Doing to be

I got home late last night. “Late” being nearly 10 p.m. on a work night. Greeted like a returning hero of sorts.

I was back.

I did it.

Part of me thinks this shouldn’t be such a big deal, and a week-long business trip to an industry conference shouldn’t elicit praise and celebration. But part of me also knows that I did good work on this trip, I made good connections, and I made a positive difference in the world, in however small a way.

I was courteous to my colleagues in the convention center. I was kind to the poor on the streets. I was considerate of the hospitality staff, wherever I went. And I actually convinced professional peers who have been afraid of the folks in my department, that we are here to help, and their opinion matters.

I met with wary almost-strangers, and parted ways with new friends.

Actually, come to think of it, I think this should elicit praise and celebration.

Gandhi and Mother Teresa might have done more. Albert Schweitzer and Dorothy Day probably would have done more. But for where I was, and what I did, I did alright.

Best of all, I did no harm. Which is a far sight more than many people do. And I looked people in the eye when they talked to me. Unless, of course, they were culturally uncomfortable with that. In that case, I looked away. Didn’t intrude. Either way, it was fine.

Thinking back, I will say that I had some very dark hours, on that trip. There I was, 2000 miles from home, sleeping in a very uncomfortable bed, off my daily routine, surrounded by people who all seemed to know each other, some of whom couldn’t be bothered to give me the time of day and actually ditched me several times. Assholes. And they sit right across the hall from me at work.

What the hell was I doing there? I asked myself more than once, at the end of long days, when the fatigue caught up with me and I couldn’t muster enough mojo to feel much of anything about anything other than dread and depression. Start of the day –> mucho moxie. End of the day –> zip, nada, zilch. It’s a rough, rough ride, going from way-way up to way-way down in the space of 18 hours, with your joints aching and screaming, your lower back in knots, your neck and shoulders a mass of tender ropes, your head pounding non-stop… And doing it four nights running.

So, I did the only thing I could — I went out for long walks after convention hours, then went back to my room and drew a hot bath and soaked till the pain was eased, and I could sleep.

In those minutes, as I was debating whether to numb my pain with Advil or get my mind off it with a walk… fighting off that gut-wrenching loneliness that comes from talking to your Beloved (or a good friend) and hearing their voice and knowing they are a looooong plane ride away, and as good as their voice sounds, it’s nothing like having them There Beside You… god, that hurts.

But then the thought came to me that this was a valuable experience to have. For as painful and as awkward as things were for me, I was probably not alone. I was at a conference filled with thousands of people who were also far from home, and many of them may have felt exactly the same way — all by their lonesome in a strange place, without the ones they loved nearby. And there were the ones from other countries and other cultures, speaking a different language and eating different foods and interacting in ways other than what they were used to… for them it must have been even harder.

And so I used it. I used that feeling, that pain, that anguish. I “sat in it” as my therapist friends like to describe it. I marinated in it. I didn’t turn on the television, I didn’t listen to my iPod. I just sat with it and felt it and knew it was real… and knew that there were countless other people in the world around me who were feeling very much like me, right at that same moment.

And I took that feeling, that sense, that experience, and I did something with it. I carried it with me, as I went out into the world, attending sessions at this conference, meeting people and talking with them — both officially and just by-the-by. I took that sense of loneliness, that isolation, and I acted as though each person I ran into felt exactly that same way. And when I caught their eye – or they caught mine – my suspicions were confirmed. And they appreciated the smile. Or the handshake. Or the nod.

See, here’s the thing for me… I’ve got my issues. Who doesn’t? But when I take those issues, those pains, those sorrows, and I do something with them, they completely transform my experience. They turn me from a lonely heart looking for love in all the wrong places, to a human being offering other lonely hearts the kind of compassion and human connection you can’t often get in this techno-virtual world, where the most contact some people have with the rest of the world comes from a few hours spent on Facebook.

And as I simply went through the motions of being courteous and kind and considerate to everyone I met, doing the same sorts of things over and over — holding a door open, nodding hello, smiling and giving someone’s hand a firm shake — I felt like I was coming back to myself. Instead of staying lost in the malaise of my own isolation, when I put the focus on someone and something other than my own insecurity and loneliness, I found the isolation lifting, dissipating, fading to the background. It was always there, but it almost didn’t matter — except for the fact that it made me more aware of the isolation that others were probably feeling, every bit as much as myself.

And in that doing, I became something other than what I was in the silence of my hotel room. In that doing, I found a sort of redemption — not only for me, but for those others, as well. Perhaps even for the others whom those others encountered later on each day. Doing my part to not let my insecurity and self-consciousness get the better of me, turned me into a ‘pebble ambassador’ of sorts — toss me in the human pond and see what happens to the ripples.

The more I did it, the better I felt. And by the time I left, the anxiety and fear and self-conscious insecurity and loneliness had all but gone away. They were always there in the background, sure, but it almost didn’t matter… except to remind me how the rest of the world just might have been feeling — and perhaps even moreso than me.

 

I’m fading, now. Fading fast. Time to sleep. I’ve earned it.

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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.

11 thoughts on “Doing to be”

  1. Way to go! I don’t know if you watch American Idol. One of the men who made it to Hollywood is engaged to a woman who suffered a pretty severe TBI. They would have already been married. He says that he is standing by her. I don’t know from the look in her eye if she is all there. I don’t know how much time she has been in therapy.

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  2. I was at a trade show in Orlando once when a man dropped dead of a heart attack. Apparently his wife was with him, too, and she collapsed on the carpet of the display booth right next to hime. This was 10 years ago, so naturally the details of memory have faded for me. In other words, I don’t remember what they were selling. I do remember how the tragedy was like the epicentre of a circle. Your piece somehow reminded me of it. People gather in the name of commerce, but really it’s just people gathering.

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  3. It’s true. Curious for more, I looked it up:

    com·merce    /ˈkɒmərs/
    –noun
    1. an interchange of goods or commodities, esp. on a large scale between different countries (foreign commerce) or between different parts of the same country (domestic commerce); trade; business.
    2. social relations, esp. the exchange of views, attitudes, etc.
    3. sexual intercourse.
    4. intellectual or spiritual interchange; communion.
    5. ( initial capital letter ) Also called Commerce Department. Informal . the Department of Commerce.

    I have no idea how much of #3 was going on there (though I suspect there was a bit of that, here and there), but #2 and #4 fit the bill. There was plenty of that.

    We gather. We find the most remarkable, complicated reasons to do so. The important thing is that we do it.

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  4. That’s interesting, thanks for sharing. TBI visibility is a good thing. I just hope that we can have a varied and balanced view of it. All this concussion and brain injury awareness is helpful. Let’s hope that we can not get caught up in stereotypes.

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  5. We think it is wonderful that you treated those you met at this global event with respect and dignity everywhere that you went. Those are the values that we need! Becky and Barb

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  6. Regarding the woman with a very severe traumatic tbi who was shown on American Idol, I do not think people would stereotype people with mild tbi or less severe after seeing her. I did not explain that I do not think she could even speak.

    With all stereotypes, I think education is the key. I am not sure exactly what stereotypes are out there for people with TBI. It is a lot easier for me to pinpoint stereotypes regarding race, or religion. I know a lot of people say that people with mental illness are stereotyped. I think that is a hard one because mental illness is so broad. I think depression has become very accepted in mainstream society for women but men still may be told to “suck it up” more. I had a male friend with a blog who had severe depression who tried to educate regarding this. However, he did not stick with it very well probably due to his depression. He was a very gifted writer and that touched me. I think it is very good when someone who is gifted in writing or speaking helps to give someone a positive role image.

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  7. Thanks for your thoughts bkb –

    I think with TBI, there are so many gray areas, that it makes it easier for people to stereotype — and end up dismissing people with mild or moderate TBI who have real problems, because they don’t present the same way a severely impacted individual would. This causes a couple of problems:

    1. It sort of encourages the TBI survivor to “play up” their difficulties, to make them more visible to others. I see this with people who have tried to win a court case around their TBI, and for the sake of their case they had to appear more impaired than they were. Over time, this caused transitory problems to become entrenched, because instead of focusing on recovery, they focused on proving to the jury that they WERE injured — but the trial date got dragged out, so they lost precious recovery time “playing the part” of an injured party.

    2. It undermines the survivor’s sense of self and causes self-doubt. That’s not good. ‘Cause then you spend a whole lot of time second-guessing yourself and expending precious cognitive resources on over-doing things that you don’t need to over-do in the first place. Self-doubt can be exhausting. And in my case it led to a downward spiral of depression and anxiety, which then opened the door to a whole lot of other issues that came up because I was so tired from worry and concern and working overtime to “fix” things that I could have just let go.

    You’re right – education IS key. For everyone. But the will to learn has to be there.

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  8. This is turning into a really interesting thread. Re: your friend who tried to write about depression. Initially, I set out to blog about the circumstances surrounding my TBI. But then I realized my TBI was just a part of the whole for me. Maybe it would be different if I didn’t have a mild TBI and it affected my life in a more profound way. As for depression, I seem to recall coming across a study recently that said nearly 50% of TBI victims suffer from depression. I’m definitely in that camp. All of these things are fodder for my writing. There are days when I think to myself that my content is eclectic and unpredictable because that’s who I’ve always been. Then there are days when I wonder if my inattention problems lead me in the direction on non-sequitor.

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  9. It is, isn’t it… Blogging about TBI has been interesting for me, because the more i write about it, the better i seem to feel, and the less impact it has on my life. I can tell i haven’t blogged in a while when symptoms start to come back. it’s like an antidote. and yes, i have found the same thing — it’s impossible for me to boil down my experiences into results of those concussive events of my past. yeah, i’ve gotten hit on the head a lot… but there’s more to me than that. i see it now more as a contributing factor, rather than a defining quality of my life. like living in a certain kind of neighborhood or having certain kinds of parents. i have friends who are fond of blaming their circumstances for everything — they deliberately choose to be victims. i say, we’ve ALL drawn a shitty hand in some way or another and we do what we can with it. hell, that’s what gives us character. and i’m not being facetious.

    learning about tbi at the start can be both daunting and exhilarating. it’s taken my neuropsych (an extremely adept professional with close to 30 years rehabbing tbi folks) three years to get me to get off the pity-pot and start seeing myself in a broader light. i never realized, till recently, just how invested i have been in the idea that i’m a damaged loser. but things change. fortunately this has.

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  10. Randy Howard, I appreciate your being open about how depression can relate to those who have had a TBI. I checked out your blog and bookmarked it.

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