There’s a reason I’m different – and doing better than expected

Piecing it all together
Piecing it all together

Last week was a busy one. From what I’ve been told, this is only just the beginning. As soon as I lose track of what day of the week it is, and I can’t recall when I had a conversation with someone, I’m told that will show that I’m officially one of the gang at the office.

A lot goes on there, each and every day. And what happens is very involved and intricate, a world within itself, so you can easily get lost. I have the advantage that I already know what that’s like. I already know how it is to not know where you are or what day it is or when something important happened — and still stay fully functional. So, I figure I’m ahead of the game.

It’s all experience. Just that. Experience. And I’ll be able to put it to good use, on down the line, I’m sure.

Of course, I’m playing along, pretending to be less adjusted than I am. People are surprised that I’m fitting in as well as I am, already. I don’t want to freak them out by showing them just how acclimated I am.

See, this is one of the benefits of learning to live full-on with TBI. In my case, I got used to lack of precision. I’ve gotten comfortable with gray areas. I’ve figured out how to function through the fog and the exhaustion and the frustrations. I’ve learned how to keep from losing my mind in the face of my own persistent limitations and shortcomings, as well as the pathological unhelpfulness of others.

I’ve had to. I didn’t have a choice, if I wanted to live my life. I’m not in a situation (or a country) where I can actually go on public assistance. And my verbal abilities are so remotely disconnected from what is going on in my head, that even if I could get some help, I doubt I would get the right kind at the right time.

People are surprisingly ignorant… dangerously so. And they never think to try harder, because they don’t know enough to realize they don’t know enough.

Living with TBI is one of the loneliest things you can ever experience. Lonely within. Lonely on the outside. Lonely all around. And for those who don’t do well with solitude, it’s like living in one of the lower rings of hell.

Alone.

Fortunately for me, I am fine with solitude. I prefer it, actually. People exhaust me with their poor choices and their complete unwillingness to question those choices or try harder. When I am alone, I can sort out my thoughts and go about my business without criticism or judgment. I used to get down on myself for not doing things the “right” way. Now I’ve give that all up, because I realized that the harder on myself I was, the more energy I was using up — energy I could have used to try again and get it right the next time.

I also made peace with the fact that I usually screw things up royally the first time… which frees me up to make all kinds of mistakes early on, so I can learn from them and get it right the next time.

When you quit judging yourself,  you win back a ton of energy. And you also get to have a lot of good laughs over the course of your adventurous life. In retrospect, shying away from mistakes robbed me of a lot of interesting lessons. And dropping the self-recrimination has been wonderfully freeing.

The other thing it does for me, is get me out of the fight-flight cycles that I used to use to keep myself going. My brain gets tired and then it gets foggy, and I turn into a smaller version of the Hulk, so keeping my brain sharp has been an imperative for me, lo these many years.

And nothing does it quite so well as adrenaline that comes from The Fight.

The only thing is, the long-term stress of fight-flight running my system is actually really bad for my overall functioning, so in the end it isn’t quite the silver bullet I always thought it was. I was instinctively seeking out and creating situations that would demand more of me than I thought I had… but it was taking a toll. It was really stripping the paint off my peace of mind.

So, I had to stop that. I had to get in the habit of just going to bed when I was tired, and slowing down my system when it was thrown out of whack.

My autonomic nervous system (ANS) — the system that moderates our fight-flight as well as our rest-digest — needed a tune-up. So, I’ve really been concentrating on that for the past number or years. Sometimes I would lose sight of it for months on end and not do anything with my breathing or heart rate. But I would always come back to it — and feel stronger than before.

Which is good. Especially since I continued to learn what to do with that strength.

So, the busy schedule and fatigue aside, I am doing quite well. I have my down days, and I have my up days, and all the while I keep coming back to a place where I am steady and solid. That’s because of my ANS work, actively slowing down my system with intentional action and deliberate choices.

And on top of it, the lack of psychopharmaceuticals has probably been very beneficial. Rather than masking the symptoms of my issues, I’ve been forced to deal with them head-on, so to speak. And the results have amazed the people around me. I’m not the same person as I was, 8 years ago. People notice this. At least, the ones that are still around after all this time, do.

More than handling TBI with psychotherapy and meds, I’ve had a strong focus on my physical fitness. Exercise has done wonders to level things out for me, and eating the right foods has helped, as well. I take a full-system approach to my recovery, and I use my cognitive state as a barometer to see how I’m doing.

Not all days are stellar, to be sure. But they’re a hell of a lot better than they were for most of my life. I’m here now. I’m actually here. And that’s pretty cool.

Speaking of being here, I’m about to be not-here. It’s time for my Sunday morning walk.

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.

4 thoughts on “There’s a reason I’m different – and doing better than expected”

  1. It can happen. It takes an unwavering commitment to get there, to do the work, to keep the faith, and to continue to learn and grow. Your support means everything – sometimes just being there without doing anything at all is enough. Stay strong. Take care of yourself. TBI never affects only one person.

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