I had a dream about my diagnostic neuropsych last night. It was a really cool dream. We were trying — as usual — to find time on our calendars to schedule our next session, and we kept getting our wires crossed and missing each other when were trying to connect… and running into each other, when one or both of us didn’t have our schedule on hand. It was actually a really nice dream, because they were very kind to me during all of it, and the weather during the dream was sunny and bright and mild (quite unlike what it’s been like in real life for the past six weeks). And even when we were getting our wires crossed, there was still an element of humanity and civility to our interactions that was, well, civilized. It was breath of fresh air, in the midst of my dreamworld confusion. I woke up feeling a bit frustrated, but also very soothed.
I think I’m surprising both my neuropsychologists with my uncanny ability to not only get by in the world, but to also thrive. My diagnostic neuropsych says my ability to adapt and improve is “phenomenal” and they’re openly amazed at my ability to turn around wretched circumstances and come out on top. My therapeutic neuropsych is still handling me with proverbial kid gloves, taking it slow and trying (often in vain) to temper my eagerness to push my limits in life. Slowly but surely, they’re getting a clearer and clearer view of how capable I am of taking care of myself in some respects, while in others I’m wandering around in the dark. This post (however anonymous it may be… they may never read it) is dedicated to both of them.
I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about the impact that TBI has had on my life over the years. I’ve also been thinking a lot about the ways in which it has not had an impact, or in some cases actually led to experiences and successes I might have never pursued, were I not neurologically compromised.
- If I had been better able to interact with others and communicate — and understand what was being said to me — I might not have pissed off and alienated the editors I worked with… and I’d be a published author by now. I might not have had to learn how to build web pages to put my writing online.
- If I had been better able to handle heavy-duty job responsibilities, I might still be in middle-management (or even upper management), making okay money and having no life. I probably never would have learned to code (and might have resisted learning to use a computer till late in the game), and I may never have thought of going into the high-paying software business, where work-life balance is more precarious, but also more “customizable”.
- If I had been better at risk assessment, I might never have traveled and moved around as much as I have. I probably would have “known better” and played it safe, never seeing the outside of my home state, let alone the USA. I probably never would have considered living abroad, if I’d been able to make it just fine, here at home.
Funny, how that works. A lot of what I’ve done over the years, no “sane” person would do — I’ve taken big risks, personally and professionally, and I’ve probably been luckier than I’ve been smart, over the years. But long story short, it’s all turned out pretty damn’ well, and this morning, I’m sitting in my own study… in my own house… overlooking my own back yard in a gorgeous and very affluent part of the United States. I’ve got (somewhat dependable) cars that are paid for in the garage, I’ve got a kicker job, and I’ve got a spouse who loves me with all their heart sleeping in the master bedroom. I’ve got family who love me (as inscrutable and problematic as I may be at times), and I have friends who love, appreciate and support me. I’m not the richest (or even the most solvent) person on the planet, but I’m getting there. Even without the money thing all hammered out, I’m one of the richest people I know.
It’s Independence Day, so I suppose today would be a great time to talk about how I’ve managed to do so well for myself, even though I’m most definitely neurologically compromised. Despite no less than nine mild traumatic brain injuries (one assault, three falls, three car accidents, two sports concussions, and probably more injuries that I’ve completely forgotten and just took in stride — gotta get back in the game!), I’ve managed to really thrive in the world, taking things as they came and learning a lot as I went. I’ve had more near-disasters than I care to think about, I’ve had a number of brushes with mortal danger, and I’ve had to rebuild my life over again, more than once.
But in spite of all that, I’m happy, healthy, more or less whole, hale, and hearty. And I have been for years. I have issues. Of course I have issues – who doesn’t? I have experienced tremendous difficulty in navigating things that other people take for granted, and there have been plenty of times when I was flying blind. But for all that trouble, I’ve still managed to do well. When life gave me lemons, I made lemonade. And lemon meringue pie. And lemon drops. And I seasoned my cooking with lemon zest. Figuratively speaking, I’ve eaten and drunk a helluva lot of lemon-flavored stuff over the course of my life. Sometimes it was sweetened, more often, it wasn’t. But I took the bad with the good and did my best with it.
I’m not going to say my TBIs were “the best things that ever happened to me,” as I’ve heard others proclaim. That would be a lie, for they have made my life more complex and painfully awkward than I ever wished it would be. But I will say that my injuries have been a lot less logistically debilitating to me than a lot of people (including trained professionals) seem to think they’ve been — or should have been. And I believe the reason I have done increasingly well over the years, is, I never gave up. A whole lot of times that I messed up, I got a do-over… and I took another shot at what I screwed up the first time.
It’s true. A do-over makes the difference. All those times I mucked up what I was trying to do… I can’t even count them. I’ve messed up relationships, good jobs, simple Saturday chores, volunteer activities, money management, health concerns… you name it, I’ve probably made a huge mess of it, at some point or another. But as long as I got a second chance, it wasn’t the catastrophy it might or “should” have been.
Second chances are like my lifeblood. They’re the stuff that keep me going. People who know me say I’m too hard on myself, when I think that I’m going to mess something up when I first try it. But they haven’t walked in my shoes, and they haven’t seen what a terrible mess I’ve made of so many simple things.
Like the time I was jump-starting my car for the first time on my own. I’d seen it done lots of times by plenty of other people. I knew how you put the clamps on the battery terminals and let your car charge off the other running car. I’d even helped other people jump their cars lots and lots of times. But the first time I tried to jump-start my own car, I got the terminals mixed up, and sparks started to fly and the plastic around the handles started to melt, as the wires heated up to a bright glowing red. I grabbed a stick and managed to pull the cable handles off my battery before both batteries blew up, so no animals were harmed in the making of that movie. But things could have turned out worse, and we could have ended up with two busted-down cars, instead of one.
And like the time when I was putting together numbers for work, collecting all these performance stats to show upper management how well we were doing. This was, needless to say, a very important report. Well, I found a set of numbers that fit the criteria we were looking for, and I compiled this great-looking spreadsheet with graphs and everything that showed our performance over such-and-such a time. Everyone was pleased as punch with my work… until they saw that I’d pulled the wrong numbers from the wrong timeframe and the wrong servers. My end-product was fabulous, but it applied to an alternate universe. And my hours of work were for naught.
And like the time when I was making great progress on this website I was building. I did an awesome job at coding it up quickly and timing everything out so it would be ready to launch on schedule. The only problem was, I forgot to test it in this one browser that everybody knew was problematic. It had completely slipped my mind. And by the time I looked at the website in it and realized that stuff needed to change, I was starting to fall behind schedule. For someone in the web development business, this is just basic, fundamental stuff — you test in all browsers before you launch. But I’d forgotten. And I blew my deadline. And pissed off the project manager who had been so happy with my work — and had told everyone what a great job I was doing.
I can assure you, screwing up the first time around is not a foreign experience to me. But each of the times I’ve screwed up, I’ve learned a great deal. And frankly, I’ve learned more from my failures than from my successes. I just needed the chance to try again.
All I’ve really ever asked for, was a second chance. Seriously. I know I’m prone to make a mess of things on my “maiden voyages”. It’s just in my nature. I’m not being hard on myself. It’s objectively true. Ask anyone who has known me long enough to see me go down in flames… and they’ll confirm it. But they’ll also confirm that I have an uncanny ability to rise from the ashes of my own catastrophes, take my medicine, take my lumps, and climb back into the ring for another round. And when I get my head about me again and figure out what I did wrong, the first time through, I can adjust my performance to do the exact opposite… and come out shining far more brightly than many a person who gets it right the first time around.
When I look back on my life, I have to say the worst experiences and relationships and jobs and activities I’ve had, have been made that way by lack of a second chance. Sadly, my father is one of those people who has to have things done 100% correctly, the first time through — or else. And my mother has not always had the most patience with my flawed interpretations of her instructions. They got it honest — all my relatives and neighbors and other people in the area where I grew up were geared towards getting it right the first time, or else. They had no tolerance for messing up terribly, the first time through — especially by someone as ostensibly smart as I was. They just couldn’t see why I was so prone to screw-ups. Certainly, I must not have been paying close enough attention. Or I was lazy. Or I was weak. Or whatever.
What they just couldn’t see was that I was trying like crazy to get it right, the first time through. I was — I really was. But I didn’t have enough information about how to do it 100% right. Spoken instruction only went so far. Being shown things only went so far. I had to try my hand at things and find out what not to do, in order to find out what to avoid, the next time around. The times when I got a dry run to practice, I was more likely to succeed. But when I was tossed into the deep end, the first time through, I sank like a rock, as often as not. And there were far too many failures to list — and far too many occasions of people not thinking to give me another chance. If I screwed it up the first time through, what made me think I could get it right, the next time?
Thing of it was, I could get it right, the next time. In fact, the worse mess I made of my endeavor, the first time through, the greater the likelihood of me hitting a home run, the next time around. My very low tolerance for imperfection would never allow me to make the same mistakes twice. I just couldn’t do it. Unfortunately, too many people are not built that way, and they don’t realize that some of us are. They think that true achievers get one chance and one chance only to make their mark, and if you have to keep trying, it means you’re just a wanna-be poser whose prone to biting off more than they can chew.
Well, maybe I am a bit of a wanna-be, and maybe I do tend to bite off more than I can chew. But you know what? I’m driven. And I don’t give up. And if I keep trying, and if I keep learning from my screw-ups (which are so, so many), and I don’t give in to the criticisms of others (and myself), I can really make a difference in my own life and in the world. I can actually attain at least some of what I set out to achieve. And even if I manage to meet only 75% of my set goals, if I set my goals at 200% of what others expect me to be “reasonably” able to do, then I have a chance of achieving 150% of what others expect of me. So there.
And that to me is what true Independence is all about — knowing both your limits and your strengths and using them both to complement each other. I know I make a mess of things. I know I have a hard time with some pretty basic stuff, at times. I know I tend to overstep my bounds and over-reach. But I also know I’ve got this taproot of faith in cause-and-effect… this logical conviction that if I just keep going, feeling my way through, keeping an open mind and actively learning and putting what I learn into action… I will eventually get far beyond what anyone ever expected of me. And I will achieve nearly everything I have my heart set on. No matter what my brain may be capable of, I also have heart. And my mind — the sum total of my spirit and my brain-power and my instincts — will always keep striving for what is better, what is best, what is highest, what is … progress.
Yes, when it comes to getting things right, a do-over makes the difference. I may mess up the first time through, but a second chance makes everything better. It lets me redeem myself by getting it right the next time. It gives me the opportunity to salvage my experience by using the lessons I’ve learned to make right what I’ve done wrong. It lets me prove to myself that I’m not a total loser. It lets me prove to others that they can — ultimately — depend on me, if they just cut me a little slack and give me another chance. They simply need to resist the temptation to give up on me… understanding that I’ve got my limitations, and that I may need another shot, in order to get the task they’ve given me absolutely right, but I will not quit until I get some satisfactory results.
I can get it… I will get it. I just need to be given more chances to get it right.