What the REAL problem is

What's really going on?

I had an interesting/annoying conversation with my neuropsych last night. Overall, it was a good session, and it’s given me good food for thought.

In a nutshell, we talked about my flagging self-esteem, how I seem to be sabotaging myself in my present job, and how I have this perception of myself of being a “ticking time bomb” of a loser. After so many years of having troubles that nobody could understand or detect, and after having had so many things just go south for no reason that I could tell, I seem to have this perception of myself as this loser who’s basically able to fool the rest of the world into believing that I’m competent and capable… until eventually they find out that I’m not really that great, after all.

That seems to be where I am right now… I’ve been having issues at work, which I’ve been trying to gloss over and deal with, and I’ve been somewhat successful at keeping my act together. But there’s still this creeping sense that it’s only a matter of time until things fall apart.

And that’s what we were talking about yesterday. I guess I feel like I can keep going for x-amount of time, until I gradually run out of steam/good ideas/patience. And then it all falls to shit pieces. I feel like my success has an expiration date, and there’s only so long I can expect things to go well, before they start to unravel.

My neuropsych seems to think that this is stuff I’ve made up in my head about myself, and I am unconsciously undermining myself. And that may be true, to some extent. I can definitely see where that fits. At the same time, I think that’s part of a larger pattern I need to deal with — patterns of loss and neglect and poor treatment that I’ve experienced over the years, because of a combination of life events, and my differences from other “normal” people.

I think that a big part of it is due to my early school years. I spent a lot of time “bouncing around” from one daycare situation to another, when I was little. Then, when I started school, I got moved from school to school, and each year the classes had completely different kids in them, and I had to hassle through learning to deal with a new “crop” of peers each year. It was like, each new school year brought a whole new set of problems to deal with — and my family lived in an inner-city situation during the early busing years, so there was a lot of upheaval, danger, crisis… all that and more. So, I just got habituated to the revolving door of annual cycles of extreme, dramatic change. And if things didn’t change, then something felt wrong.

When I was in college, too, there was the annual shift and change. Nothing stayed the same. Each of my for college years was different, with a different set of problems and challenges. I did way too much drinking, my freshman year, and that led to some pretty intense problems my sophomore year (involving police and restraining orders — one of them against me), and then I took off and studied overseas for a few years, in part to get away from the mess I’d gotten into.

And after I got out of school (didn’t graduate, just stopped going), I had a series of jobs at one company or another, switching back and forth between permanent spots and temporary/ contract positions. All the while, I was making a living and doing okay for myself, but everything was cyclical. And if positions didn’t end within a year or two after I started, it made me intensely nervous.

I think part of it has been the old residue of the “danger years” when I was basically on the lam in college, trying (with varying degrees of success) to keep out of sight and under the radar of the individual who was intent on doing me some serious hurt. And come to think of it, that was like an extension of my grade-school years when I was bullied so intensely in 5th and 7th grade — two different schools, in two different school districts, but each of them equally shitty challenging.

So, I’ve had this ongoing, lifelong pattern of upheaval and problems and cyclical ends to increasingly difficult situations, that is now rearing its ugly head and making my life kind of tough to handle. What’s more, as with so many other job situations, I’m finding myself increasingly un-challenged at work, doing things that come all too easily to me, but which I do better than anyone… so I am practically “frozen” in place in that slot at work, while others around me advance and go on to do bigger things. I also find myself intensely uneasy with the new management — I’ve worked for big organizations before, and I didn’t care for it then… and I don’t care for it now — and that’s cutting into my sense of purpose and resolve.

And once again, I find myself really wanting to do what I’ve always wanted to do — head out on my own, do my own thing, and build a life that is independent and free… according to my specifications, not someone else’s definition of success. I don’t have a stereotypical life with a spouse and 2.4 kids and 2 cars in the garage and a family pet. I also don’t have the need for the kinds of status symbols that others crave. I don’t give a damn about the job title and all that. I do give a damn about doing good work that engages me and gives me a greater sense of self-determination and personal achievement.

So, that’s where I’m finding myself arriving, these days. At a place where I know I need to make different choices, and also develop a greater sense of satisfaction and accomplishment in in my life. And I need to really focus on following my own dreams according to my own standards, rather than getting caught up in what others are saying or thinking or telling me is the way I should be doing things.

The fact that I just don’t feel that way, the fact that I’m not making that my full focus at this time, is the thing that’s dragging me down. I’m not dragged down because I’m feeling like a loser. I’m feeling like a lower because I’m dragged down by my lack of focus and lack of self-determination.

I can see where my neuropsych is coming from, but I think they’re putting the cart before the horse. When I can take action on my own behalf, get clear about what I want to do, and sort things out logistically, I don’t feel like such a loser. It’s remarkable, what change takes place in my head and heart. But when I’m all turned around and can’t think straight, I lose sight of where I’m going, and then I get down on myself.

They’re sorta kinda right. But the cause and effect for them, are the other way around for me.

Which I need to explain to them.

And I need to explain to them that instead of being talked out of feeling like a loser, I need to figure out substantive steps to take to get where I’m going. It’s the lack of concrete steps, the lack of concrete progress, that is dragging me down… not the other way around. Sure, I have these old patterns of cyclical upheaval behind me, but that’s totally manageable, when I have a focus to train my attention on. When I’m busy taking action, I have no time to sit around and feel like crap about myself. Indeed, I don’t. But when I am not taking action — or I am unclear and indecisive — then I start to feel bad, and I start telling myself all sorts of stupid things about myself that just aren’t true.

I just need to get myself back in gear, clear my head, and quit telling myself bad things about myself. As they said last night, I need to stop wasting energy creating some sort of meaning about myself that just isn’t true. At the same time, too, I need to understand the true cause of these issues I’ve got, and do something concrete about them.

In fairness to myself, this recent transition and reorganization has really taken a toll on me, as has the added commuting time and costs. It has cut into my overall quality of life, and I am tired. So, the fact that things have been falling apart more and more over the last few months, shouldn’t surprise me.At the same time, I know that no matter how tired I am, if I have tools around me to help keep me focused and on-target, I can overcome that… and also come up with new and different ways to get more rest.

The main thing is to realize that I’m experiencing feelings — not facts.  I may feel a certain way about myself, but that’s not necessarily a fact. And I need to find ways to keep my spirits up — or at the very least, keep the facts in plain sight in front of me.

So, I guess it’s time for some props. Some new tools. And it’s time to just settle in, stop being distracted by all the things I’m telling myself about what a loser I am… and realize that a lot of what I think about myself comes from a childhood of traumatic brain injury issues that nobody understood and everybody was actually pretty awful about. It wasn’t my fault that I got hurt. It wasn’t my fault that I couldn’t understand what people were saying. It wasn’t my fault that I had balance issues and that I had trouble interacting with others. Hell, anyone would have trouble interacting, if they couldn’t understand what others were saying, if their processing speed was slower than expected, and everybody was intent on pushing them to do more-more-more without stopping to ask if the way they were trying to do it was appropriate or not.

The real problem is partly that I get caught up in telling myself I’m a pathetic loser, and partly that circumstances need to change. Which comes first, is anybody’s guess, but one thing is sure — things really need to change, I’m aware of the fact, and I’m not going to let my feelings distract me from that. Hell, I’ve got enough on my plate, without beating myself up in the process.

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 “What the REAL problem is”

  1. Ok – think about this.

    I have said, a few times – that part of the healing and rebuilding is that you have to write a new story for yourself. People hear that but they don’t HEAR it. They think I am talking about thinking positive or gratitude for who and what they have and are. And that can be part of it but it’s not the core. Look at what you wrote – it’s a long litany of how you have to fix things, of your history of making mistakes, of being a failure, of why you have to redeem yourself in the eyes of the world by being successful at certain tasks. If you keep trying to correct who you were you will get nowhere. The truth is that you can rewrite everything you did here as being a person who was creative, tenacious, persevering, loyal etc.

    I have a friend – he was very smart, went to an Ivy league school but dropped out without graduating, he did drugs off and on and the usual 70’s kind of search for self. He started a company and was successful – although he was known by his co-workers as compulsive and a sometimes irascible manager. He fell out with his partner and was tossed out of the company, and then his next company did not do so well. He was very eclectic and his lifestyle was not typical – he eschewed material niceties and rejected traditional choices. Yet, despite his difficult and even eccentric personality he was later financially successful. He did marry and have kids, seemingly happily, but he was not known for his compassion – in fact he was not known to support any charitable cause despite his ability to do so.

    I suspect that most folks would not have described this as the kind of person they would hope to be. Yet that man is Steve Jobs and he is revered and considered an icon. It’s how you write the story.

    We change –age, brain injury, life lessons – these things change us and give us different knowledge and perspective. We cannot redeem ourselves from our pasts – we can only create our futures. And we can do that best by recognizing what we have, what our capacities are and applying them. You will make mistakes again, sometimes the same ones, as you work to change patterns of thinking and behavior. But rather than say – I did this in the past and so I have to do the opposite, I have to prove I am capable you need to ask if this is what you want, if you are indeed good at this (you don’t have to be good at everything to be a good person), and if not what can you do to move towards what you are good at. No judgement. You are an evolving and learning being. Your story is one of many gifts and strengths and capabilities – find them, find the things you did well and like and make that your foundation – not the mistakes or the fears or the doubts. See yourself as capable, as talented and understand that. I am not saying live in lala bliss land – things go wrong – that is life, happens to everyone, but I am saying that you can’t keep chasing the schoolyard bullies – they have long since passed into another realm.

    Yes, sometimes we have to look back to see the patterns but we can’t try to correct those things, we cannot try to make up for things we wish we did differently. We have to acknowledge our role in them and then move on. But patterns aren’t character, they aren’t our value or our worth. They are just trained responses. We then have to learn how to retrain our responses and make different kinds of choices. This is very hard, harder than you think because we have a lot invested in the story we have told ourselves. So we have to constantly tell ourselves a new story (and tell ourselves that story even if we don’t quite believe it) and we have to build in reality checks –NOT imagined outcomes or fears or self doubts but rather concrete what are we dealing with reality checks to keep us aligned with the story we are now telling. And then we have to make new choices, do things differently, learn new patters. They may not feel good at first, they may not give the kind of reward or redemption we seek immediately but in time we will find that we are the story we have told ourselves.


  2. Hm. I’m not sure I’m doing a very good job of getting my point across. People seem to think I’m beating up on myself or I’m hung up on the past, when all I’m trying to do is convey the experience I’ve had. Maybe people think I judge it. I actually don’t. I was pretty excited to realize that this could be the root of my ongoing cycles. It wasn’t about trying to fix what was wrong, rather, see what in the past has shaded my present… all for the purpose of setting it right.

    I’ve been tired, so maybe that’s why I came across like I did. I get the point about the stories we tell ourselves. I get that loud and clear. At the same time, though, I do believe that some people take the story thing a little too far. I believe in the totality of human experience, in the acceptance of what is how it is, of what was how it was, and seeing that as a small part of the greater whole.

    It’s not about changing what was… it’s not even about judging what was. Part of the issue may be with me not seeing a huge distinction between what “was” and what “is” — somehow they all blend together with me, in one continuous whole. So, understanding the past and seeing areas where it’s been problematic — a hassle and a pain in the neck — is part of dealing with the present.

    Certainly, I can see myself as talented and persevering and creative. That for me is a given. But I also need to be able to say, “Look, this really sucks. I’m dealing with it, but it truly for real sucks.” When I put all my focus on the positive side, it feels slanted and biased to me. It can all be part of it. Plus, when I choose to not acknowledge the rough spots I go through, it feels like I am discounting a part of myself. Because the hard parts matter, too. And the fact that I’ve come through them… well, it makes me feel pretty much like a bad-ass. And that’s good for something to me.

    Like I said, I’m tired. I haven’t been as clear as I might have been. Then again, maybe I was really saying something and it just got lost in the shuffle.


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