regular basis. Again, there was no time for me to respond in a way I felt was adequate.

I told him I was going to see another doctor for a neuropsychological exam, and he said he would like to know the results of that. I told him I would keep him apprised.

He said he wanted to see me again in 7 weeks, to see how I was doing.

I made an appointment with his receptionist. I had a hard time thinking through my schedule at the end of August, beginning of September, and she was not very patient with me. She acted like I was pretending to be “slow”.

Basically, I felt completely humiliated and treated like I was a liar who was seeing him under false pretenses — as though I had been an addict showing drug-seeking behavior. I left in a daze, and I went to the nearest bathroom, locked the door tightly, crouched down in a fetal position, and cried… and cried again in the car before I drove to run an errand. And felt like crap for the rest of the day. I did collect myself and manage to get on with my day, but the flow of my day was completely disrupted, as was my weekend. It was too disruptive for words, and I in retrospect, I really resent the implications that I think were in play.

Sometimes, it just sucks when nobody can tell you’ve got issues… and they treat you like a criminal, just because you’re trying to get some answers (and they apparently can’t help you, but don’t want to say so).

It also sucks to have processing difficulties that might be making things look worse — or better — than they are, and that keep you from being able to ask for help.

A few thoughts on light and enlightenment

Over at my Tough Boy Initiative I read the following about research on sensitivities after TBI

This article presents research specifically seen with TBI. I wish they posted a date it was conducted, or a link to a legit article! Legit research or not, the following statement I very much believe – just from talking to people, who know people who have struggled in similar situations. I also believe it from my own experience regulating the amount of sun/light I see each week, exposure to retail stores with fluorescent lights, and from what websites I visit most when I’m out of it. All these, and more, contribute to how comfortable I am in the moment, day and throughout the week.

Dr. Tosta stated in her research:
————
Dr. Tosta stated in her research:
It appeared that these individuals were so overwhelmed by the changes to their life that they had little awareness of the severity of the symptoms contributing to their inability to function.
————

I’ve been thinking a lot about anosognosia, lately, and this is in keeping with my current theme.

While it may be true that the overwhelm of dealing with TBI prevents us from identifying the challenges, there’s another aspect that lots of people don’t mention: a condition called “anosognosia” — basically, Latin for “not knowing there’s a problem”.

It’s a very interesting phenomenon that’s common in stroke survivors and severe TBI survivors, but in my case — a series of mild TBI’s — I can definitely tell it’s caused problems. You literally do not know there’s a problem with your processing. Other people can tell, but you can’t. Some people don’t even realize their one side is paralyzed. You can read more about it at http://discovermagazine.com/1995/may/thebrainthatmisp502 which is an article I really enjoyed.

So, while overwhelm may be part of it, there’s a cognitive aspect, as well. Dr. George Prigatano has written a great deal about this phenomenon, and Google Books has a pretty complete version of a book he contributed to: “Awareness of Deficit After Brain Injury” By George P. Prigatano, Daniel L. Schacter — you can read most of it at http://books.google.com/books?id=xze89PCLaWMC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Awareness+of+Deficit+After+Brain+Injury&client=firefox-a&sig=ACfU3U0fGDNZyDxdkuBwr4jzLwJ8_MoyGQ

It’s some of my favorite reading, these days. I feel a lot less insane/deficient/incapable, when I realize that the problem is not with ME — it’s with my brain ;)

My catalog of injuries (that I remember)

Below are the head injuries I’ve realized I’ve had over the years — I’ve “narrowed” the list to ones that I recall affecting me – i.e., after the event, I was immediately dazed and confused and/or I noticed significant changes in my processing, moods, behavior.

Childhood Injuries

Fell down the stairs @ age 7

  • I fell down the stairs of our house — about 10 stairs, not very steep
  • I remember standing at the top of the stairs, then I was at the bottom of the stairs, and I couldn’t figure out how I’d gotten there
  • I got up and went to stand in the middle of the dining room near the bottom of the stairs
  • My mother heard the racket and came in to see how I was, but I wouldn’t let her near me.
  • All I could say was, “It was me.”
  • I remember being very dazed and “out of it” for a while, then I collected myself

Hit on the Head with Rock @ age 7 or 8 (1972/73)

  • I was struck on the head with a rock thrown by some kids from a nearby neighborhood
  • struck on the right side, near the top, behind the hairline
  • I remember being knocked out/coming to with my sister hovering over me crying
  • We went home, and Mom and Dad saw to me
  • they checked to see if I had a concussion – they got help from a friend who was a nurse who told them what to do — get a flashlight and check my pupils
  • they had me lie down and made sure I did not fall asleep
  • I laid on my left side, so I believe the bump was on my right
  • I think I was restless and didn’t want to lie down… but I also wanted to sleep
  • I remember them looking me over to find the bump
  • I tried to hide my injury from them
  • I was very confused and upset with myself for causing them concern
  • I didn’t get any medical attention
  • My memory immediately after that is sketchy — very “Swiss cheese-y”
  • I think that I may have gotten glasses after that
  • I was looking up at the moon and it looked like it was double
  • I told Mom and Dad and they got very nervous and agitated

After that, I became increasingly aggressive towards the kids I walked to school with, teasing and taunting them. I remember wondering why I was suddenly being so mean to them, and wanting to stop myself, but I couldn’t. I became increasingly withdrawn, I had increasing trouble in school (thinking and interacting with other kids), I got kicked out of my gifted students class for being disruptive, and my 4th grade teacher called me “Crazy ____-zee”.

I was always very physically active, when I was a kid, and I had a lot of falls and bumps while playing

  • It was not an uncommon thing for me to bump my head while we were out and about
  • in the woods playing, hiking, climbing
  • skating, falling on the ice
  • playing ball and getting hit or knocked down
  • I never thought anything of it — I just got back up and kept playing

Other childhood falls/injuries that I can remember:

Age 8 -11? Not exactly sure when this was. Fell off a running horse at camp, not sure if I hit my head.

  • I was riding a horse and it broke into a gallop and tried to throw me off
  • I hung onto it, but eventually slipped off
  • When the counselors asked me what happened, I had trouble remembering what had occurred and I got confused and disoriented when I tried to tell them what had happened. I couldn’t remember exactly.

High School
Freshman/Sophomore (?) Year (1979-80?)

  • Fell from a tree I was climbing
  • I “blanked out” and “forgot to hang on”
  • I fell about 10-15 feet, landed on my back across a log
  • The fall dazed me and knocked the breath out of me – I was dazed for several minutes after the fall
  • I stumbled home and laid down
  • I was very addled and turned around

Senior Year (1982-83)
Football — got tackled and was a little slow getting up

  • was dazed and confused and out of it for a while, but got up and kept playing
  • the guy who tackled me saw that I was out of it, and he cut the game short after a little while and he saw I was definitely impaired (moving more slowly and out of it)

Soccer — fell down and took a little while getting up

  • was dazed at first, but made light of it

Lacrosse — very physical games

  • lots of contact, bumping, falling, rough-and-tumble

Adulthood

Car Accidents

I was in several car accidents (1988-89)

1.Hit from the (driver’s) side by a speeding sedan, 1988

  • Police came, I think no tow was necessary (? can’t remember exactly)
  • I was disoriented and “off balance” for days after that
  • Police report faulted me, but it was not my fault, and I couldn’t collect my thoughts to file a complaint or amend the report
  • disoriented and intimidated
  • One of my bosses offered to go with me to the police, but I couldn’t collect myself enough to do it
  • I was unable to follow instructions and couldn’t understand what my bosses were saying to me
  • it just sounded like gobbldy-gook – I couldn’t make out the words, and I thought it was something wrong with me, or their accent
  • I had been able to understand them before — I recall standing in the office, just looking at my boss, trying to figure out what he was saying to me, wondering why it didn’t make any sense to me
  • I just told myself it was his accent, but I knew something else was going on, I just didn’t understand what

After that I left that job a day or two later

  • I just didn’t show up one day
  • didn’t bother calling the agency
  • I quit working completely and started drinking (a lot) during the day

2. Rear-ended in slow traffic, 1989(?)

  • On the way to the train station, got rear-ended in suburban traffic
  • No damage to the car, didn’t file a report or call the police
  • Just took off — in a hurry to get to the train station
  • Had difficulty getting there, got confused and turned around and had to keep looking for the train station, but I pushed through and got there
  • Neck was sore for days after that — very strong feeling of whiplash
  • Never saw a doctor about it… everything was a whirlwind around me

After that I cannot remember any immediate, obvious changes, but work was a challenge for me, and I wasn’t dealing well with it.

3. Rear-ended in heavy holiday traffic at Thanksgiving time (1995)

  • Hit from behind
  • No police called, traded info with other driver
  • Understanding and filling out the rental agency report form was very difficult for me, and it took me a while, but I got it done
  • I missed some of the “dings” on the car – completely missed it, even after looking the car over with a fine-tooth comb

After that I cannot remember any immediate, obvious changes after that, but it became increasingly difficult for me to deal with my stressful job, to draw boundaries, to keep on top of my duties. I dropped a lot of the projects I’d started, had issues with communicating with attorneys, and could no longer advocate for myself with my boss(es). My main boss reprimanded me for not being as articulate as usual. He clearly noticed a difference, but nobody connected it with the accident.

Various Falls
Fell off horse – early/mid 1980’s?

  • We were camping and went horseback riding
  • I was on an unruly horse that I couldn’t control. I had trouble keeping my balance.
  • The horse threw me off – and went back to the camp without me
  • I’m not sure if I hit my head

Fall Down Stairs @ age 39 – Day (or 2) after Thanksgiving, 2004

  • I fell down the stairs at my parents’ house and smashed the back of my head on 3-4 of the top stairs. No open wound.
  • I was standing at the top of the stairs at my parents’ house (very steep staircase, about 20 stairs or so), packing bags and carrying them to the car to head home
  • I was going to walk down the stairs, and someone called to me from the bedroom
  • I stopped to listen to what they were saying, and I lost my balance at the top of the stairs – I was in stocking feet, and my feet just went out from under me.
  • I landed on my back and hit the back of my head
  • I hit my head hard on the top 3-4 stairs, as I went down
  • My head just bounced off the top stairs
  • I lifted my head up and tried to stop myself by putting my hands and feet along the walls — couldn’t stop my slide
  • I ended up sliding down the whole flight and stopped at the bottom
  • When I got to the bottom, I was dazed and drew a blank
  • I was “out” briefly — maybe a few seconds
  • I didn’t immediately know where I was or what had happened to me
  • Didn’t know why I was at the bottom of the stairs
  • I wasn’t sure if I could move
  • Someone called to me, and I heard them from a distance
  • I answered, and I got up and went into the dining room before anyone could come to check on me — I just didn’t want to worry them
  • I got up and went into the dining room to check myself out
  • My back was hurt, and I was dazed
  • I didn’t really think anything of hitting my head
  • I was more worried about my back being torn up – it really hurt
  • Someone came downstairs to check me out, and asked if I’d hit my head
  • I said “No” – I’m not sure if I even realized it at that time, I was really dazed — but I do remember that I didn’t want to worry them, and I didn’t want to have to concern myself with that, because I didn’t trust the nearby hospitals. I was also concerned that the hospital would take actions that I couldn’t defend myself against, because I couldn’t communicate effectively.
  • My back had a big brush burn on it, and we focused on getting that taken care of

After that I started having more trouble at work, relationships fraying and straining, not being able to keep up with my work, constantly feeling like I was falling behind, saying inappropriate things (insubordinate statements) in meetings, and becoming openly hostile and verbally aggressive towards others I worked with. I went from being one of the top go-to people in my line of work, to persona non grata and being told I had to leave the group by July of 2005 (8 months after the fall). I converted from a full-time employee to a contract technical writer at about 60% of my former pay.

My Common Indicators of Head Injury

This is pretty much what got the ball rolling with me, in tracking down my TBI issues and finding a road to recovery. I knew I’d had a very difficult childhood, and I knew I had lots of issues as an adult. But this was the first piece of the puzzle that actually prompted me to seek help from a doctor.

Taken from The TBI Survival Guide by Dr. Glen Johnson – which is a link in the side column.

HEADACHES

1. Do you have more headaches since the injury or accident?

Not sure if it’s been since the injury/accident. I often have headaches. I have them so often, I just block them out. I don’t really notice them — it just feels “normal” to me to have a headache. I had a lot of headaches as a child, and my mother called them “sinus headaches,” but I can specifically remember times when I did not feel stuffed up, and I did not feel like I had sinus issues, but I still had a headache. My mother did not differentiate between them. Currently, I have headaches on an almost daily basis. But I don’t generally notice them, unless I pay close attention and actually self-assess.

2. Do you have pain in the temples or forehead?

Yes In my temples at times, as well as my forehead.

3. Do you have pain in the back of the head (sometimes the pain will start at the back of the head and extend to the front of the head)?

Yes I have pain in the back of my head — occipital area, sometimes around the base of my skull. I also have sharp, shooting pains that run up the back/side of my head to the front — I call them “lightning strikes”. The pain ranges from 3/10 – 9/10.

4. Do you have episodes of very sharp pain (like being stabbed) in the head which lasts from several seconds to several minutes?

Yes Sharp, shooting pains that stab in my head and feel like an icepick is being driven through my skull — I call them “lightning strikes,” too. It usually lasts only a few seconds. But that’s long enough, thank you very much. The pain ranges from 5/10 – 9/10.

MEMORY

5. Does your memory seem worse following the accident or injury?

I think so I have big pieces of memory missing from my childhood. There is a lot of my childhood that I don’t remember that my parents and siblings talk about, but I have recollection of. Also, since 2004, I’ve had trouble remembering who people are and where I am. I experience this at work, as well as when traveling. But it comes back to me over time – usually within a few minutes, if I think about it. Longer, if I have to “do research” to figure out who someone is.

6. Do you seem to forget what people have told you 15 to 30 minutes ago?

Yes I sometimes need to stop and remind myself what they said, and I have to ask them again. This can happen if I’m not paying attention, but it also happens when I AM paying attention — I focus on the statement or issue, but after a little while, I can’t remember what was just said to me.

7. Do family members or friends say that you have asked the same question over and over?

Yes, sometimes. To-do list items and passing questions need to be repeated sometimes. Or I cannot remember what I just asked them.

8. Do you have difficulty remembering what you have just read?

Yes I sometimes have to go back and read it again, sometimes 3 or 4 times, to retain it. Sometimes it’s because I get distracted, other times I really focus on the words, but I just don’t follow, so I step away and do something else and come back to the words when my mind is clearer. When I am fatigued, this is a big issue for me.

WORD-FINDING

9. Do you have difficulty coming up with the right word (you know the word that you want to say but can’t seem to “spit it out”)?

Yes Fairly frequently… can’t find the exact word to describe what I want to say, or I find a word, but don’t feel like I’ve been understood. That’s why I prefer writing — so I can edit myself and say exactly what I want to say. When I talk, there’s guarantee that I’ll say what I intended to.

FATIGUE

10. Do you get tired more easily (mentally and/or physically)?

Yes I’m often tired and I get tired more quickly than a lot of people around me. Even when I was a kid, I was usually in bed by 9:00 p.m., even during the summer, when other kids wanted to keep playing till midnight.

11. Does the fatigue get worse the more you think or in very emotional situations?

Yes Emotional or mentally taxing situations exhaust me

CHANGES IN EMOTION

12. Are you more easily irritated or angered (seems to come on quickly?

Yes Very intensely — snaps of temper over little things. It’s directly related to the amount of stress I feel I’m under. I snap more when I’m tired/stressed or I judge myself for being irritated/angered. I get agitated fairly easily, when I’m fatigued. My temper “snaps” can come and go very quickly, and I’ve learned to manage them effectively, but they still come up a lot.

13. Since the injury, do you cry or become depressed more easily?

Yes Hard to say, since I’ve always been inclined to get depressed, moreso than other kids. My mom was always giving me a hard time for not being more cheerful and not smiling enough. She would complain that I was angry and bitter, and she would get very frustrated at how out of sorts I could be. But I learned to keep my depression to myself.

CHANGES IN SLEEP

14. Do you keep waking up throughout the night and early morning?

Yes Especially during times of stress. Moreso, since the 2004 fall, than when I was a kid.

15. Do you wake up early in the morning (4 or 5 a.m.) and can’t get back to sleep?

Yes Since the 2004 fall, more than when I was a kid. I often wake up at 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. and cannot get back to sleep. I adjust and adapt with progressive relaxation and guided meditation, or I just get up and get things done in the time when I’m awake, and then I nap on weekends and evenings.

ENVIRONMENTAL OVERLOAD

16. Do you find yourself easily overwhelmed in noisy or crowded places (feeling overwhelmed in a busy store or around noisy children)?

Yes Absolutely Always. Crowds overwhelm me, and noisy kids fray my nerves.

IMPULSIVENESS

17. Do you find yourself making poor or impulsive decisions (saying things “without thinking” that may hurt others feelings; increase in impulse buying?)

Yes Saying things that are hurtful to others or inappropriate, against my will and better judgment — I know not to say them, but I can’t stop myself… like watching myself on a movie screen, unable to stop the train wreck. I am also prone to impulse buying, at times.

CONCENTRATION

18. Do you have difficulty concentrating (can’t seem to stay focused on what you are doing)?

Yes Especially during times of stress. I have a harder time on longer-term projects, than I did before. My mind tends to jump around a great deal, following associations, and if I’m not rested and paying close attention, I can easily drift off topic.

DISTRACTION

19. Are you easily distracted (someone interrupts you while you are doing a task and you lose your place)?

Yes Very frequently — and then I get very angry when it happens. Temper flares.

ORGANIZATION

20. Do you have difficulty getting organized or completing a task (leave out a step in a recipe or start multiple projects but don’t complete them)?

Yes Yes, my work slips and I overlook critical pieces of information, which undermines the success of my team, as well as my credibility. I have done this for years — worked very hard to finish something, then came to find out that I left out a critical piece of information that completely wrecked the whole spreadsheet/document, etc. It’s not a concentration thing or losing my focus — I am focused 100% on the work, but I miss something really critical and don’t catch it till afterwards, when it’s too late to fix it. This has caused a great deal of trouble for me at work, as I am often in mission-critical positions on multi-million dollar projects, and the demands and expectations are very high. I cannot mess up, and I do everything my power not to, but I sometimes “slip” without warning. I have absolutely no idea that I’m missing something, till too late.

Total Yes Answers = 20

If you have 5 or more Yes answers, discuss the results of this questionnaire with your doctor.

Putting the logic in “neurological”

Okay, here’s my next question:

If neurologists are trained in a “scientific” sort of method and they specialize in studying the brain, why is it that there seem to be so few neurologists out there who truly “get” TBI?

This is quite distressing… and by “this”, I mean all the stories I’ve heard and read about how people who have sustained TBI’s are either dismissed or misdiagnosed or just plain mistreated. My own story is among them.

Before I start, I just want to say, this is not intended to be a rant about the terrible experiences I’ve had with neurologists. I have had some pretty distressing ones, but I really think it’s more productive to seek solutions and embrace the lessons, rather than gunning for revenge. We’ve all been hurt by someone or something, along the way, and if we’ve got TBI-related issues, the situation tends to be muddied — both by the ignorance of the general populace (and a lot of “experts”) and by our own altered cognitive processes. I realize, as a result of my TBI’s, that my mind can play tricks on me. So sometimes things aren’t as bad — or as good — as I think they are, so please take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt.

My own neurological saga began nearly a year ago, when I started to put two and two together and realized that there was something fundamentally wrong with my cognitive process. Something that had gone unrecognized and undetected for almost my entire life, but had been a persistent problem and issue for many, many years.

In the process of talking with my therapist, I took a very close look at the events of my childhood and how they had affected me. I’ve had a lot of behavioral and cognitive and emotional problems over the course of my life — I’ve been able to mask the cognitive and emotional ones really well, mostly by just keeping quiet and being very vigilant about people’s reactions to me, but the behavioral ones were a real problem when I was a kid — it’s what people could see: the temper tantrums, the meltdowns, the bad moods, the lashing out, the yelling, the acting out… Yikes.

Anyway, I was trying to figure out why my siblings had similar experiences to mine — some of them had worse ones, in fact — but I had the most trouble with things. One day, I just mentioned to my therapist, off-hand and very matter-of-factly, that I’d been hit in the head with a rock when I was 7 or 8 years old. She didn’t follow up with that, but that started me thinking. And it occurred to me that that injury, which I recall knocked me out briefly, might have affected me more than I realized.

I went about collecting and recording as much information as I could about my observations of my life — using valuable guidelines over at www.headinjury.com as a starting point. (Thanks! to them for their great info! What a great resource they are!) I wrote down as much information as I could about my childhood experiences that seemed to be directly related to my injury at age 8… and then I collected as much info as I could about how it appeared my adult life had been impacted by that injury. I started to see a lot of patterns that bore a really close resemblance to things I read about other people experiencing. (I’ll post some of what I collected, so you can see what I came across.)

Then I systematically kept track of my daily experiences, and I recorded what went on with me on a regular basis, tracking it to the symptoms of TBI. And I read a lot online about how people can be affected by brain injuries.

Now, all this was happening behind the scenes of my regular life — sort of on the QT. I did reach out to local brain injury associations, as well as some support groups. I was still really searching for some understanding of what had happened to me, and how it affected me. All of a sudden, I had a plausible explanation for all the difficulties I’d had as a kid, why I was so erratic, why things that were easy for other kids were hard for me… and why I’d made the kinds of decisions and taken the sorts of actions I had as a teenager and an adult. So many things could be explained by this! It was both euphoric and disconcerting. A lot of information came into my life in a relatively short period of time. And I was pretty much doing it on my own.

Knowing that I have a long history of being mistaken or downright wrong about things that seemed pretty “obvious” to me, and knowing that going it alone was perhaps not the best way to do things, I decided to seek out help. I was given some great information from other TBI survivors about finding a neuropsychologist to do an assessment of my situation and help me formulate a plan to rehabilitate myself. The only problem was, someone warned me, my insurance company was notoriously difficult about covering neuropsych exams (NPE), unless they were medically warranted.

I knew I needed an NPE — really for the sake of getting some professional corroboration about my situation, so I wasn’t just running around saying “This is what happened to me!” and making a total fool of myself in the process (It’s happened too often before, sadly). But how to qualify to get one?

I asked around, and people said that a neurologist would be the one person to determine if you needed one — anything less might not be honored by the insurance company. The problem was, not all neurologists have a clue about TBI, and some of them are downright hostile, when it comes to brain injury. I’m not sure why this is, if they’re neurologists and it’s their job to know about the brain, but there we have it.

So, off I went in search of a neurologist who specialized in TBI. I searched high and low, pulled data from listings from support groups and organizations, then cross-referenced that list with the neuros my insurance company listed on their website. It was a painstaking process, but eventually I found a neuro who specialized in TBI who seemed like a decent sort of fellow.

I compiled all my notes and edited them down and collected them in a three-ring binder. I listed my symptoms, my history of head injuries (which had actually lengthened — the more I thought about things, the more injuries I realized I’d had), my issues, and information I thought would be helpful for him to make some sort of diagnosis. I genuinely thought he would be open to it, and that he would appreciate the information, without having to sit and ask me all the questions. Plus, I was afraid I’d get turned around and not be able to answer accurately, so I wanted to make sure I had the right information recorded. I take my health very seriously, and I take my integrity seriously, too. I didn’t want to be misstating or confabulating or confusing the issue.

Well, I don’t have the time here to describe exactly what happened, but the end result was me feeling incredibly dismissed and my difficulties downplayed. (I’ve got to write more on this — it’s a great story and an educational tale — but not for this post.) Bottom line was, the neuro wouldn’t pay any attention to the information I’d collected, he ruled out the benefits of an MRI, he tossed my book aside, and he reached the eventual conclusion that I had “emotional problems” and I needed to see a cognitive-behavioral therapist and possibly go on Ritalin or some other stimulant.

He basically told me that my situation was “more complex” than he liked to deal with, and there wasn’t much he could tell me, so I should go see a neuropsychologist.

Well, yuh, I already knew that. I had been hoping he could at least confirm or deny the extent and possible impact of my injuries. But apparently, it’s kind of hard to tell what’s up with someone when they’re talking about multiple injuries sustained over the course of more than 30 years.

In retrospect, I think that my emotional state at that time didn’t help. I was very stressed when I went in to see the doctor, and I wasn’t really clear about the answers I was giving. I also didn’t feel as though he was in the least bit sympathetic to me, and I had a lot of trouble verbalizing the answers to his questions — either I gave him too much information, or too little. It just wasn’t good. Plus, he only had 50 minutes to spend with me, so there wasn’t much either of us could accomplish in the meantime. He did give me a neurological exam, and I came out looking pretty normal, from what I can tell.

I left that visit feeling genuinely unnerved. At the very least, I had expected at least a little indication of interest in my situation, but the doctor seemed more interested in seeing people with “real” problems — as though a lifetime of catastrophic relationship failures, a patchwork job history, constant headaches and ringing in my ears, mood and behavioral issues, and a complete and utter failure to fully realize my potential is not much of a problem at all.

Maybe he was looking for something more dramatic. Like a tumor. Or cancer. Or a Phineas Gage-like iron spike through my skull. Or some sort of medical data, which I did not have, since I’ve never gone to the hospital or sought medical treatment for any of my injuries.

Anyway, I was pretty torn up about the experience, and I continue to be bothered by it. It doesn’t help that this TBI business is wreaking havoc with my perceptions, but there seemed to be an alarming lack of intellectual curiosity, or even logic, to the doctor’s demeanor.

So, I buckled down and went ahead with finding a neuropsychologist who could perform an NPE on me, per the doctor’s directive. Again, like Diogenes with proverbial lantern in hand, I searched high and low, seeking a qualified individual who had a clue about my type of situation. Again, I had to cull out the ones who were flagged as “trouble” by a brain injury support group info packet (like the ones who testified for insurance companies to discredit TBI survivors in court). And then I had to cross-reference them against the insurance company’s website. And then I had to research their background and their professional reputation, if I could find it.

I found someone, at last, but he couldn’t fit me in until September. This was back in April, or so.

So, I sat and waited. And lined up another job. And totally screwed up that job and had to go find another one, so I wouldn’t lose my house.

All the while, it was getting harder and harder for me to deal with being so brushed off by that first neuro. So, I thought I’d see another one — someone a friend of mine had been seeing, whom she liked pretty well. I made an appointment with him and went to see him, thinking that I might get farther with him, if I just focused on one issue, rather than the whole kit-n-kaboodle.

I made up another version of my notes for this doctor and took it with me to reference. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake I’d made with the last doctor and just run my mouth without anything positive coming out of it.

But this guy was even worse than the last one. I think he may have either talked to the other doctor or he saw some of my notes from my PCP, who got a letter from the first doctor, and he treated me like a “hostile witness”. He wouldn’t let me use any of my notes, and he just grilled me over and over about details I wasn’t clear about, or I had to take time to think about. He announced that an MRI would be pointless to do, and he said my headaches were just stress. I had no time to gather my thoughts or describe the full spectrum of my issues, and I left feeling totally bulldozed and dismissed… and a little mistreated. (Again, I’m sure my TBIs didn’t help my processing at all — I’ll post more details on my experiences later — it’s really a very informative story.)

In the end, I didn’t get anywhere with these doctors. Maybe I was looking for the wrong thing from them. Maybe I was expecting too much, hoping for sympathy or at least a little curiosity about me and my situation. But still, it seems to me that a neurologist (for heavens sake!) would exhibit at least a little interest in someone like me — someone who has sustained multiple mild traumatic brain injuries over the course of my life, and has still managed to put together a life that a lot of people would be happy to have — with a loving spouse, a great house in a great town in a great state, pretty decent facility at getting along in the world, a career that looks great from the outside, the ability to be employed, and to be fully engaged in my life (my limitations notwithstanding).

But in the end, I got nothing. Worse than nothing. I got dismissed. Shunted off. Sent away to someone else.

I’m a TBI survivor who needs help understanding exactly what is up with me, and why my brain doesn’t work the way it should. I sought the help of neurologists… who just couldn’t be bothered with me. They dismissed me without so much as a second thought, from what I could tell. It’s their job to help people with neurological issues… I’ve been under the impression that it’s their job to identify the issues and be of assistance. And yet, both of these guys exhibit precious little interest in my situation.

Where’s the logic in that?

Things are looking up on the job front!

Things are really looking up! I’ve been away from this blog for a really long time… about eight months, in fact. And it’s been a really busy eight months.

When I last posted, I was in the process of looking for a job. Or had I just started a contract? I think I was on the cusp of re-entering the workforce, trying to get my ducks in a row, trying to make sure that my resume was in fact a work of fact (and not fiction ;), just working like crazy, trying to keep my head on straight and not freak out, realizing that my brain has changed and is not going to return to how it was anytime soon… if ever… and realizing that my brain actually had changed numerous times, over the course of my life, and a lot of the assumptions I fondly held about myself might have been “off” — if not flat-out wrong.

It was a lot to process, considering I also had to keep my head above water, find a job, pay the mortgage, and try to maintain some semblance of normalcy in my life. It was a lot! But then, when I really sat down and thought about it, I had been wrangling with these types of challenges almost my entire life… I just didn’t realize it, till the end of 2007. And once I realized it, and I took a long, hard look at how well I’ve actually done in life, well, that made things a little bit easier.

A little bit…

But some things still were pretty much of a challenge for me, and since I’m given the option between laughing and crying, I think I’ll see if I can keep my sense of humor as I recount what’s been going on for most of the past year.

In January (I’m pretty sure), I started a web developer contract position at a major multinational technology company that has its headquarters cleverly built into the side of a hillside with a commanding view of the rolling countryside below it, about 20 minutes from my home. It was actually a really great gig, as the money was pretty good, the hours were flexible, and it’s the kind of work I’ve been doing since 1996, so it’s almost second nature to me. Actually, it is second nature to me.

(Note to those who think that computer programming is “beyond” the ability of a TBI survivor: Computer programming/web development is perhaps the best employment I could possibly find because A) it’s very binary, as in, you either get it right or you get it wrong — either what you type in works, or it doesn’t, B) the only person who ever needs to know how badly you screw up, is the computer, and it will never call you idiot! imbecile! stupid! space case! (at least to your face ;), so you always have time to fix your errors before some human comes along and notices your screw-up, and C) this line of work tends to be heavily project managed, at least in corporate environments, so I always have someone looking over my shoulder who can help keep me on track).

But back to our regularly-scheduled programming…

Anyway, I had this great gig going on at a huge company in a huge building with a huge employee population, and I was working on projects that were being used in countries like Latin America and Europe, and I was making pretty good money. The only problem was, I wasn’t paying close enough attention to my stressors, and I wasn’t getting enough rest, and my “issues” started to kick in. I found myself becoming increasingly stressed over my work — there was some takeover bid being considered, and people were nervous about their jobs, and the environment was actually too big for me — the space itself was cavernous and I found it disorienting to walk down hallways that were not only BIG, but were also very sterile and, well, hard. I have certain sensory issues that make me really sensitive to sounds and light, and the actual sound of walking down those corridors… the echoing in my ears, was actually a stressor.

Plus, I was having communication issues… having trouble understanding what I needed from the work situation — what worked for me, what didn’t. I wasn’t able to articulate very well about the things that got to me, like not having a properly configured computer that was hooked into the main system the way it should be (I was essentially doing network work on a “standalone” computer, so I never knew if my work would come out right). And the guy I was working with was also not very communicative. I could never tell if I was doing an okay job or not, and I didn’t know how to ask in a way that didn’t sound stupid to me. I tend to be the kind of person who doesn’t like to call attention to themself, anyway, so I didn’t want to highlight the fact that I felt like I was falling behind in my work. I didn’t want to give anyone the wrong impression and seem like I didn’t have confidence in my own abilities. If I did that, I was afraid I’d set off the alarms and people would start to look for problems with my work, and then I’d lose what little control I had over my situation.

Well, long story short, I actually did lose control of the situation, and by the end of the 2-1/2 months I was there, I had successfully alienated my recruiter who’d placed me there — no, alienated is not the right word — more like, infuriated, pissed off and completely distanced (I can still smell the bridge burning behind me) — had pushed everyone in the group away from me, and I’d gone off to a permanent position that suffered a similar fate to the one I had just left.

Yes, I went from the frying pan into the fire, but this time, in March, I was driving twice as far and dealing with a company that was a fraction of the size of the one I’d just ejected out of.

I took a job doing more heavy-duty development work with a little start-up that made big promises and sounded like a great thing… like a cyber-tribe of sorts, with a close-knit group of people who liked to play as hard as they worked. And my decision to sign on with them was both ill-informed and ill-advised. I mean, I asked all the right questions… I even wrote them down ahead of time and checked them off on my list. But the answers I got did not “correlate with the truth” — in other words, they told me what they thought I wanted to hear, and I took the bait, hook, line and sinker.

That tale is a sad and tragic one — even more sad and tragic than my ill-fated stint at the MegaCompany. The long drive fatigued me, but the frenzied pace and the lack of structure is what really took its toll on me. Plus, it turned out that the technology they built was NOT as ready for prime-time as they said it was. It was, to my systematic and logic-seeking mind, a total friggin’ nightmare.

And I really screwed up with my exit from there, too. I wasn’t able to keep up with things that were happening around me, I ended up making stupid comments and drifting way off base in meetings, I wasn’t able to concentrate, I wasn’t able to deal. Plus, the building was situated in a place that was very remote — I couldn’t get away from the office without considerable effort, and I just got so turned around and freaked out… it was very sad. And I started having serious issues with memory and logic and being able to interact with other people. By the time I left there, I’d really alienated everyone in the place, and my excuse that I was leaving for health reasons (which was quite true, tho’ not the entire truth) barely got me out the door without being attacked by the CEO and the President, who both had a terrible reputation for tempers and verbal abuse. It’s not that I couldn’t have survived their vitriol, but what worries me is what I might have said in return. I have a real skill for going off on people and venting inappropriately.

It was bad enough that I had to bail on them after three months. I didn’t want a full-on TBI-exacerbated confrontation on my conscience, too.

So, I did the humiliating but necessary thing — I made excuses and snuck out the back door. ’nuff said about that adventure. For now, anyway… there are lots of juicy tidbits that are very educational in hindsight, so I’ll write about them later.

Anyway, somewhat demoralized and downtrodden, I started another job a little over three months ago with another multinational corporation, doing web development work. The team I’m working with is small and close-knit, and between the ADHD and other personality quirks and old sports head injuries, we all manage to reach agreements about how to deal with each other well. So far, so good. They know there’s something “different” about me, but they don’t hold it against me. And frankly, there’s plenty about them that’s different, too, so I’m in my element.

For now…

When I look back on my work history, I have to say it’s a little disconcerting to see how short a time I’ve spent at so many companies. The longest I’ve ever been in any one group, is 2-3 years. I include my 9-year stint at a multinational corporation in that, since I jumped around a bit, and I moved from group to group — I was in 5 different groups in the 9 years I was there, having made a deliberate decision to move on, myself. So, while my resume says “Such-and-such-A-Company” (1997-2005), the fact of the matter is, I had five different jobs there, in five different groups:

1. 1997-1999 — web developer

2. 1999-2000 — software engineer (yes, it’s different from being a web developer)

3. 2000-20002 — technology integrator

4. 2002-8/2005 — software engineer/architect

5. 8/2005-12/2005 — technical writer

And because all these were done at the same company, they don’t “count” as career shiftlessness. So, I can get away with it and camouflage my issues and still look great in the process. Which is great for my resume and career.

The only problem is that now I’m out on my own and I’m not doing this at the same company, so my resume is starting to look a little more sketchy. Which isn’t good for applying for financing, and it isn’t good for finding other jobs.

Fortunately, for the time being, I’m in a good place at a good company that’s in the healthcare industry, so there’s not bound to be any decline in business anytime soon.

And despite the fact that the last two attempts I made at finding and keeping gainful employment were sad chapters in the book of my life, the fact is, I didn’t get fired, I left on terms that were my own, and although I truly regret the fallout and consequences to the people I “bailed on”, the fact is, no animals were harmed in my experiment, and everyone is still standing. So, it’s not a
total loss, and I did learn a lot! (I simply must write about this later!)

Things are indeed looking up!