I had an interesting conversation with a friend, yesterday. I had woken up from my nap (thank heavens for vacation) and I had this sudden revelation about how to deal with some worries that I’ve been having. I called them up and told them that I had found a solution, and proceeded to announce my discovery with great satisfaction and relief.
Imagine my surprise, when they informed me that I was saying exactly the same thing I had said about similar situations many times in the past. Here, I thought I had made this amazing new discovery that would solve all my new troubles, and I come to find that not only are my troubles not new, but I have also “solved” them many times in the past.
WTF?! I had absolutely NO recollection of having had any such conversation in the past. I wracked my brain and I could not for the life of me remember having discussed anything like this at all with them before.
At first, I laughed it off and played along and pretended like I knew that!
Then I tried to talk around it and get some clues about when we had discussed the kinds of things I was talking about.
Then I tried to change the subject.
That worked for a while, but then I came back around to wanting to know if we had really talked about the thing I had called to share.
The conversation didn’t really get very far, because my friend wasn’t really in the mood to get into an in-depth conversation about my crappy memory. There was someone else in the room with them, so there was only so much attention they could give to me. Plus, I was headed out the door to run some errands, so that was that.
What I was eventually left with was a weird uneasiness that morphed into a distinct uneasiness today. Whatever conversations I had had with this friend about solutions to my problems, once upon a time (or more times than that), were gone, baby, gone.
This can make a person crazy. More times than I can count, things that I was “supposed” to remember have flown far, far away from my memory. It happens at work, it happens at home, it happens in conversations with friends and acquaintances. I try to bring it back, try to reconstruct situations, try to connect with the foggy past and see what I can tease out of it.
All too often, it’s to no avail. No matter what I do, if the stuff isn’t near the surface of my recollection, it seems to be gone for good. And there’s no point in chasing after it. That’s a huge time-sink. Of course, I usually try to chase after it, and time flies from me as quickly as the memories did. I’ll do my damnedest to uncover the missing pieces of the puzzle, but when all is said and done, what’s gone is gone.
Memory isn’t the only persistent, recurring problem with me. As I continue with this TBI recovery process, I come up against certain limitations time and time again. Memory problems are only part of the whole picture. There’s the fatigue, the irritability, the dizziness and sensory sensitivities. There’s the confusion and frustration that come up regularly that I have to fight back before they get a toehold in my emotional lability and turn my life upside-down. There’s the anger, the aggression, the mood swings, and the impulse control that has me saying things I really should not be saying. I make good progress and take many steps forward. Then I fall behind on my sleep. Or I start to eat a lot of junk food. Or I take on too much and over-commit myself. Or all of the above. And I start to see cracks in my foundation.
As I get yet another look at the things I think I have all figured out, it becomes all too obvious I need to figure them out.
Oh well, what can you do? Just keep working at things, I suppose. And write things down, instead of relying on my memory all the time. I like to think that if I just “exercise” my memory more, I’ll be able to strengthen it. But I end up just exhausting myself, and what good does that do? Instead of strengthening myself, I’m weakening myself.
I guess it’s all part of this trip called “TBI recovery” — finding out what works, and what doesn’t. Finding out what strategies are well-suited to my life and my personality, and finding out which ones don’t help at all. I have found myself drifting more and more from the things that I know work — getting enough rest, writing things down, sticking with a schedule, and so forth — because there’s still a part of me that doesn’t want to have to be so vigilant all the time. I need a “break” from the discipline. But the discipline is there for a reason — when I get away from it, I start to have problems.
The biggest problem, I have to say, is with my immediate surroundings — the people around me who are convinced that there is nothing at all “wrong” with me, and who don’t think I need to do anything different from what they do, in order to live my life. My spouse doesn’t think I really need to get to bed at a decent hour, and they don’t think that I need to be writing everything down. They think I should loosen up and go with the flow, and they refuse to stick to any sort of schedule. To this day, they have a ton of trouble accepting the fact that there is anything about me that is different or not like everyone else. They are fond of saying that there’s nothing “wrong” with me, and there never was, as though all the work I’ve put into my rebound has been a waste of time and utterly needless.
They love to stay up late, eat at irregular hours, and not exercise. They love to spend their time lolling about, “taking it easy” and they hate to have any kind of schedule to stick with. They live like they’re on vacation, basically, which is made a whole lot easier by me being the primary breadwinner — and them pitching a fit everytime I suggest that they should make more of an effort to bring some money in to keep the joint running. They don’t get the concept of having money in the bank – they think if you have it, you should spend it(!) so we have this ongoing “dialogue” about what is and is not appropriate to spend money on. Usually the dialogue ends up in dissent and heated arguments. So, I do what I can to keep things cool and just stay on target as much as possible. After years and years of this same discussion of what is and is not a good way to spend money, some years ago, I started putting a certain percentage of money aside — and I mean aside — so we would at least have something to fall back on. It’s kind of a bummer to have to defend yourself and your well-being against the very person who you turn to for support, but there it is.
I could spend time anguishing over the years and dollars lost, struggling in vain to change them, but what’s done is done. Those years and dollars are gone, baby, gone. Just let it go, and keep looking to the future, I guess…
And keep myself safe, above all else. My spouse makes choices that I would never make. They seem to think they live in a protective little bubble where nothing ever goes wrong. I know different. They don’t live my life, and they don’t live inside my head, and they don’t have the same experiences I’ve had.
If they can’t see what effect lack of sleep and lack of a set schedule has on me, if they can’t see that being frugal is the way to go, then that’s on them. I need to protect myself and keep myself on track. Mind you, they have many other strengths for which I love them with all my heart and soul. But in certain significant ways, we differ. Differences like this have broken up stronger couples. But we’re not them. It’s like I’m living with a heavy drinker, when I’m trying to stay on the wagon. It doesn’t make things easy at all. But at least I’m aware of the situation, which makes all the difference.
One thing that makes it easier, is that they’ve become really busy and involved in different business activities, so I have more time to myself, to tend to myself away from their constant influence of really bad choices and bad behavior. I get to take care of myself, and that’s exactly what I do.
Yesterday was an absolutely beautiful day. I lay down for a nap, and I slept for about 4 hours. I had been really troubled by the discussion I had with the friend who told me I was forgetting things. I woke up feeling terrible and consumed by the confusion of the missing pieces of my memory, I was tempted to just sit inside and wallow. I did that for a while, in fact. But that didn’t last long. Being on vacation and having a rare gorgeous day during this unpredictable season, it just didn’t seem right for me to camp out inside. Besides, I needed some fresh air.
So I went outside and picked up fallen sticks in my yard. I walked around and looked at the effects that winter had had on everything, and I noted the new growth that’s starting to show. As I tromped around, it occurred to me that these TBI complication and memory loss issues of mine are not unlike experiencing a kind of earthquake or tsunami. It comes in and shakes and takes away the things you used to know, leveling the things that made up your past and trashing the connections you had with people and places and things. Sometimes the damage is minor, sometimes it’s irreparable, and it’s easier to take a proverbial bulldozer to the whole lot of things, than to try to put it back together again.
Two steps forward, one step back. One step forward, two steps back. Five steps forward, six and a half steps back. And three steps to the side.
The damage is on a much smaller scale in my personal case, of course. There’s really no comparison between the devastation of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami and my memory issues or the parts of my life that have been irreversibly changed by my traumatic brain injuries. But in my own small world, the impact to my life, my sense of self, my perception of who I am, and the choices I have to make in the world, has been at times as annihilating as any 9.0 tremblor and a 100-foot wall of water. And the recovery process is every bit as long as Japan’s promises to be. Minimum five years, is what they say. With me, it’s been more than six, since my last fall, and I’m still struggling at times to get back.
Getting back… Some days I feel like I’m really there. I can go for months feeling like I’M THERE, AND I’M NOT GOING BACK. Then I get tired. Then I get overwhelmed. Then I start to feel like things are falling apart, and I feel like I’m back at Square One. I have it in my head that I’ve got things sorted, and I can fully restore myself to my former glory… then I realize that there was no such thing as my former glory, and despite the good parts, things have been a continuous struggle for me, for as long as I can remember. What makes it particularly difficult is when I feel like I’ve still got the bad stuff with me, but the good stuff has washed away or been lost somehow. And I feel like I’m starting from scratch.
All over again.
Then something happens and I see how much farther along I am, than I tend to think I am. After I picked up sticks in my yard, I went out for a proper walk, and while I was out, I got a phone call from my spouse about some friends of ours who were moving and needed help. Right away. They had to be out of their apartment that night, and they were still packing at 7 p.m.
So, I hoofed it back home, hopped in the car, and headed over to their place. They were in a state of near panic, as they still had parts of the kitchen and various pieces of furniture and odds and ends to move. It seemed endless, as that last push of moving often does. They also have a four-year-old who is a handful under normal conditions, and they were acting up even more under the strain of all the activity and change.
So, I jumped in and started wrapping dishes. Got the last of the glasses and plates packed… books… more dishes and plates… shelves… computer equipment… hauling it down the stairs and out to their truck. It really was a much bigger task than it appeared at first blush. But by 1 a.m., we had the last of the items out and they closed the door behind them.
On to a new life. From a 2-bedroom, 1 bath apartment that was maybe 800 square feet, to a two-storey house that’s probably three times the size of their old place, with 3 bedrooms and 2-1/2 baths and a full basement for their kid to play in. Nice. The place they moved out of was the first residence they’d had together as a couple — the first place that was theirs, not one’s that the other moved into. They had a lot of great memories from that tiny little apartment, but it was time to move on.
And so they did.
The past was a good thing, but it was over. It was done and gone. They’ll always have good memories of it.
As for me and my life, who can say what kinds of memories I’ll have? In a way, losing pieces from my past is not necessarily a bad thing. Someone once said that “happiness is made up of good health and a poor memory.” I’ve pretty much got both. :) So, no matter what I may think I’m missing out on, because I can’t remember the past, if I trust that there was a lot of good in it, and I don’t worry about the bad, then my spotty memory doesn’t need to a bad thing necessarily.
Of course, it’s helpful if I remember the things I’m supposed to, but I always have lists for that.