Making the most of everything you’ve got

It happens

So, you hit a rough patch. Maybe you literally hit something. Or it hit you. Or someone hit you. Or you got roughed up in some other way by this thing called Life.

It’s not fair. And it’s not fun.

No doubt about it.

And now you’re left feeling like you’re damaged. Broken. Down. For the count, or permanently.

I’m not going to give you a think-positive pep talk and lecture you on happiness being a “choice”. I heard a conversation like that yesterday while I was waiting for my turn at the chiropractor. Someone in the waiting room was depressed — really struggling with that wretched sense that comes with depression — and one of the other patients (who apparently helps others with alternative healing modalities) started in on this lecture about how you have a choice between depression and happiness. You can choose to take action, or you can choose to “wallow” – not in those words exactly, but that was the gist I got.

I kept my comments to myself. I was busy reading an eBook about neuroplasticity, which was far more useful to me. And I did keep my eyes from rolling, as the person trying to help started in on this (seemingly) oversimplified explanation about a technique that supposedly helps “break up old patterns”. But it got my blood boiling a little bit, hearing all the platitudes that they picked up along the way in who-knows-how-many Saturday morning workshops about all these different modalities.

I managed to put it out of my mind after that. I’m just now remembering it.

And I think about all the folks in the world who struggle with some hidden difficulty of one kind or another… who are just so beaten down by it, without a lot of fresh ideas about how to get past it, or manage it. The last thing I want to do is add to the heap of suffering by waxing eloquent about how choice trumps everything, we make our entire world with our thoughts, we manifest the lessons we need, etc. There is some truth to that, but some days, life just roughs you up and you have to work with what you have.

When you’re just trying to stay functional, all that talk is like serving goose liver pate to someone who hasn’t eaten in a month. It can seriously screw them up, when all they really need is some basic nutrition, eaten slowly, so the digestive system has a chance to catch up with itself. If you go too fast, or the food isn’t right, you can do harm.

Not to mention it can sound pretty uncompassionate and clueless about the true nature of certain brands of suffering.

Anyway, enough complaining about that. In my own life, there have been plenty of ups and downs. Bumps in the road. Sinkholes, really. And I’ve spent a lot of time down in the pit. I don’t like to think about it nowadays, but I used to be intensely depressed. A lot. To the point of suicidal thoughts. I didn’t want to live anymore. There didn’t seem to be a point to anything at all. I felt useless and clueless and lost, and I had no idea what the true nature of my difficulties was.

It’s been several years since I felt the kind of desperation and despair that used to pull me down. The last time I seriously considered ending my life, was 3 or 4 years ago, when I found out some things about what was really going on in my marriage. There didn’t seem to be any point to continuing, because being a capable spouse with a loyal partner is a huge part of who I am and how I define myself. When I realized that things were not as I imagined, on both counts, I decided to drive out to a bridge within a day’s drive of me that spans a massive chasm with a river at the bottom. It’s not hard to climb up, and there’s a parking lot at one end, so I could just park my car, leave a note (or not), climb over the railing, and jump to the end of my suffering.

That’s the closest I’d been to actually killing myself, in over 20 years. Back when I was struggling after a couple of automobile accidents (I got rammed two times in the space of a year), I was so low, screwing up on different jobs, lost, dazed, disoriented… I was planning on killing myself by driving head-on into oncoming traffic. I had the location all picked out, not far from my home, where I knew traffic sped up and there was a blind corner that everyone flew around. The health and safety of others in the oncoming cars never occurred to me. I just wanted to end it. Fortunately, I got some help and found people who could help me before I could act on it, but that sense of just wanting everything to be over was very other-worldly. And if I hadn’t gotten the right help at the right time, I wouldn’t be writing this, right now.

Anyway, over the years, severe depression has followed me — often following TBIs… the “mild” kind, no less. The world dramatically under-estimates the impact of mild traumatic brain injuries, just calling them “concussions” and shrugging them off, like they did with those two soccer players in the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Because you can’t see what’s going on inside the skull, they think it’s not that big of a deal. If you can get back up and walk, you’re fine, apparently. And that mindset includes the folks who sustain the TBIs. Because our thinking is addled. Confused. Distorted. And we have about the worst judgment you could ask for — especially when it comes to making decisions about whether to play on, or not.

And for many of us, with all that confusion comes depression. Frustration. Despair. We just don’t know who we are or where we fit, anymore. Likewise, the people around us don’t understand who we are or where we fit, and because their own identities are tied up in their interaction with the person we used to be, they lose part of themselves, when we get hurt.

I believe that’s why so many people abandon folks with TBI — we are all so interconnected, that our identities are tied up in how the people around us are, so when those people change, we lose part of ourselves, as well. We don’t know who we are, anymore. It’s uncomfortable. It’s a scary thing. So, we drift away, rather than hanging in there and finding out who else we may all become, as our lives unfold.

Anyway, I realize I’m really going on, here. I started out wanting to say:

Life throws some tough punches, at times. So, what do we do with the aftermath?

I started this post wanting to explore the ways that we can use our own difficulties and suffering to reach out to others and help them. I guess maybe I am still saying that. Life is a challenge for so many, many people, regardless of how they look on the surface. And sometimes the folks who seem to have it the most “together” are the ones who are carrying the heaviest load of pain and isolation. There’s no isolation like having everyone around you believe — or expect — that everything is fine and cool, and you’re doing just fine… when you feel like you’re dying inside.

For me, it comes down to this — because I know how hard it can be, because I have stood at the brink of my own self-destruction, because I have been through fire after fire, struggled through so many seemingly impossible situations, and I’ve pieced things together for myself, even while the rest of the world refused to see what was going on with me (and still does, in fact)… it makes it all the more possible for me to accept others’ limitations and not jump to conclusions about how capable or “well” they are.

As someone dealing daily with hidden issues that I am either too proud or too busy or too confused to reveal and discuss with others (or even sometimes acknowledge), I can never be positive that the person across from me isn’t in the very same (or similar) situation. It could be, we’re both putting on a good show.

Knowing what I know makes it possible for me to hold my tongue and not lash out, when people are trying to be helpful (and doing a sort of bad job at it). It makes it possible for me to be patient with others who are “under-performing” or aren’t living up to my expectations. It makes it possible for me to see past the scars and disfigurement to see that there is really a person in there who is very likely smarter and more capable than I can imagine, and who has been dealt a rough hand they can’t help but play.

It also makes it possible for me to encourage others to expect more of themselves, to do more with themselves. Sometimes you just have to cut the B.S. and get on with it. There is no point in sitting around feeling sorry for yourself, when there is a whole world out there waiting. And while my experience makes me more patient in some ways, it makes me more IMpatient, in others. Because after all the crap I’ve been through, I know from personal experience just how much is possible, if we get the right information, really apply ourselves, and stop making lame excuses that are just meant to get us off the hook and relieve the pressure, rather than addressing root causes.

It’s a double-edged sword, but it’s a useful one.

And that’s all I will say for now.

Onward.

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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.

2 thoughts on “Making the most of everything you’ve got”

  1. BB, Since my head was jolted in a single person, single car accident that may have been caused my brain condition itself, I have had trouble reading and retaining what I read. This may be the major reason that I elect to read a three paragraphed daily blog as opposed to books that I used to read. Books used to be my refuge for many years….no more, but your blog continues to be enough and/or a psalm of some kind. But I am not going to put any more pressure on self this month at least. This post is excellent. I used to be the person who plowed his way through and believed that any form of giving up was unacceptable. I put so much effort in acting “normal”. I think that I was not as good at it as I had thought and was blind to what people really thought. The effort that I put in covering up was, looking back, unbelievable. How I went from a coma to a classroom showed serious mental toughness, but it was unwise. Then again I was on automatic pilot. A pilot with no clue about the new ship that I was directing. I shouldn’t have tried so hard. It was wrong. Not the refusal of SSI, but my refusal to accept limitations and a new me. But I see now that I was just unaware. I blamed myself for my lack of success as defined by the old me. I had this attitude that “people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be”. A line from Leo Buscaglia that I repeated to myself often. But your post is very well-balanced. Life happens. A quote from Bruce Springsteen- “winners and losers don’t get caught on the wrong side of that line” TBI survivors are often on the wrong side of that line. But the real problem is that we don’t know it. And when we get a glimpse of our injuries, we (or at least me) listen to the people at the check-out line. We have the mindset that we must get on the right side of the line and smile…. be happy and be productive. But we don’t have the proper tools anymore. And if we do, the tools are slightly off. And we think its the nail or the screw. But the answer is not to throw the tools out and quit either. No no no…. I tried that too. It doesn’t work either. The answer, if it exists, is to accept that you have different tools. But the hardest part for me continues to be to accept the carpenter. And to go easy on self in some ways when the world will not. Mangled and destroyed but not defeated. Ok maybe that too, but I’m here and time to start again with little things and to be grateful when I can. I have reason to be grateful, MUCH reason even if I don’t feel it or see it. Peace.

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  2. Measuring ourselves by former standards is a tough one. We all do it, whether it’s related to TBI or not. The trick for me is to figure out how to not give up on what is possible, even while accepting that I sometimes fall short. Some folks call it “falling forward” – where you learn from every failure. But that assumes you have the time and energy to stop and look and learn and take it all in.

    And I don’t always have that. But sometimes I do.

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