Well, the job situation is looking up. The new responsibilities at work are good things, and they are definitely going to test me in ways that will help me grow. The level that I’ll be expected to perform at is about the same level I was at, when I fell in 2004. In a way, it’s like the big detour my life took after my head injury is coming back around to meet up with where I was before.
And it scares the be-geezuz out of me. A thousand different thoughts are running through my head, many of them not so good. In the past 5 years, I’ve been so derailed so many times, and I’ve had so much practice coming up with wrong answers to important questions, that a deep-seated self-doubt has gotten lodged in my brain. Every time I come up short and don’t meet a goal I set, I get confirmation that that self-doubt is right — See?! You really can’t do it after all. See?! There’s no hope for you, and you might as well pack it in and go home.
I’ve had extended discussions about this with my neuropsych, and they’ve been good about telling me that I don’t have to listen to those voices — I can listen to my “better angels” and make better choices. I don’t have to let my future be defined by my past. The brain heals. It mends. Life has a way of self-healing in some ways, or just finding different ways of being, in the face of extreme adversity. Broken bones heal. Broken brains may not heal in quite the same way, but broken lives can. And brains can rewire and reconnect.
It ain’t over till it’s over. And I need to quit making things look like they’re over, before they’ve even begun.
It really feels like this new development at work is a milestone test for me. It’s like I’ve crossed an invisible line between determined-to-recover and committed-to-ongoing-recovery. “Recovery” for me is about more than fixing frayed connections in my brain’s wiring. It’s about recovering the important things in my life that mean so much to me — allowing the strengths I have, which I have had for decades, to come forward again, after being in cold storage for the past several years. Recovery for me is about getting to a point where I can regain my self-regard and objectively see that I am doing well at many things, I’m challenged at others, and I have uneven results with a bunch of stuff in between. It’s about getting my distance back — not getting sucked into every little drama that comes up (inside and outside my head), and being able to step back and make my own decisions about how I perceive and react to the world around me.
Recovery, for me, means being able to finally get out of my own way, so the people around me who sometimes have a much clearer view of my capabilities and potential than I, can promote me and support me and point out ways that I can make my — and their — world better. Those people can’t sit inside my head, which has a full inventory of all the ways I’m in need of improvement. So, I have to trust them and their assessment of my potential and ability to contribute to the whole. After all, they can probably see things that I can’t, and they wouldn’t be supporting me if it weren’t in their best interests. I just have to trust them on this.
And I have to quit listening to carefully to myself about every little thing I think I’ve done wrong. I went through a period where I was cataloguing every single thing I did wrong, digging myself deeper and deeper into holes of self-doubt and misery. It was important for me to realize where I was impaired and struggling. But all the while that I was keeping records of what was wrong with me, that very exercise was helping me to regain my ability organize my thoughts, motivate myself, monitor and manage my own behavior, and function in the world at large. Ironically, at the same time my mind was becoming increasingly convinced that something Awful was amiss, the awfulness was slowly but surely subsiding. And I ended up inventing a story about myself that became less true, with each passing month.
That’s not to say I didn’t have issues. I certainly did. But the story I told myself deep down inside about my ability to deal with those issues was not always a good one. And the more I learned about my issues, the more anxious I became, which impacted my ability to think clearly and sort out my recovery. It impacted my ability to formulate an objective, accurate view of myself. And it held me back from living my life in ways that I couldn’t even begin to fathom.
What remarkable creatures we are. We’re so alive, yet we’re so eager to avoid living life to the fullest. There burns within each and every one of us a spark of vibrant life, yet our very makeup seems to come “pre-loaded” with a sort of psychic brake that slows us down when we are picking up speed. Maybe it’s a self-defense mechanism — too much speed can do serious damage, as so many of us find out the hard way. But after we’ve taken our lumps and gotten knocked down, we can be all too all-or-nothing — either driven to rebound immediately (and damn the torpedoes) or frightened of our own shadows and refusing to participate in even the most rudimentary aspects of life for fear of yet another bump or fall or crash.
For me, it’s been both — after my many falls, I’ve tended to be driven to immediately dive back into the fray, with no rest, no recovery and not even a shred of perception that I needed rest or recovery. But after realizing what had happened, I swung to the opposite extreme and set about constructing for myself an alternate personality that was so encased in protective measures that I could barely move. I ended up like the little brother in “A Christmas Story” who was so bundled up against the cold that he couldn’t get up after he got knocked down.
Fortunately, for me, the virtual winter of my past 6 years has been easing up. And I’m getting to a point where I can just get on with my days, instead of second-guessing everything I do and say. There is a lot riding on my shoulders — a household to support, loved ones with health issues, a mortgage to pay, a professional position to pursue. But I can’t second-guess every single thing I do right or wrong. Even the things I think I do ‘wrong’ aren’t always bad, in the eyes of others.
I can be my own best friend or my own worst enemy. Deciding which I’ll be, from moment to moment, seems to be the theme of my life, these days. Today, I choose to be a friend.