Sinking some thought into it

Source: Stinging Eyes

I’ve been giving a lot of thought, lately, to how fragmented and disconnected my life tends to become when I’m tired. When I’m fatigued, head injured moments start to show up and proliferate, like a couple of rabbits in close quarters. And my thinking becomes a lot less resilient, a lot more brittle, a lot less fluid.

I’ve been tired a lot, lately. My new job is going pretty well, but I have a tendency to overdo it, and I’m so intent on proving myself, that I’ve quickly fallen into a pattern of overwork (which leads to fatigue), which is not good.

Part of it is because I’m still learning my way around the company, and my first project that I launched was not done properly. Ugh. Now I feel like I have to work even harder. Which means I have been eating more sugar and drinking more caffeine. Which means my sleeping is thrown off and I have been staying up later. Which means my thinking has become fragmented and partial and incomplete — like my decision the other day to just stop this blog. The idea suddenly emerged — and very strongly, almost overwhelmingly — and without giving it more thought or careful consideration, I decided, “This is it – I’m just going to stop blogging.” And I announced it to the world.

Hmmmm. Red flag.

I must be tired.

Yes, I certainly am.

When I’m tired, a single thought in a single context can take on monumental significance for me, and I can decide — for a few hours at the most — that the course of my life will necessarily change with this thought.

And yet, when I think about it later, and I talk to others or hear feedback from others, I come to realize the fleeting nature of that thought, and I’m reminded, yet again, that short-term ideas shouldn’t necessarily be applied to long-term circumstances. I’ve completely missed the larger context in my thinking (if you can call it that), and I’ve run the risk of cutting off my nose to spite my face. Or cutting off my face to spite my nose, to put it in a larger perspective.

Truly, the fragmentation of my thinking process is one of the trickiest aspects of this traumatic brain injury business. It’s like I’m walking around with a fragmented hard drive in my head, and I never think to check to see if it needs defragging.

My thinking tends to get so localized, so specific, that I can’t seem to see the forest for all the different trees. I think it may originate in part from my distractability — I need to focus intently on specifics, at times, in order to get my head around them, so I have learned to block out everything else. When I am tired, especially, this single-minded focus is what keeps me afloat.

But the “everything else” is what adds texture and context to my life. It’s what enables me to make good decisions that take multiple factors into consideration. When I lose sight of that texture, in favor of single-minded focus, I run the risk of making poor decisions — the kinds of decisions my spouse and my neuropsych help me noodle my way through. The kinds of decisions that make the people close to me (and perhaps some of the people who read this blog) a little crazy from my contradictions.

Perhaps the most maddening aspect of this fragmentation of thought process, is that I don’t even see it, when it’s happening. In fact, the more severely impacted I am by fatigue, the more my brain-injured side steps in and takes over and tries to push everything else out of the way. It’s like that tendency I’ve always had — right after a head injury — to push away help or input from outside sources… each time, to my own detriment. My unhinged brain decides it’s going to take the helm, like a drunk driver who declares they’re a better driver than the designated teetotaler for that night, and wrestles the sober friend to the ground,  takes the keys from them by force, and drives off — going the wrong direction on a divided highway.

It can be very frustrating. And the most confounding piece of the puzzle is that I don’t even see it, till it’s progressed… sometimes past the point of no return.

So, what to do?

I think the thing that saves me, time and again, is remembering what a “fickle” nature I have, due to my conflicted thought processes. I have a tendency to jump the gun, yes, but I also have the tendency to question myself and my thoughts and my decisions on a regular basis. People who know me, tell me I am far too cautious and distrustful of my own instincts. They haven’t lived inside my head, nor would I ever wish that upon them. My caution and distrust is NOT due to low self-esteem or faulty messages I internalized as a child. They are entirely due to a lifetime of watching myself making bad decisions that felt 100% right at the time… and reaping the fruits of what I sowed.

Knowing how changeable I am, and how unreliable my head can be, prompts me to invest a fair amount of thought in the things I do. Now, that’s a fine line to walk, because I’m given to getting stuck in a rut and having my oft-injured brain go over the details again and again and again. Analysis paralysis doesn’t begin to describe it. It’s more like ALL SYSTEMS STOP, until I figure it out. But the problem is I rarely feel as though I’ve actually figured it out.

So, that leaves me with the option — which is a good one — of running things by people and getting their input. It’s a bit nerve-wracking when I do this, however, because when I’m nervous and anxious, I am more distractable. And when I’m easily distracted, it’s hard for me to talk to people and understand what they’re saying to me. I miss big pieces of what they say, because my attention is being pulled in a hundred different directions — unless I make a concerted effort to laser in on what they’re saying. I tend to have a hard time following, and all the head-nodding in the world doesn’t make up for the lag time I experience between when they say something and when I get it, and the various details I miss.

Ultimately, though, the input of others isn’t going to do my job for me. So, I have to sink a lot of thought, a lot of time and energy, into processing what I’m experiencing. It’s not an awful thing — in fact, it’s quite pleasant, when I’m thinking about something I like and enjoy. But it does take intention. And it does take effort.

Main thing is, I need to be prepared to do the work. I need to not get caught up in thinking, “Okay, I’m all better now! No need for compensatory activities!”  I just need to hunker down and do what needs to be done — not gloss over details and cut to the chase, but really consider what it is I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and all the different elements and aspects of my activity. It’s more time-consuming, yes. But it’s also a very valuable use of time. And ultimately, it deepens my experience of life to an almost technicolor degree.

Technicolor is good. And so is life.

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.

8 thoughts on “Sinking some thought into it”

  1. In an other line of thought –
    The AMA or whoever (big Pharm, the psychiatric community etc) wants to change the DSM V to say that grieving for more than two weeks after the loss of a significant person (spouse, child, parent) is abnormal and symptomatic of a need for medical treatment.
    Now I don’t know about you but I have lost a quite a few folks in the past few years and it’s been hard – and I have grieved and been glad that I did – for in the grieving I made peace with the loss and felt the value of life. But it was (and sometimes still is) painful, very painful – and it certainly did not vanish in two weeks. Indeed in some cases I can still well up when I long for the presence of the other person or remember something that I will not know again. Our society’s unwillingness to give recognition and respect to common human emotions (sadness, fear, depression, anxiety, doubt, etc) often turns those very emotions into long term pathologies.
    Once again I feel like our view of health and well being is driven by profits and quick fixes. Grief requires space and time and the loving touch of hands and shoulders and hearts of people around us. It requires respect for what it means to be human and to lose a person in our lives, the complexity of our feelings – anger that we have been abandoned, sadness that we missed opportunities and are alone, loss for the pleasure of another, frustration that we failed to say or do something, that the process was incomplete. It means a need to appreciate the frailty of life and how scary that may be, it means that we may be slow to getting back to things because we feel weakened or sad and so we need the kindness and compassion of the world to help us re-connect.
    Yes, sometimes grief and depression and anxiety become problems – as with your friend – but you can’t define it by a time limit. The bottom line is 98% of the the human population has an issue of some kind – I know many successful and accomplished people who have serious oddities or negative behaviors – but as long as they feel okay with themselves and aren’t hurting others unduly it’s not the role of any institution to define them as abnormal.
    And yes, as in the blog post – our society also makes claims on us – distracting us with technologies and sometimes losing sight more important things. I like the idea of blogs, of Facebook, of Linkedin – but I would be niave if I didn’t say that they impact us in some way – didn’t change the social network and interaction of human beings. We emphasize perception, the superficial over what is – and hen when faced with the ugly part of people – the less than perfect we feel like failures, mistaken, unhappy.
    Life is very lumpy, embrace the lumps.

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  2. OK, so if six months is the minimum time it “usually” takes to recover from the loss of a significant person in your life, according to the DSM-V, we should be medicated for 5-1/2 of those months?

    Now THAT’s crazy.

    I probably didn’t give enough information on this friend, but the bottom line is, their life is being severely impacted by their reluctance to go out and find a job. I’ve been incredibly supportive since the mid 1990’s, but at what point do you cross the line between supporter and enabler?

    If you stand by and watch your friend destroy their life and refuse to take on the challenges that every adult needs to face, giving them more and more rope, do you share in the culpability if/when they hang themself?

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  3. “My caution and distrust is NOT due to low self-esteem or faulty messages I internalized as a child. They are entirely due to a lifetime of watching myself making bad decisions that felt 100% right at the time… and reaping the fruits of what I sowed.”

    Oh my. This is very familiar.

    Ok, in response to how you reacted to the “improper launch” at work…

    1. You didn’t/don’t need to work harder. You made a mistake and you now have more information. Just work the same, using your new information.

    (There is no 2.)

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  4. Your thoughts on fatigue are timely for me. I also have the same difficulties with altitude…hiking, skiing, flying. It’s interesting what happens to my brain when fatigue and lack of oxygen play a part. I’ve always tended to be the one in the family who gets “car sick” in the mountains (since I was a little girl), but maybe that stems from the MTBI from when I was 2 or 5. The altitude also plays serious mind games with me. I took a hike yesterday and at around 10,000 feet, the mountains began to sway and move back and forth until I was able to sit down and have an orange. Mind games. I think we are more susceptible. I know this may be a DUH moment for most….but it is an AH HA moment for me. Thank you for your honest blog. I am able to relate to SO MUCH of what you write about yourself.

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  5. Thanks Kelly –

    It’s interesting you mention the orange… I’ve read that MTBI can result in metabolic/endocrine abnormalities — and the way the body processes sugar is in that area. Altitude may have a lot to do with it, but don’t forget the blood sugar.

    Hope you’re getting enough rest.

    BB

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