How long does it take to get back? As long as it takes.

You just gotta keep going till you've covered all the bases
You just gotta keep going till you’ve covered all the bases

I’ve been out of the loop here for a few days — for good reason. I have been working on a side project at work that will help me do my job. Basically, I’m building my “secret weapon” for understanding the work I do. I’m developing my own assistive technology.

Everybody needs some help, now and then, and in my case, I am keenly aware of needing help in a particular area of my day-to-day job. Basically, I have to look at information all day. Data. Statistics. Numbers and letters and strings of them all put together in a certain order. And then I need to understand what they are actually saying. The world we live in is increasingly “data-driven”, as they say. And at my work, especially. Basically, while they line up the company to get acquired in a few months, all spending on anything at all has stopped.That includes office supplies, food purchased by managers, awards… and projects. There’s a hiring freeze on, except for the most critical positions. And any work that gets done has to have a sound reason for getting done.

That means, in order to do things, you need to have data to back you up. You can’t just say, “Hey, let’s try this! Gather the troops and let’s get workin’ on it!” You have to produce evidence that says, “We have a real need for this to happen, and it’s costing us this much money, if we don’t do something about it.”

The key to management’s heart is data — the key to everyone’s heart, really. I’ve learned in the last three months that you can’t just show up and say, “I have a hunch.” You have to arrive with evidence and compelling logic in hand.

Or your work isn’t going to get done. You’re not going to get it approved by management, and you’re not going to get anybody to work on it with (or for) you.

So, instead of going blind over looking at tens of thousands of rows of data, and making myself crazy with coming up with a way to pull out only the few thousand lines I really care about, I’ve been building a tool that will take a file of tens of thousands of lines, and turn it into a visual. It color codes the information so it jumps out at me. That way, I can see the patterns that actually matter, and I have a starting point that lets me dig into the areas that are worth it.

Trying to find meaningful information in the midst of all the data I have, is like playing football at the park with a bunch of friends on Thanksgiving, and afterwards when you get to your car, you realize you dropped your keys on the field. It’s getting dark, you can’t walk back to the house, and you don’t have another set of keys.  So, you have to walk around the field looking for those keys.

That’s how my job is — I’m looking for needles in the haystack. I’m looking for my car keys in the middle of a big park, while it’s getting dark. I’m screwed.

Except that now — metaphorically — I have a metal detector. And it’s not just any metal detector. It’s industrial strength, incredibly powerful, and it’s also automated. I don’t even need to walk out in that metaphorical field to find my keys. The detector that I’ve built is like a roomba that goes out on its own and covers every inch of the field on its own, not stopping till it finds my keys. And then it brings them back to me.

That’s the kind of tool I’ve been building, and it’s pretty friggin’ awesome. It doesn’t need to do everything for me. It just needs to find the patterns I need. And it does just that.

I got it working late on Wednesday, and now that I took a day off, I’m going to put the finishing touches on it, test it fully, and get ready to demo it for my team next week.

I’m pretty stoked.

First off, this tool is a short-cut through masses of data that literally exhaust me to work with. This tool will allow me to narrow my focus and not concern myself with the mountains of irrelevant information that just gets in the way. It’s going to save me time — and a ton of energy, letting me use literally half as much energy as I used to. Possibly even less. I’ve been pretty wiped out by my job, truth to tell, and this tool will allow me to fix some of that.

Second, it’s evidence that my brain is getting back on track in important ways. I haven’t been able to code like this in over ten years, and that’s been pretty devastating to my sense of self. I used to be able to whip up programs and scripts in no time and crank things out very cleanly. Since my fall in 2004, I’ve been muddling through.

This program I’ve written is a variation on that theme. It’s been a very uneven process. I’ve been like walking down a path on a cool fall morning. One minute, things are clear and I can see the path forward plain as day. The next, I’m encased in fog, and I cannot figure out what to do. It’s been stop-and-go for over a week, since I started working at this thing, and there have been many times when I just wanted to drop the whole thing and walk away, because it was all way too much.

So, I took breaks. I stopped and started. Every time I went back to the tens of thousands of lines of data, I realized I couldn’t go on without this tool. It was just too much for me.

It’s not the prettiest thing in the world, but it has all the proper logic behind it, the necessary flow, the step-by-step breakdowns of what it’s supposed to do. It’s taken me a lot longer to put together, than it probably would have, before my fall. But screw it — it works. And it does its job beautifully.

Plus by the time I’ve put the finishing touches on it, it will do it all even more beautifully.

I just need to know when to stop.

I just need to know when to trust myself that good enough is good enough, and I can just use what I’ve built to do my job.

It’s taken me 11 years to get to this point — perhaps even longer. Looking back on my life immediately prior to my fall in 2004, I realize that I was a “hot mess”, as some of my friends say. I was anxious and freaked out and constantly stressed. I had so many issues that I’d accumulated from numerous TBIs, and all of them remained unaddressed — and probably made worse by people who thought that my problems were emotional.

Everybody’s got their emotional “baggage”, but my real problem was with executive functioning and managing all the issues I had from at least 9 mild TBIs over the course of my life. Add to that a very non-verbal thinking style (I’m really more visual, despite writing so much on this blog), while the rest of the world expects you to think and communicate and interact verbally, and you’ve got yourself a potent combo for … issues.

Getting the information I need about how to move forward has been a life-saver. And I’ve been working so hard at getting functional again — getting to a level where I’m actually comfortable — that it’s been pretty discouraging at times. It’s been stop and go, touch and go. I’d feel like I was making so much progress and getting so clear, then something else would come up and knock me back down. I’d end up in the fog again… just when everything was seeming so clear.

But like with my program, I’ve always gotten back to the work of getting myself back on track.

And over time, it’s paid off. It’s taken years. And to be honest, I often still don’t feel like my old self. But I have this new self — a stranger whose clothes and shoes seem to fit me, and whose life is one I can lead pretty effectively. And that has to be good enough.

I’m not really sure if I’ll ever get back to where I want to be. And in all honesty, I’m not sure I can even remember where that was, or exactly how I was before. It’s all kind of jumbled up in my head. But for now, everything seems to be coming together pretty well. Bit by bit, piece by piece, it’s coming back.



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 “How long does it take to get back? As long as it takes.”

  1. Your blog helped me come to grip with those years 91-94, when I slowly came to life. Again, I can not blame anyone for missing my diagnosis because I had already suffered from serious depression and could check off every type of abuse that keen social workers or therapists asked about directly. When I think about the whole 90’s I am in disbelief at how I made it and how fortunate I was to find Beverly Hills Medical Center (while technically homeless) DD Hirsch, (1992)- excelsior house/jump street- UCLA Harbor Doctors and then a very good Doctor L. from Kaiser in Southern CA. I have two relatives who have both had serious brain injuries- I’m not sure if either one of them had seizures on-going and or found themselves in minimum consciousness to coma for 2-3 days. My brother had serious brain surgery and seemed to never have lost this sense of self or his judgment or be plagued with sensory issues. My nephew who took a serious fall a few months ago, had to have the pressure in his head relieved. He lost his sense of smell and is slowly getting it back, but neither can he relate to the symptoms that ruined my 30’s. On BB’s blog I found the descriptions that most resemble my lingering deficits and the experience of brain injury. I used to read and support his work through readership and wanted to back especially the soldiers who come back and have these subtle problems and/or PTSD, but are seen by others as cases like “you have really lost your morals or judgment since the war” “we want the old you back”. I can remember one sister telling me “you lost the light in your eye”. Didn’t she know that I would have wanted it on if I knew how to turn it on. That behind my façade I hated what my life had become. Yes, depression is real and major depression can cause many problems even death by suicide. I still have a few hours each day when I am not fatigued. I just raked leaves and can think well as I write this. Its been said that I brought shame to my people. And I know that my life got very messy, but nobody would tell me in what way. So, my late father, co-workers and even therapists and doctors in the end would use sarcasm that I never really got fully. How is one to make necessary changes if one does not understand communication? Why were they all mad at me? I realized 0 dreams in my post coma state, barely functioned as teacher. Had very little success dating because of my “aloofness” or awkward behaviors because I had forgotten. But time improved everything and even though my daughter’s half-sister cried after watching “I am Sam” and she said that she cried because I reminded her of Sam. (I don’t like that “half” stuff cause they were full-sisters, but for the purpose of describing the ties to me even though in my heart I saw them as equal. I became the best actor that ever lived, but was fooled for years by sarcasm and non-verbal cues that I studied mercilessly. In late nineties I was comfortable with much of who I had become although often wondered when I traded my ski magazine subscription for books on philosophy and mental illness. And why did my brain get so tired so easily? BB points out well “the cumulative factor” I was a very aggressive skier from age nine and had serious wipeouts through the “glades” at Mad River Glen- once hitting a tree and being dazed all day. I also was the shy type that bullies thought they could pick-on. But I was a surprise to them and did very well in fights. This is no point of pride. I speak facts of my life. Twice, after being called out, I made the bully pay in self-defense. Once afterward, in a strange small town, the police while handcuffing the two of us, allowed the beaten townie to hit me square in the face. I was dazed all day. The police told me in the car that the guy I had fought was well-known in the town with power and he was sorry for allowing it to happen. He also said that it was about time that guy got a whooping. Another time, I was thrown down steps after winning a fight, by the losers friends. I did not start that and hate fights. But that time I woke up the next day in a field. I saw the marks in the dry dirt, I had been drug there. Treated at Univ. of Penna and released on concussion watch. In the 90’s my Jetta was totaled in an accident with a lady in a rental car with an international driver’s license. I hit my head and was dazed and taken in ambulance- the other driver was not as lucky. 7-10 years I hit my head while totaling a Volvo. Ran into a tree after sliding off the garden state parkway on wet road. Not easy to bend frame on a Volvo. I have also had seizures while sleeping and have fallen from bed and have woken across the room. But nobody cares about this history. And I could not tell it when I needed to. I did not see the relation to loss of self and constant brain fatigue after two hours. My initial diagnosis while, while in part valid, did not account for my whole story at all. Stigma was what I carried for twenty-five plus years. And because my IQ actually got higher years later, I was thought by some to be a con artist. Most con artists have a goal. What was mine? to live in Santa Monica park or the excelsior house. To turn off potential mates? To stop a strong worth ethic and work that gave me joy. To be “squirrely” like an adolescent as one principal told me in mid 90’s. But the stigma of depression, much less, brain injury-postconcussive syndrome, is far reaching. My only daughter. The one who gave me motivation to keep on going, has been gone now for about 2 months. I doubt that I will be reading this blog much anymore, but thank you. Vets, ex-athletes, and accident or acquired brain disordered people all thank you for your work. I feel that I just lost the most important battle of my life. My daughter deserved more like me in her last months. She refused professional help and the day before she died; she told me that she hated labels, that they were unfair. mTBI or ptsd or depression severe survivors are not creepy or lazy, they are hurt.
    Parents who lose their kids at 22 are also in unimaginable pain. Peace to you BB and your readers.


  2. Oh, man, I am so sorry to hear of your loss. Your daughter was the one bright light in your life, if I remember, and now…

    There are no words to say.

    I haven’t been a religious person for over 10 years, now, but I will say a prayer for you and your daughter’s soul and spirit.

    May she rest in peace, and may you find peace – wherever you can.


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