Taking the long view

The Concussion Blog continues to deliver – with insightful writing as well as links out to other sources and resources that add meaning and texture to my own understanding and management of post-concussion issues. Just when I’m starting to sink into a bona fide holiday funk, anticipating all the activity of the coming days — in the context of how little rest I’ve been getting lately — I get this wakeup call that snaps me off the pity pot:

A lot of things are going through my head, these days, as I wrangle with my day-to-day activities, and I get caught up in the minutiae of getting things done. One issue that has really taken on increasing proportions for me has been the tendency to get stuck in all sorts of details — and not be able to tell which of the details matter more than others. It’s like I’m drinking from a firehose of stimuli, and it gets overwhelming. Fatigue doesn’t help matters, of course, and when I’m going full-speed most of the time to keep up with all the things that pop up around me, it just gets worse.

And then even more details pop up to catch my attention. Before you know it, I’m swamped. And I’m getting parnoid about people noticing that I’m swamped… and wondering what the hell is wrong with me.

It’s probably all in my head, of course. When I think about it, other people are way too consumed with their own lives and their own struggles, to pay as much attention to me as I think they do. And there’s a pretty good chance a lot of them are feeling the same way I am — self-conscious and concerned that others might notice they’re struggling.

We’re all struggling, in a way. I don’t think you can land on this earth and go through life without some measure of difficulty and challenge. Especially if you’re motivated to improve yourself and take things to the next level, you’re going to come across your share of roadblocks, and it’s going to take a toll. The thing is, you can’t let it take too much of a toll on you, or you end up undermining yourself and letting things get the better of you. It’s difficult to bounce back from adversity, when you’re mired in the muck of self-doubt and second-guessing everything that crosses your path.

Which is why I need to step back regularly and take a longer view. I haven’t been doing that as well as I might, these past weeks. There are plenty of reasons for it, all across the spectrum. But causes aside, there is something I can do to move on and get on with it — focus on my future, focus on where I want to be in my life, and put my energy into getting there… rather than spending a lot of energy trying to figure out why I’m not there already.

There’s a lot of life to be lived, and I can’t get there by staying mired in my past. What’s done is done. Time to move on. Maybe it meant what I thought it meant. Maybe it didn’t. No sense in getting hung up on it. Just move on.

And yet, I think it’s important to have a balance between long view and short-term management of issues. In my case, telling myself that I was fine, that I was perfectly capable of handling everything that came my way, and sticking with the story that it was other people who had the problems, not me, almost cost me everything. I had invented this story about myself that all I needed was some more time and a lucky break, and I’d be home free. I was living out a narrative that painted me as a bold maverick who lived by their own rules and didn’t compromise with the status quo. That story proved to be not only incomplete but also fairly inaccurate. Turns out, all those years of telling myself I was “making my own rules” were more about me working around logistical problems I had, thanks to long-standing TBI issues. And I paid a very steep price because of it.

Having that story turned upside-down, along with countless other assumptions that I’ve entertained over the years, pretty much knocked the legs out from under me, and it’s been rough going getting back to a place where I have at least some measure of self-confidence. I try to focus on the positives, but the repeated experience of trying so hard to get it right or understand things or figure things out, only to discover I’m missing critical pieces of information or I just plain don’t get it (no matter how convinced I am that I’m right), has been one of the most difficult things to come to terms with. It’s a constant negotiation of “fact and fiction” that keeps me guessing, keeps me on my toes, and keeps me pretty humble, especially when I am tempted to be the most arrogant.

Easy, this is not. And when I don’t keep myself going, I can get pretty down and depressed. And angry, too. I can get stuck in my head and lose sight of what truly matters, and then end up taking it out on everyone around me. That’s no good. It’s pretty human and it’s pretty typical for this time of year, but it’s also not the way I want to spend my life.

How DO I want to spend my life? That’s an excellent question. For me, it’s less about doing specific things and accomplishing specific goals, and it’s more about having a certain kind of experience — a high quality of life, no matter what my external circumstances. I do have goals, and I do have things I want to do, and they are important. But there’s more to life than making numbers, and there’s more to my work than just ticking things off my to-do list. Regardless of the immediate circumstances that are grabbing my attention, I can choose to focus on a longer view, a more full view of my life, and see myself within a more full continuum of experience — and humanity. And work from there.

Of course, this is all very easy for me to say, sitting in my dining room surrounded by holiday gift-wrapping supplies, typing away on my second-hand laptop before I finish wrapping the presents I promised to wrap before my spouse gets up and we kick off the holidays with a drive to see relatives. It’s easy for me to say, with a stomach full of breakfast and a week’s vacation ahead of me. It’s a lot harder to say, when I’m stuck in a rut at work, I’m behind on my tasks, and people are getting pissed off at me for not delivering as quickly as they want me to.

But there’s the opportunity for growth and increasing strength — to keep steady in myself, not get waylaid by the opinions and (often unrealistic) expectations of others who simply have no clue what all I do each day just to keep going. The short view, with all its minute details and all its very popular DON’T THINK – JUST DO IT NOW AND DO IT QUICKLY immediacy, beckons with a seductive pulse of biochemical love that blocks out bigger picture concerns. And that’s the approach I seriously need to be cognizant of, to be wary of. To see it for what it is — a drug that so many folks in my immediate environment rely on just to stay sane — that is the penultimate challenge.

The ultimate challenge is then to not fall into it, to not get sucked into the major drama that’s driven by the former football players and semi-pro athletes I work with. Every day, I find more of them in my midst, and every time I read about sports-related concussions and how pervasive they are, I can’t help but think about my co-workers who are absolutely driven by the need to be part of a team that’s loved out loud by the crowd. And as the true nature of my immediate environment becomes clearer and clearer to me, I realize just how much I myself am invested in that same drive, that same love, that same pulse of GO-GO-GO that lures so many down a path of injury and long-standing problems because of those injuries.

And I think about my path, my life, where I want to end up in another year… or two… or five… or ten. As much as I need to make a living, I do still have dreams, and I do still have parts of myself I want to develop — on my own terms and in my own way, not just according to others’ standards. 2011 is winding down, and I’m thinking about the next year. Heck, my work is already scheduled into next June. What is there, outside my 9-5 job? What is there, outside the daily struggle to just get by? For the next 8 months or so, due to financial and work obligations, not a whole lot, to be honest.

But in another 8 months, a ton of obligations will have been fulfilled, and this will free me up to make other choices. I’m on track to pay off some crippling debts — and as hard as it is right now to do that regularly, there is still light at the end of the tunnel that’s not an oncoming train. There will be an end to this. And I need to keep that in mind. I also need to keep in mind my ongoing well-being and health. Reading about the trials and tribulations of post-concussion-afflicted athletes, puts things in perspective for me. And as much as I can relate to their difficulties, I can also be thankful (and relieved) that I’ve actually managed to figure out ways to navigate those uncertain waters.

Navigate, I must… lest I end up like Mr. Hall in the video above. Talk about a sobering view… God god.

So, for what it’s worth, considering all I’ve been through, things are actually looking up. As hard and unpredictable and confounding as life can be at times, I still have it pretty well together — as far as others can see, which is what counts for 85+% of my success at work and in life. They say “Perception is reality” and even if I disagree, the fact that others believe that makes it more true — or at least more applicable in my situation. It serves no use to pretend all is hunky-dory when it’s not, but that conversation about what issues I have to address needs to happen behind closed doors, not out in public where people spook so easliy.

Balance, balance… trade off. Negotiate. Short-term details and long-term views. What seems to be vs. what is. Needless to say, this keeps me on my toes. I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to the disconnect between what I believe (with all my heart) to be true, and what actually IS true (or what others say is true). But ultimately everyone suffers from some level of disconnect. It’s just that not everyone is aware of it.

At least I have that awareness going for me. That, and the fact that I not only have a keen eye for detail, but also a real appreciation for the long view. And a genuine desire to keep improving… to learn from my mistakes, and do it better the next time.

But the day is waiting. Time to pack for the trip.


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.

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