Putting it into pictures, getting on the good foot

It’s been a good weekend, thus far, and I had a great day yesterday.

I started out Saturday morning doing my usual bike ride. I rode 30 minutes, and then I lifted weights for about 10 minutes after. The weights I’m using are much less than I used to lift, and part of me feels deficient for having let myself get so out of shape. But the athlete I once was is still living in me, somewhere, and they know that any sort of progress needs to be made systematically and with good sense. There’s no point in wasting time on regret and self-recrimination. The point is to do what can be done, at that point in time, and do it in such a way that it serves as training for later, when I take on larger tasks, heavier weights, higher stakes activities.

While I was riding the bike, I thought through the day ahead of me. I got my trusty old clipboard with some scrap paper on it (so I wouldn’t feel too pressured to not make a mess while I was writing), and I wrote notes about what I wanted to do that day, as well as thoughts that came to me.

The first thought that came to me, was on the wings of an image I saw in a New York Times article about a young many who sustained a brain injury in a motorcycle accident. Adam Lepak, 19, who suffered a brain injury, is being led through a field by two friends of his. His story is pretty moving, especially considering the degree to which he was injured. He was in a coma for a while, which is a lot more than I can say for myself. It left me feeling both grateful and frustrated… and all the more determined to do something about my own situation.

Reading his story and having a visual of him just trying to walk across a meadow is really helping me. In particular, the passage about really working the brain has stayed with me:

No one knows what treatments or exercises will drive an injured brain to preserve or reconstruct a coherent identity — to pave its neural back roads. But neuroscientists generally agree that it can do so. The brain is “plastic,” recent research suggests; intact areas can recruit nearby, healthy brain tissue to bypass damage and compensate for lost function.

It does not seem to happen, however, without effort; to reroute signal traffic down back channels, the brain needs traffic, scientists say. It needs to be active, solving problems, meeting social expectations.

Reading the article about the progress this young man has made really lit a fire under me. What also lit a fire, was finding myself in a position, last week, to make a case for getting a promotion of sorts — changing the sort of work I do, from doing straight-ahead development/coding work (which I frankly have been struggling with, on and off, for the past five years, ever since my last injury), to more conceptual, higher-level abstraction- based work.

A new slot has opened up, with the arrival of a new uber-boss at work, and they are looking for someone who can get their head around the crazy-ass intricacies of the organization I work with, and identify ways to make sense of it. The opportunity is about as right up my alley and consistent with my “portfolio” of experiences at the company, as you can get, and I jumped at the chance to go after it. I talked to the uber-boss. I talked to my new boss, who is uber-boss’es underling. I talked to my former boss, who first suggested that I would be just the person to do the job, when the uber-boss started talking about how to get things in order.

Creation Plane Fractal 1
In a way, this opportunity has a delightful fractality to it. Fractality, is when a pattern repeats itself at smaller and smaller dimensions, repeating the same patterns and qualities infinitely within the whole.

In this very fractal case, the organization I work in shares a lot of my own qualities. It’s wildly diversified, almost to the point of incoherence, it’s got a lot of varied passions and abilities and strengths and weaknesses, none of which take very well to being told what to do. The various individuals charge into any challenge with all their experience and ability and passion, and, like me, there’s a ton of all that in vastly diverse abundance to manage and deal with and figure out, in the process of doing even relatively simple things. Like me, the organization tends to get mired in details and my co-workers tend to get very worked up over seemingly little things that may or may not matter — or, for that matter, be true.

Which all makes for a very fertile opportunity for me. Because now I may have the chance to bring the same sort of order to my organization that I have brought to my own life. It’s wild, how this happens. And now the full force of my attention is on making sure I don’t screw up the opportunity and end up worse off than when I started.

There’s always that danger. Always.

Neurons in the brainAt least my mission is clear, now. I need to get my act together — watertight and airtight and consistent — and keep my brain in the best working order of its life — and my life (which I suppose is one and the same). I need to up the ante and really focus on not only being normal, but being functionally precise, and not screwing up my chances at all this, by bad thinking processes and the residue of a past filled with screw-ups that had their logistical basis in fundamental neurological issues — issues which had nothing to do with my character, but were always interpreted as being due to some fundamental flaw in me, versus, the way my brain is wired together. All my life, as long as I can remember, I’ve hit snags along the way that were interpreted — by me and by others — as being due to fundamental flaws in my moral fiber. Only in the past couple of years, have I realized that the problem is not with my soul, but with my brain.

And now I have to re-train myself to think about my abilities and inclinations in terms of machinery. Wiring. Construction. Dendrites and neurons and synapses and axons. Not sin and soullessness. (Granted, there are plenty of sinners and soulless bastards running around out there, but I’ve counted myself among them for way too long, and it’s got to stop.)

Rewiring my own self-perceptions is taking some work. One day at a time, I’m getting myself accustomed to the idea that the problems I face are manageable and that I can — and will — overcome them with a combination of technique, tirelessness, tenacity, and as much finesse as I can muster.

So, I’m building myself some tools to do it. I’m drawing pictures of my situation. I’ve got an inventory of my strengths and relative weaknesses, from my neuropsych evaluation, which I have organized and ordered into graphics. I’ve broken down the different strengths I have and I’ve colored them green. I’ve broken down the different weakenesses and difficulties I have, and I’ve colored them red and orange, respectively. And I’m drawing lines between the strengths and weaknesses, identifying which strengths I can use to address which weaknesses, and giving myself visual reminders of where I’m strongest, and how I can apply those strengths to my difficulties and weaknesses.

It’s taking me some time, and the process I’m following tends to change and vary, between each “session” I spend with myself, figuring out where I have issues, and figuring out where I can apply my strengths. I spend a fair amount of time focusing on my difficulties, which can be a bit demoralizing, if I don’t put the emphasis on the solution, versus the problem. But when I keep my focus on the positives, I can “map” my strengths to my challenges in a way that keeps me on the good foot.

And that’s huge.

One of the things I’ve noticed about myself, is that if I let one or both of two things happen too often, I spin out of control and things start to head downhill:

  1. Letting myself get too tired
  2. Not self-assessing and tracking my issues on a regular basis

I’ve been handling No. 1 pretty aggressively, lately, with mixed success. But No. 2 has been a sticking point for me, as I’ve gotten pulled in a thousand different directions by upsurges in energy combined with lack of discipline, and I’ve stopped tracking my issues, for all intents and purposes, for the past couple of months. I guess I haven’t wanted to pay close attention to my issues, because I’m sick and tired of feeling defective, and I tend to run out of ideas for how to handle things better.

But now that’s got to change, as I’m finding it incresasingly difficult to effectively manage my life if I don’t address my issues, as they come up, and the stakes are all the higher for how well I manage my life. If I’m going to get this job, I’ve got to figure out how to sort things out on the inside of my head in a productive and positive way — and not let reluctance to face my issues keep me from making progress.

So, the painted carousel horse that is my issues tracking and management has once again circled around. It’s time for me to hop back on. I can’t avoid dealing with my stuff, if I’m going to operate at a high level. I’ve got to buck up, face facts, deal with my situation, and figure out pro-active ways of overcoming what gets in my way. I’m sure my neuropsych is going to be eager to help me do this. I just have to figure out the right way to approach this, and come up with a strategy and a plan for getting on track and keeping myself there.

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.

2 thoughts on “Putting it into pictures, getting on the good foot”

  1. Hi BB,
    I’d think if anyone can ‘map their issues’ you would be able to do it. I too tend to have issues with work (often people problems alas) and am drawing inspiration from your posts. I do not have TBI but do suffer from PTSD and seem to be subject to some of the same kinds of difficulties, though not all of course.
    Good luck with the mapping,


  2. Thanks Ellen –

    It’s coming along quite nicely. I’ve picked out the colors and the shapes, and I think I’ve figured out how to arrange it so I can show my neuropsych and work with them about connecting the dots. It’s all about the information.

    I can totally see how PTSD would lend itself well to mapping, as well. In my opinion, PTSD and TBI are “cousin” conditions, as they both affect the neurology of the individual, and their causes and complications can be quite hidden from view in the wider world, leaving us to come up with some inventive ways of dealing with our issues, by ourselves.

    I think, really, just about anybody could benefit from strengths mapping. Everyone has strengths and challenges, so figuring out how to address the latter with the former can be quite helpful.

    In any case, having an inventory of what you do well is always a good idea. Helps for those times when you’re feeling pretty low.

    Good luck!



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