Catching up and cleaning up

Time to clean up

Well, my tax refund came in, so now I can redeem myself in the eyes of countless people I owe money to. They’re not likely to forget how LATE I’ve been on my payments this past year, but it’s my understanding that I’m not entirely alone in this situation.

At least I still have my house, right?

Well, sort of. I mean, I have it, I’m current with my mortgage payments, and for the most part, it’s in pretty good shape (the bathrooms that need to be remodeled notwithstanding). It’s no small feat, for me to keep this house, after the drastic changes and problems I’ve been through. Everything could easily have gone away for good. I got lucky, however, and I got help when I was just about to tip over the edge. The wreckage was piling up around me, and it’s a wonder it didn’t all just go away. I got luckier than a lot of people, and I can never lose sight of that.

The thing is, I had my accident a little less than two years after moving in. Just when I was getting settled in and sorting out things like small repairs, landscaping issues, and general organization, I fell and things started to fall apart.

They also started to pile up around me. I’ve got piles of papers and things I thought I wanted to keep stashed in piles around the house. Not the kinds of piles that alarm the neighbors and trigger an intervention by your friends and family, but collections of stuff that I have no real use for. Or stuff that I should have gone through, separated out, and thrown away, long ago.

Yeah, I still have my house. But that’s not exactly the point, is it? The point is that I’m capable of doing more than just holing up in a place and paying the mortgage regularly. Don’t get me wrong – it hasn’t been easy keeping the bank happy, but after six years of working my way back, it’s time I got my act in gear and started cleaning up around myself. Clearing out the stuff I don’t need or want.

Starting with my pile of bills. Things have been so tight, lately, that I couldn’t even manage to follow up on the bills, because I just couldn’t face telling each and every person I talked to that I didn’t have the money, and I wasn’t sure when I was going to have the money. Now, I can sort everything out, write down how much I owe each person, and dip into this tax return to make good on my debts.

And then there’s my study/office… an extra bedroom with a great view out the back of the house… that’s full of all kinds of stuff I may or may not want to keep. My study last got cleaned in 2007, when I was having the house painted and I was taking time off to care for a sick relation. I went through my study and cleared out everything that I didn’t want, and I made it my own again.

But in 2007, I was in some serious flux. I was still in the midst of some of the roughest years after my last TBI, and things were falling apart around me. So, I had my office organized around escape from the world — lost of art supplies, fiction books and paper about subjects that fascinated me — but which I did not understand, and didn’t realize I didn’t understand.


And amazing, how much my life has changed, in the past three years or so. I’ve essentially gone from being locked away in a world of my own making and imagining, to being fully out in the outside world, participating with life on life’s terms… a whole lot more integrated into regular society, than I ever was before. Thinking back, I was seriously reality-impaired, and it showed. The 30+ years I spent inventing my own version of what life was all about — by never fully engaging with real-live people who could steer me right, and keeping my head buried in books that I was either reading or writing — did not help when it came to interacting with the outside world.

I would just say and do the most off-the-wall things… and never realize just how off base I was.

But what did I know? I was off in my own private Idaho, creating my own world and my own version of reality. Whenever I ventured out, I was met by people who would ridicule or dismiss me. What did I care about participating in their world? Indeed.

So, I built up this persona and this “reality” that was structured around and informed by my own partial imaginings of how life really was and how people really were. In some cases, I could be incredibly insightful, in others I could be so far off-base, people had no idea if I was in my right mind… An interesting mix, needless to say. And I filled my life — and my office — with all the stuff that reflected and supported that persona of mine.

Now I find myself at an interesting place, where the old stuff — while it served me at the time — is no longer entirely useful to me. In fact, in many ways, it just holds me back. But at the same time, there’s part of me that wants to hang onto it, like Linus’es security blanket from Charlie Brown. It’s like all the books and items around me from years gone by offer me a way to escape, a destination to run to, if things on the outside get to be too much. So, in that sense, I do want to hang onto the old things. Just in case.

This is all probably coming up, because I watched the move “Marwencol” the other night – the documentary about the guy who got beaten within an inch of his life, who went on to create his own little world — literally — out of 1/6 size action figures in a WWII setting. Nazis and spies and witches, oh my. I had intended to watch it, but I forgot to write it down, and I spaced on the time and date, so I only caught the last half of it.  But that last half was absolutely fascinating.

It was also a little sobering, because in a way, Mark’s story is similar to my own, though his experience was more abrupt and extreme. A band of hooligans beat him within an inch of his life, and after that, he had no memory of the attack, he had hand-eye coordination issues. To deal with it all, he turned to a world of his own that would give him safety and a way to play out his own experiences and pain, in the privacy of an environment that he could control, that he made happen.

I have never been beaten within an inch of my life (and I hope never to be), and the injuries I’ve sustained have never put me in a coma. But the cumulative damage from the series of concussions/mTBIs I’ve experienced gave me plenty of reasons to pull back and withdraw from the world.

In many ways, this parallel universe of my own seeking and making has shielded me from the attacks of the outside, as well as helped me recover after the issues I’ve had. The books and items that surround me and catch my attention and imagination give me a place and a way to unwind and move at my own pace, instead of having to battle my way through. And battle is what I had to do, before I had help. I was on my own – totally on my own. Nobody understood what I was experiencing, or why. They cut me no slack, and they gave me no help. All they did was punish me and try to force “consequences” on me. What an ever-loving waste of time. Geez.

So, I withdrew. And it helped.

But withdrawing never helped me understand what was going on, or develop ways of dealing with what I had to face. It was just withdrawing. And like an addiction meant to ease the pain, not prevent it, my withdrawal made things worse, at the same time that it made things better.

Well, speaking of the outside world, I’ve got to run some errands before I run out of time.

I’ve got plenty to think about, and plenty to do. I really do need to catch up. I really do need to clean up. I just have to figure out how… and then do it.

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.

6 thoughts on “Catching up and cleaning up”

  1. Books can be a good escape. You are very gifted and I think that
    you have done great things on many fronts. But there were problems
    that needed addressing and it is good that you are more aware now
    and hopefully in a better place to do so. Tax returns are great!


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