Being okay with not being okay

flooded lake
This is what my life sometimes seems like. Flooded – just flooded – with too many problems, and no clear path forward

I talked yesterday about how trial and error is a great way for me to “feel” my way through life. I learn a lot in the process, and if I can just stay flexible and adapt, then I’m good.

The thing is, it’s incredibly hard.

I have no problem making errors. That comes with the territory of being me. It seems to be my “default mode” — and I used to get so much crap for it, when I was a kid, because I was always messing up things that should have been so easy for me. Everybody expected more of me, and I consistently let them down.

That was maybe the one and only way I was consistent — I let people down, when their hopes were highest.

My parents who believed that paper route would teach me responsibility and reliability, only to watch me fall behind, mess up the math on how many papers I needed, and not get out of bed early enough on Sunday mornings to deliver the paper at the pre-ordained time.

The teacher who ran the school newspaper who was so sure I’d make a great sports reporter, only to have me start one story after another, and never finish it, growing surly and defiant when they pressed me to meet the deadlines.

The editor of a local newspaper who was so happy to have me on board, at first, then grew frustrated at how I could never seem to come to a succinct point in newspaper format (my pieces went on for pages, and I still never got to the point).

All the bosses over the course of 20 years who saw so much potential in me, only to be disappointed by one “careless” error after another, dealing with my uncooperative style, and ultimately finding me insubordinate when they pushed me to perform, and I pushed back.

I’ve long believed there was something wrong with me, for not being able to perform at the level everyone else did so easily. The really hard stuff, I could do — staying calm in a tense situation, finding creative solutions for problems that stumped everyone else. But the easy stuff — just staying on schedule, being consistent, having a good collaborative working style, and being a solid team player… that was such a challenge for me.

Everyone else could do it. Why couldn’t I?

And I felt terrible about it for years and years. Decades, really. Just terrible.

Until one day I decided there wasn’t any point to that, anymore. I think that change happened three or four years ago, when I read a book about how the human system is designed to take in feedback and adjust. So, all the “failures” and “mistakes” were actually just feedback intended for me to use and apply in my own life. It wasn’t about black-and-white success/failure. It was about data. Information. New details that I needed, in order to really do a bang-up job on what I was undertaking.

And it made sense to me. I mean, think about it — when you’re born, you don’t know how to walk and talk. You have to learn it from scratch. You don’t come into the world like a laptop from a computer company. You don’t come “pre-loaded” with everything already up and running and properly configured. You have to learn. You have to acquire the skills. You have to gather information and work on your abilities. And if you push yourself to try things you have yet to learn completely, you’re going to make mistakes. You need to learn.

“Mistakes” are how we learn. It’s how we get new information that guides us in a different direction. It’s how we alter the course of our days, weeks, months… our lives.

When I got that through my thick skull (which is actually thicker than usual – my family has dense bones, which is fortunate for us all), everything changed. Everything opened up.  I was free to fail! I was free to live my life! Woot!

Then the details of the book slipped my mind, and I went back to “rigid mode” where I got upset about screwing up, all over again. Because that’s what I knew. That was my old default mode.

With TBI, I think it’s very common for us to be rigid and get certain ideas stuck in our minds. We have A WAY THINGS ARE DONE, and we get stuck in that rut, thinking it’s THE ONLY WAY THINGS ARE DONE. We don’t want to mess up. We want to be successful, so we cling to THE WAY we think we should be using.

Over. And over. And over again.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I do that all the time, and I get so frustrated when it’s clearly not working. First I get frustrated because it’s not working, no matter how often I do it. Then I get frustrated because I forgot — yet again — that I’m too rigid, at times. I get stuck in a rut, and I get upset with myself.

But really, it’s all just lessons. And it’s all just reminders.

And if I can not get all caught up in beating myself up over it, and being hard on myself, these are actually really useful lessons. More lessons. Tons of them. In abundance.

Really, the only thing that can go “wrong” is if I overlook that, get stuck in a rigid mindset, and refuse to learn.

Fortunately, life has a way of reminding me of what I need to know.

And if I can be okay with not being okay — for however long it takes me to figure things out — then I’m good to go.


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 “Being okay with not being okay”

  1. Hmm, sometimes I really connect with a post. Today is one of those days. I tend to be very good at starting projects and I am able to be calm in high pressure situations and come up with creative solutions. I tend not to volunteer for activities that are long term or require a lot of micromanaging because I will have checked out of the project before it is completed. I know my strength is to come in and troubleshoot. I am a great second lead and not first as I don’t mind being the one who handles last minute, very short term problems and situations. In other words a good starter or a good closer, but not good at all for the middle of the project at hand. It ticks others off, but I know myself and I am honest at the get-go about how I am best able to help out in a project. And the thing is that I’m okay with not having it “perfect.” I truly believe there are lots of experiences and activities and tasks that just need to be “good enough.” That makes others unhappy with me too because they think I should care enough to take on the big things and make or perfect. I just don’t have that priority when it take a team effort but not everyone is pulling their weight.

    Anyways, with regards to the TBI impact on being okay for my kid, it’s been huge! She used to be such a perfectionist, but then post-injury she just didn’t have the attention span, processing speed, endurance, or energy. It helped her re-prioritize. I am so thrilled that family is a top priority, along with learning and living a life of integrity, even if it is not popular the choices that need to be made. Having the TBI helped her cut through a lot (LOT!) of the BS that happens at the middle school age–so glad we don’t have to go through that like so many of my peers with their kids (tho’ I still have another kid and may go that path anyways at some point, unless she is learning from her sister to avoid the “drama”).

    Great post! Have a great weekend!


  2. Thank you. It’s great that you know who you are and how you work best. There’s no sense in trying to shoe-horn yourself into other roles that are less productive and less satisfying. People will always find a reason to be ticked off — you’ve just done them a favor by making it easier for them 😉

    Have a great weekend, yourself.


  3. Your post hit a small part of me that I’ve been fighting. Once things go wrong financially in my life, I become negative then I become numb. But not broken. Then I start to believe that this is how it is for me. I work hard, I move up fairly quickly but I fall slowly…a dreadful slow fall feels everlasting. I ask myself; is it me? Or just karma not finished with me? But after months of spiraling down…I find myself reaching for the light again. There are times I feel like a complicated person.
    Thanks for the post. And good luck on your journey. Have a cool, calm and collected weekend.


  4. Thank you very much. Financial changes are so hard to navigate, at times. I hope you turn the corner in a positive way, again – it’s always possible!

    Good luck to you, too, and have a wonderful weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

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