What if I have nothing to prove?

I’ve been spending a fair amount of time tracking my experiences, the past week or so. I haven’t been quite as diligent as I could be, but I’ve been really caught up in learning new skills for work that are as interesting as they are essential.

I’ve also been looking back at my experiences tracking from about a year ago, and I can see that I’ve really come a long way. A year ago, I was painfully conflicted about just about everything in my life. My work situation was in flux to an almost perilous degree, my internal landscape was pretty torn up by emotional storms, my outbursts and meltdowns were intense and fairly frequent, and I was not communicating well at all — with anyone.

I can’t say that I’ve completely righted my life, but the seas I’m sailing are a lot less stormy than they were this time last year. I’ve learned how to not only handle myself better in a storm, but how to tell if a storm is coming, and steer clear of those waters. All in all, I have to say that I’m doing a whole lot better now, than I was before. I’m probably doing better than I have in my entire life.

A big part of that process has involved getting to know the ways in which I’m limited, or the ways in which my brain functions in a non-standard way. There are a select few (but fairly significant) ways that my brain differs from what’s expected. I tend to memorize things from rote, rather than grouping ideas or things into thematic categories. My processing speed is slower than would be expected of someone with my level of intelligence. And I have a dickens of a time with working memory — I tend to lose hold of new ideas and information after only a short bit of interruption, or if I shift my attention to something else and then try to come back to it.

All my life, these things have been a problem. And they’ve given rise to a whole raft of other issues, which I’ve really struggled with for as long as I can remember. Ironically, I haven’t had a really clear understanding about the nature of my problems. I knew — vaguely — that something wasn’t right, but I didn’t understand exactly what was wrong… or why. I always just figured I was some kind of idiot or I wasn’t trying hard enough or I was just being lazy or I was being a bad person. And that belief was reinforced by countless people around me who couldn’t figure out why someone as smart as me could be so dumb at times. So, I thought there was something really wrong with ME, and I told myself I had to work really, really hard to redeem myself.

Thinking that there was a problem with me gave rise to an inner drive and intensity that’s been fueled by guilt and shame and a deep need for some sort of redemption or salvation. I’m not talking about the religious type, rather, a daily striving to make up for the things I thought I was doing wrong… for the ways I thought I was living wrong… for the ways I was being wrong… which led to my screw-ups, misunderstandings, faux pas, clumsiness, forgetfulness, confabulation, etc. I’ve had this monkey on my back for decades, hopping up and down on my head, driving me to fix what I’d messed up, to make right what I’d mucked up, and work really, really hard to prove to the rest of the world — and myself — that I was not a loser, that I was not a slacker, that I was worthy of being an equal member of society.

All my life, I’ve been driven to prove I can do it, because there was a constant voice in the back of my head that told me I couldn’t. We all have this little voice in the back of our head, repeating to use both truths and lies about ourselves, based on what we’ve experienced and been told about ourselves.

This voice told me I would mess everything up — because that’s what I generally did. So, I had to work twice as hard to make up for my messes.

This voice told me I would get turned around and lose my way — because that’s what always seemed to happen. So, I had to bend over backwards to figure things out ahead of time to prove to myself that I wouldn’t get lost.

This voice told me that I would never be able to do the most important things, like have a good job and own a house and be able to pay my bills, and be a productive member of society. So, I had to drive myself to take on the biggest tasks, make the most money, have the best house, and get involved in the most worthy causes, to show that it wasn’t true.

Now, I can’t say I dislike having a good job and a nice house and being involved in worthy causes. I really enjoy having a clear view of where I’m going in life. And I enjoy working hard, so pushing to achieve suits me just fine.  I also need to maintain what I’ve worked so hard to build up.

The thing is, now that I know so much more about what makes me tick, I need to find new reasons for doing these things — and doing them well. Now that I can see how so many of my problems have stemmed from my brain injuries, rather than fundamental character flaws, I’m finding that I’m a lot less driven to do everything in order to prove myself. The intensity of my past is mellowing, and that edginess that pushed-pushed-pushed me is on the wane.

In many ways, the pressure is off. Because I’m not a bad person — I’m an injured person. I’m not lazy or crazy or defiant. I’m in possession of a brain that works more slowly than would be expected… that gets bits and pieces of information instead of the whole shootin’ match… and that has a genuine need to question statements and orders, because I honestly don’t understand everything when it’s presented to me in one whole package.

And that’s a good thing. How long can a person be reasonably expected to function at such a high pressure level? I’m not sure I could have lasted much longer, personally.

But it’s also a problematic thing.  Because I’ve built this life which I really enjoy, I really like, I really value. And I have to keep it going. I have to maintain it all — and it’s a lot — without the guilt-and-shame-and-panic-driven engine in my head and gut chug-chug-chugging away.

I have to find another reason to do things, other than simply proving that I CAN DO IT. I know I can. I’ve proved to myself and everyone around me that I can. And now that I know better why things in the past got messed up, I can warn myself away from recurring dangers and not run into those proverbial ditches along the road of my life. But without the same level of self-recriminatory redemption obsession driving me forward, what’s going to drive me now?

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.

3 thoughts on “What if I have nothing to prove?”

  1. To prove means to be worthy, virtuous – and to be virtuous means to have moral strength – and moral is refers to adherence to the behaviors of society – and morality is derived from ethics

    On the scale of things ethics and morality are best demonstrated by those who self reflect and consider where they have made mistakes and seek to correct them. In a society where abuse of power, fraud, greed, deception, hypocrisy, legitimized cruelty towards anyone who is perceived to be an enemy, inhumanity based on religion, race, capacity, gender, sexual preference, class etc, – where all this and more are tolerated and accepted even at the levels of those who supposedly represent the echelons of society – well, given all that I’d say you are pretty damn more, worthy, and have nothing to prove to anyone.


  2. Reblogged this on Broken Brain – Brilliant Mind and commented:

    TBT – Throwback Thursday – Five years ago, I was thinking about this. I look at myself now and see how far I have come. I still have some of these issues, and they are still making my life “interesting”, but I have learned how to work through them. The good news is, I have found more things to propel me through life, than guilt and shame and anxiety, and an obsession with proving *I can do it*, when a voice inside me said I couldn’t.
    There’s a lot more to my life now, and that’s a good thing.


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