The three ways “it” gets hold of me

We’ve all got our monsters

I had a good talk with my neuropsych today about the issues I’ve had (for many, many years) with impulse control around things I say. For many years, I’ve gotten myself into trouble by saying things that were either hurtful towards others, or were so out there in left field that people genuinely thought I was losing it. After discussing several examples today, we identified three distinct ways I get into trouble:

  1. Blurting things out that don’t go over well, and then scrambling — in vain — to patch up the rift in the social fabric, and digging myself deeper into a hole by not being able to shut the hell up.
  2. Getting carried away on an emotional jag, being unable to manage my state of mind and behavior, and flipping out at people when I’m extremely overwrought.
  3. Getting caught up in talking a blue streak, pissing people off, alienating them, boring them, driving them nuts, and being utterly unable to stop myself, even when they tell me I need to be quiet.

These three phenomena are like the Three Stooges of my post-TBI experience. And at last I’m getting some help for them. It took me a while to be able to discuss them openly with someone — and with plenty of hesitation, too. So much in my experience has been dismissed, and my neuropsych has been pretty quick to label things that happen to me as “interpretations” I have of events, that I was really concerned that they would just brush me off and tell me I was making things harder for myself than need be.

But ahead of time, I thought things through, and I came up with some examples of the kinds of impulse control issues I’ve been having for many, many years. I was already starting to see patterns and differences between some of them. And when we started talking about it all, I was able to organize my thoughts pretty well, and I was able to press ahead on points that they wanted to dismiss as “interpretations”. Ahem — when something happens as a direct result of something else, it’s not just my interpretation. There’s an actual correlation between them. So please don’t just brush me off like I’m crazy or looking for reasons to get worked up about something.

In the end, they did actually see that one of the three problems is something I need to work on. It’s something I need some tools and techniques to deal with. And I was able to see that the other two were things that just about everybody does, or are things that happen naturally when such-and-such takes place, and that in some ways I was already dealing with them.

Let me break it down.

#1 above – Blurting things out that don’t go over well – is something that everyone does, now and then. Scrambling — in vain — to patch up the rift in the social fabric, and digging myself deeper into a hole by not being able to shut the hell up is very likely little more than my classic inexperience at interacting with people. Remember, I never really interacted with people in a social way, prior to working with my neuropsych. I said things to them, pretended to listen, then spent countless minutes and hours afterwards trying to figure out what just happened.

#2 above – Getting carried away on an emotional jag, being unable to manage my state of mind and behavior, and flipping out at people when I’m extremely overwrought – is something that will happen when I’m overrun with emotion, I’m tired, and I’m stressed. It’s also something that happens intermittently and isn’t a constant factor with me.

#3 above – Getting caught up in talking a blue streak, pissing people off, alienating them, boring them, driving them nuts, and being utterly unable to stop myself, even when they tell me I need to be quiet – is the thing that I need some tools for. I need to find ways to stop the momentum, to not go into that downward slide into incoherence and social marginalization. I’ve done this so many times — knowing I needed to stop talking or doing something, knowing I needed to quit running my mouth, knowing I needed to just HALT and back away from the situation… only to watch myself keeping on doing and saying the things that got me in trouble. This is the biggie — the one that has the greatest potential to wreck me in life. It’s the sleeping giant — or perhaps the sleepless giant — that lurks ever behind the scenes and threatens to pull me down-down-down into a spiral of uncontrolled verbal incontinence, possibly ending up (as has often been the case) with me tearing away at the social fabric that holds me up and contains my life.

Bit by bit, piece by piece, undermining me.

Thankfully, my neuropsych can see this. And they can see that I really don’t like to talk about it, but that I have to, because my life is going to stay stuck if I can’t figure out how to handle the almost overwhelming conviction that I’m going to screw something up. And that I’ll pay.

The higher you climb, the farther you fall.

And I’m really sick and tired of being convinced I’m going to fall, and having no way to prevent it.

But now that can change. Now I have a chance.

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6 thoughts on “The three ways “it” gets hold of me

  1. BB –

    This is a really good analysis – and I bet 80% or more of folks with BI do this.

    There are some things that can be helpful to deal with these issues BUT it is very important to remember that know what you should or should not do will not come easily or naturally AT FIRST. For example –

    #1. You blurt out something and then, embarrassed you try to ‘fix it’. That urge to fix it, to make it safe, okay, to prove you really aren’t a goon is so great that it will be a torture to not say anything. But that is what you must do – NOT fix it, let it go. Most of the time people forget things. So you literally have to stop yourself. It will be hard. You can practice asking yourself the question ‘is it ABSOLUTELY necessary for me to correct this now?’ – and the answer is that unless the persons life is in danger – No, you do not have to fix it. If you honestly feel, a week later, that the situation still needs correcting you can rehearse what you want to say and privately and calmly speak to the person. But to learn to be silent will feel unnatural. You should also find a friend, if you can, who you can call up and explain to THEM what you wanted to explain to this other person – that gets the urge to explain out of you and makes it easier to be silent.

    #2 above – I think that this happens most frequently when tired, pressured and overcaffeinated. Again – when it happens I KNOW that it is fatigue more than anything else. If I have been rude I apologize. Sometimes I just have to learn to let it go – yes, some people will get tired of it but I can’t fix it in a day. Again if I feel the urge to say something that has a powerful feeling I first think – DO I HAVE TO?

    #3 – this is my killer weakness. I am practicing listening. I am practicing trying to write things instead of say them. This is very hard – I think because I have to think out loud because I can’t hold thoughts in my head – so I am a running dialogue. It really does alienate folks. And I hate it. But I do get a better sense of myself doing it now.

    What did your NP suggest on how to manage this stuff?

  2. Here is a good way to practice – tape your conversations with people and listen to them afterward. Listen to how you speak, your breathing, your intonation etc. You can hear if you rush words, interrupt, (my big problem) or just ramble. Pick one thing and work on it.

  3. Thanks m – I have been practicing letting things go and not following up ad-infinitum with them — today I had a great opportunity to practice, as my group went out for an afternoon offsite event and there was plenty of social interaction that made me plenty nervous. But just about everybody was drinking, so even if they did notice the things I said that I thought were stupid, they had even less reason to pay attention to them. :)

    Now I’m exhausted.

    But I can say this — my NP didn’t actually get into managing things in-depth. We talked more about what my situation is like and what my perceptions of them are. First we’re figuring out what the issues really are. Then we’ll deal with them.

    Next week.

    When I’m more rested.

    Thanks for writing.

  4. Oh, I don’t know if I can do that… way too self-conscious. At least that’s how I’m feeling right now. That may change. Thanks for the suggestion.

  5. This issue sounds horribly familliar. You say something, realise it was misinterpreted, and then are desperate to try to correct it and you end up in a feedback loop.

    I think anxiety is a major player here. Anxiety garbles your message, so what was a reasonable and well intentioned thing to say is heard as inappropriate. You realise this, which makes you anxious, and desperate to try to correct it….

  6. Agreed – I think the anxiety affects both my hearing/understanding and my communication. When I’m stressed, it becomes more difficult for me to make myself understood. Even worse, it fills me with a sense that even if I *think* I was clear, and others are sure that they know what I’m talking about, I have no sense of certainty that they actually “got it”. And the feedback loop continues — inside my head. Because by the time I reach the conclusion that they’re not really following me, the conversation is often long past the point where I feel like it’s salvageable, I’ve pretty much given up trying.

    So it goes. But if I can head the anxiety off at the pass, or at least get a sense that they’re roughly in the same ballpark, it helps. You’re right – anxiety is a major player. At least, for me.

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