Stopping to reflect – looking back to 2007

I’ve been thinking a lot about how far I’ve come in the past six years. This month is the anniversary of my starting to really go down the path of rehabilitation and TBI recovery.  It marks the anniversary of my realizing – for real – just what the true nature of my problems in life had been, and taking action to address them.

It’s wild to look back at my first post on this blog. I was just learning how to put a blog together, just starting to figure out WordPress, and I had a pretty ambitious mission:

  1. To reach out to the millions of individuals (5.8 million, I’ve heard) who have sustained a TBI, along with their friends, family, and co-workers, to help them better understand traumatic brain injury information from a “lay person’s” point of view.
  2. To share my personal experiences with other TBI survivors and their families, to help them overcome the feelings they may have of wretched brokenness, to let them know they are not alone and help them see that a broken brain is not the end of the story, so long as your whole body-mind-heart-spirit “information-processing system” is intact.
  3. To relate my experiences to the psychotherapists of the world, who may be chasing the wrong demons in their counseling sessions, trying to fix “psychological” issues of TBI survivors which are actually neuro-physiological in nature…
  4. To assist our men and women in uniform, returning from active duty, who have sustained a TBI in service to this great country of ours, and who are left out in the cold by a medical and psychotherapeutic establishment that often does not understand or fully appreciate their challenges and needs as TBI survivors.
  5. To celebrate my successful long-term survival from a TBI and show others how I did it… and how I continue to do it, so they can have hope and, in the words of Winston Churchill, “Never, ever, ever give up!”

No doubt about it, I had big plans. And it was driven by my own experiences in life that had pushed me to that point. I figured, I wasn’t the only one who’d ever had this happen to them — for sure — and I couldn’t possibly be the only person who felt lost, alone, afraid, and completely overwhelmed by everything.

Looking back, I can see a lot of bravado in what I was proposing. And there were a ton of gaps in my understanding of my own capacities, and my ability to do what I was setting out to do. At the time, it all made sense. I was on a mission. I felt duty-bound to do something. And so I started this blog.

Now, with the past six years under my belt… holy smokes. What a ride. And in the meantime, I have learned that I knew far less than I thought I did, and I was capable of far less than I imagined I could do. But at the same time, I’ve learned that I know a lot more about some things than I give myself credit for, and I am capable of many more things than I have thought, for many, many years. My whole life, I pretty much built up a partial view of myself — based largely on what others told me about myself, which was based on their own issues and their own flawed understanding. And I ended up living a life that was not only prone to injury, but also just a shadow of what I could have been living.

I do believe that a lot of my injuries were results of me testing myself in directions that I didn’t really need to test myself. All the sports and adventure and activities that got me hurt… I plunged into them head-first (sometimes literally) in a furious determination to prove who I was, to prove I was worth something, to prove to everyone that I was NOT what they said I was — a loser, an idiot, a lazy good-for-nothing jerk. I knew better, and I wanted to prove them wrong.

And time after time, I pushed myself beyond what made sense, and I got hurt. I got in car accidents from ignoring how tired and out of sorts I was, and trying to keep up with someone else’s schedule. I was attacked while standing my ground for a set of values and beliefs that weren’t mine. I fell, after pushing myself too hard to prove that I could do it. I played rough in sports that were custom-made for injury. And it added up, piece after piece, year after year. Much of it because I had such a terrible view of myself, and proving myself by going above and beyond was the only way I could stop the voices in my head telling me that I was a stupid, lazy, good-for-nothing kid.

A lot has changed in the past six years. Those old voices that used to torment me have faded a good deal — they’re not gone completely, but when they do come up, I can often see them for what they are. I’ve learned all sorts of coping skills for dealing with my TBI issues, and I’ve really turned things around for myself in a very big way. I’ve been high-functioning for a long time, and I’m even higher-functioning now… with some clear limitations that I can — and do — manage.

My memory tends to be pretty spotty, I’ve got the whole pain thing, sensory overload sometimes gets the best of me, and I get extremely irritable at times, when I’m tired — which is pretty frequent. Irritable isn’t exactly the best word for it — I go off. I melt down. I lose it. And it sucks. Yes, I do my best to manage it and keep the circumstances from working against me, but it’s a constant effort. It just doesn’t stop.

So, yeah. There it is. Constant effort that doesn’t quit. And six years on, I’m still coming to terms with that. It does get easier in some ways — you learn what to look out for, you learn how to address the things that come up, and you learn what to do to prevent them happening again… And you adjust to the idea that, well, it’s just never going to end, this effort, this … adventure.

Ideally, anyway.

Some days, I am not adjusted at all to the fact of the level of effort. I don’t want to deal with anything, I don’t want to deal, I don’t want to adjust, I don’t want to accommodate or be accommodated. I just want things to go back to feeling easier than they do right now. It’s not like things have ever been easy-peasy for me, but it used to feel a whole hell of a lot easier than it does right now. Of course, looking back on my life, I now realizing that the times when it felt easier were NOT times when I was getting it right (like all those tests in school I’ve taken, where I felt like I’d aced them, but then got a crappy grade). And I have to do a reality check and remind myself that I’ve been grappling with TBI issues my entire life, and even though I got used to things feeling like they were a certain way, in fact, they were not that way at all.

And I’m starting from scratch in many ways.

Again.

And again.

And again.

Watching The Crash Reel has obviously got me thinking. I look back on my life, and I think about what it was like to grow up in a constant state of surprise, never knowing for sure if what I was thinking was correct, or if I was truly understanding what was going on around me. I look back on my life and think about how the adversity of my growing-up years made it more possible for me to recover over the past six. I think about a lot of things, all the while appreciating more, just how much TBI has affected my life, how much it has taught me… and how much more I have to learn.

 

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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