The adventure continues

Spent the day yesterday recuperating from my meltdown a few nights before. Sick, blazing headache… nausea… feeling wiped out and down and depressed. I took the day off work, tho’, which helped. And I’m taking another day off, today. It’s just not worth my health and my sanity and my family life, to drive myself for no good reason. I’ve been putting in extra hours, anyway, so it’s not like I haven’t put in any billable time.

I’m due for a break, which I’m finally giving myself.

I have been sleeping, on and off, more frequently, over the past few days. Just lying down for a quick nap — half an hour, 45 minutes… a hour or so — and then getting up to get on with it. I’m pretty happy about this, because despite my best efforts, I haven’t been able to really get the sleep I’ve been needing to, over the past months. Ever since I made a firm commitment to getting more sleep, I’ve actually been getting less. And that’s a problem. Because when I don’t sleep, bad things happen. Almost like clockwork. I’m so predictable, it’s quite boring.

But over the past few days, I’ve gotten more sleep. And I am slowly but surely finding out what works for me, with regard to timing out my naps. Ironically (and totally surprisingly to me – tho’ I’ not sure why it surprises me), I do better getting more sleep when I’m not on rigid schedule. When I’m going with the flow. When I’m relaxed and not driving myself.

Like I said, I’m not sure why this suprises me, but it does.

I have had it in my head that I need to follow a strict schedule in my daily routine… that I need to schedule everything out and stick to my timetable, in order to be effective and get everything done. I’ve had it in my head that I need to do things a specific way, in order to catch up on my sleep. When I’m working in the city, I need to get up at such-and-such a time, work such-and-such hours, and then come home and go to bed at such-and-such a time. When I’m working from home, I should work from such-and-such a time in the a.m., then eat lunch, then lie down for a nap, and then get up and get back to work. And on the weekends, I should do this, that, the other thing… nap… do this, that, the other thing, and go to bed.

But as appealing as the idea of a cleanly regimented schedule may be, this is not working out for me. Yes, I do need to get certain things done each day. And yes, I do need to catch up on my sleep. But trying to stick with a specific schedule is getting to be draining and problematic, and I need to find a better way.

I need to find more flow. I need to be cool with adventure.

I mean, let’s be honest — life doesn’t go on forever, and when all is said and done, do I want to look back and pride myself in having kept to a set routine, having been “productive” in popularly acceptable ways, having made x-amount of money, and having been the most reliable neighbor on the block? Or do I want something else?

It’s true — TBI has totally mucked with my processing. It’s scrambled things  and diminished capabilities that I’m convinced I should be able to take for granted. It’s made me wilder, less tame, less easy to control, less compliant, less able to keep focused on specific set tasks for extended periods of time, and it’s made me different from how I was used to being.

But the changes aren’t all bad. And in fact, I’m starting to realize that the changes I’ve experienced are actually of a certain type that I can identify and deal with. And even though I have had setbacks in certain areas, my brain has actually re-wired itself to use other areas… and my strengths in those areas have increased, at the same time the old, familiar capabilities have decreased.

Fortuitously, I’ve come across an increasing amount of literature about thinking and learning styles that really seems to apply to me. And it’s given me pause to reconsider what’s really going on with this brain o’ mine.

Here’s the latest conclusion I’ve reached: In the course of my TBI’s, I have been diminished in my sequential-linear processing abilities, but I have improved my visual-spatial processing abilities. The head injuries that I’ve sustained have wreaked havoc with my standard-issue brain, but — perhaps due to a temporo-limbic abundance of energy — the rest of my brain has hungered to keep up, to live, to experience, to have adventures, to learn and grow and understand and take in every piece of life I can get my hands on. And that hunger, that eagerness, that life-force has propelled me forward in developing additional skills and abilities that I didn’t need to have or use before my TBIs.

Now, I’m not saying that my TBIs were “the best thing that ever happened to me.” No way, no how. It’s been a long, hard road, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But in the midst of the wreckage, there have been some prizes along the way. There have  been treasures buried in the twisted, burned-out leftovers of the veritable train wrecks of my life. And identifying them and pulling them out has been my secondary mission in life — second only to getting by.

Thinking about the way my mind has worked over the course of my life, I can totally see how my brain has become more and more visual-spatial over time. I have some theories about how this has come to be, which came to me over the past few days, while I was “off”. I’ll be sharing them soon.* But the bottom line is, my brain has become more visual-spatial and less sequential-linear over time, and that has caused me to become less and less adept at keeping to rigid time schedules and doing things sequentially. It’s made it harder for me to break certain things down into small pieces and follow them through, bit by bit. I can do it — indeed, I do do it for a living, as a software engineer. But I have to work at it, and it’s not my “default setting” in living my life.

Still there’s something in my head that tells me, I need to live my life like that. I get it in my head that that’s how I should be (perhaps because everyone else is that way, and it’s how our society is structured), and I work like the dickens to make myself that way. And I lose sight of the fact that maybe I don’t need to be so rigid about everything.  Maybe it’s okay for me to be a little more loosey-goosey… But then I get anxious and freaked out and start to panic… My thinking gets all turned around and I can’t process my way out of a wet paper bag.

I think one of the biggest things that makes TBI problematic for me is that anxiety-based rigidity of thinking that leads to reduced fluidity. It keeps me from being able to think well and/or adequately address my life issues and challenges in a creative and productive way. I get so turned around, at times, I can’t tell which end is up, andI can’t figure out where I went wrong. I try to think it through, front to back, left to right, up and down… and I fail. I end up in a cognitive cul-de-sac, spinning ’round and ’round and going nowhere, thinking that I’m in one conceptual neighborhood, when I’m really in another… getting all disoriented by the numbers on the mailboxes that are not in the range I was expecting… never suspecting that my thinking just took a wrong turn, three blocks back.

And then I start to panic. Get worked up. Can’t think straight. And I start to melt down. I get carried down the path of panic/anxiety freakout, trying in vain to stop the slide, trying to think my way out of things… and failing…  When all along, the whole problem is trying to think my way out of things — I easily get  to a meltdown state with a fundamentally flawed assumption — that things needed to be done in a certain way, or else.

If that makes any sense.

Anyway, slowly but surely things are starting to come together, in some respects. Making the visual-spatial connection has been a huge watershed for me, this week, and I truly think it’s going to make a difference for me in my life.

So long as I don’t panic.


* While they don’t have double-blind controlled scientific testing behind them — they totally make sense to me. And they’re multi-disciplinary and wholistic, rather than being teeny-weeny little specifics that have been observed in hermeticaly controlled circumstances. They’ve  been observed and proven out in my life, which makes them a whole lot more interesting to me, than proper “science” (which, as far as I’m concerned, doesn’t exist, in today’s commercial cultural climate).

Author: brokenbrilliant

I am a long-term multiple (mild) Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI or TBI) survivor who experienced assaults, falls, car accidents, sports-related injuries in the 1960s, '70s, '80s, and '90s. My last mild TBI was in 2004, but it was definitely the worst of the lot. I never received medical treatment for my injuries, some of which were sports injuries (and you have to get back in the game!), but I have been living very successfully with cognitive/behavioral (social, emotional, functional) symptoms and complications since I was a young kid. I’ve done it so well, in fact, that virtually nobody knows that I sustained those injuries… and the folks who do know, haven’t fully realized just how it’s impacted my life. It has impacted my life, however. In serious and debilitating ways. I’m coming out from behind the shields I’ve put up, in hopes of successfully addressing my own (invisible) challenges and helping others to see that sustaining a TBI is not the end of the world, and they can, in fact, live happy, fulfilled, productive lives in spite of it all.

One thought on “The adventure continues”

  1. You describe a phenomena which I do not feel is written about very much – a ‘hunger’ for knowledge after brain injury. I wonder if brains want to be fed – on the other hand I suspect that some of this too is the ‘lack of focus’ aspect of tbi – your brain is scattered in many directions. While that may be at times a wonderful garden of delights those flowers don’t make it past seedling stage because there is no way to care for all of the blooms. You get so busy chasing them all down that you end up with no flowers.

    Our brains grow neural circuitry in abundance until we are teenagers, at that time the brain begins to prune, to cut back of its own accord neural circuits – it might be better to think of it as ‘turning off’ some paths; those paths that aren’t used or needed or not as linked in as others. The raison d’etre for the pruning isn’t always clear – some is experience (which is why they encourage rich robust environments for kids). But the pruning is necessary in order to get a co-ordinated brain, to filter sensory data, to mange processes, etc. It may be that in tbi we experience ‘teenage brain’ – we have lots of ideas, thoughts, circuitry – but we don’t apply that well because we are too dispersed. The schedules, the routines, the imposed order is a way to say ‘nope, focus on this’ – else we run in circles chasing butterflies. Least that’s one possibility.

    Schedules are not about driving yourself, they are about external order so your brain doesn’t have to keep that order AND do all the creative thinking it likes. You are taking it off the plate for your brains sake. The schedule isn’t the word of G_d, it isn’t a punishment, it’s to help.

    Routine also insures that certain things DO get done and are in balance overall. So by saying I will exercise in the morning before work you make sure you get your exercise in. But this is no different than looking at how you spend your money. You are correct, the most precious coin in the realm is time – and so how you spend it counts. Some should be for fun, for adventure, for spontaneity.

    Schedules work to keep the flow more smooth – so there are fewer extremes which always create problems unto themselves.

    It could be that the visual spatial appeals to you because if ‘feels’ better, sequential thinking is hard with tbi for any prolonged period because of the memory demand and the focus. But sequential processing is helpful – many of our skills are ‘recovered’ by effort, even an effort that feels lousy to do. I knew a woman who was very physically fit but she did not know how to do ‘step classes’ (which were very popular dance/exercise classes). She took a class with me and the speed of the class and the music and trying to invert the instructors moves and copy them were too much for her – she got mad, embarrassed and never took another step class again. Step is hard at first – its not ‘natural’ but once you get past a point you don’t have to be musical or talented. I think it’s the same with certain skills in brain injury – there is a period of no progress and a lot of effort.

    I may have mentioned this before – with stoke victims they have discovered that if they constrain the use of the FUNCTIONING limb side (arm or leg) the INJURED side will recover better and faster. We tend to go for the path of least resistance. BUT – it may be okay, not everyone wants or needs to do step or use both hands equally.

    The issues you talk about with trouble breaking things down, feeling like your thinking is rigid are all typical brain injury struggles. What happens for many tbi folks is that they visualize the end, the accomplishment but then can’t get from a to h and that gets them frustrated. They can see the candy in the candy store but can’t get across the street. It’s not the rigidity that holds them back but the struggle to perform the sequence of actions and hold off with the desire to have the candy. Then they get overwhelmed, they are never going to get to the candy, never getting across the street – and the cascade of emotion makes it harder to do what needs to be done. Soon all they see are all the things they want and never but can’t get to.

    Yes, learning theory plays a role in this – you may learn differently now – but it isn’t all of it. I don’t see that you are stuck believing that things must be a certain way but rather that you are stuck with trying to find A way. There aren’t any shoulds here but I suspect (because I feel this way as well) that because I know I have a tbi I want to get to the accomplishment, I want to meet some perceived standard so I can say ‘see, it doesn’t matter that I have a tbi’. But it does matter – which was what I was saying in my previous post. This is a very hard thing to accept, I still have not totally accepted it. But it does matter. I am not free of tbi just because I can read a book on astrophysics and understand it and talk with astrophysicists about it.

    As to naps – I have been told, and I do believe, that a few minutes of mediation will provide more restorative function to my brain more immediately than a nap. While the nap WILL help – I will still be groggy after waking up for a while and it won’t show benefit quickly. Practiced meditation will however have an immediate effect. Who knows.

    There isn’t a right way to live or a wrong way to live – there is the way to live that works for you – are you happy, productive, at peace with yourself more than you are not? Do you have relationships that are satisfying more than they are not? Do you know what your values are and how to apply that to what you seek and do you feel that you live them? Do you accept loss, failure, mistakes as part of the process of life or do you see them are personal attributes? Do you act consciously and mindfully most of the time? Rigid or adventuresome – both are okay, but only if you feel at peace with what they bring.


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