Retrieving my past, making peace with my present

footprint in sand with wave coming near
We all leave our own individual tracks

I’ve been on a bit of an emotional “tear”, lately. I hate when this happens, but now that spring is (finally) here and people are coming out of hibernation, I’m interacting with more people these days, than I have in a long time.

I’m also in contact with my parents more, which is a fairly complex undertaking, at times.

And it brings up all kinds of “old stuff”, which is a pain in the neck. Things like my parents’ disappointment in how I turned out, compared to my other siblings. I went my own way in the world — partly because I wanted to, partly because I repeatedly failed at doing things the way they were expected — and they’ve never quite made peace with it.

Case in point: I never graduated from college. I went for 4 years, and I did pretty well while I was there. But my exciting life (including trouble with the law and a series of mild TBIs from car accidents) got the better of me, and I couldn’t organize myself well enough to finish. My parents never quite forgave me for that, even though I’ve been extremely successful in my chosen profession, I’ve done a fantastic job of providing for my household, and I’m a valued member of my community.

Just the other week, after all these years, my father was giving me a hard time for not finishing school. As though that’s the only measure of my worth or ability to perform.

I know he’s not in the minority in that. The whole world seems to think that a college degree confers brilliance upon its owner — or at least basic competency. And if you don’t have that degree, you’re considered less-than. I get that all the time, when I’m job-hunting. And I’m wondering how long till the rope runs out on me, and I can’t actually GET a job, because I have no degree. It could happen. I just hope it doesn’t happen anytime soon. I have plenty more life to live, before I have to give it all up because I can’t get a job that pays more than minimum wage.

And that really cuts into my self-esteem. Being able to provide for my household is one of the biggest aspects of my self-image, and when I was struggling with holding down a job, it was brutal. It’s not optional for me, and I’ll go to any lengths, do just about any job, in order to keep our standard of living where I believe it should be. So, I’ve done what’s necessary. I’ve acquired skills, worked my ass off, really plowed through every conceivable obstacle to get where I am, today.

And I’ve done all this with a history of multiple mild TBIs that seemed to cut me down at every turn, when I was growing up, and then again when I was an adult and at critical turning points in my life.

Funny, how that works. Not ha-ha funny, but ironic. Weirdly ironic. Just when I’m about to turn a corner and really kick it into high gear… I get into a car accident, I fall down some stairs, I hit my head. Something.

Of course, looking back, it makes sense to me, now. Those times when I was about to turn a corner, I was so focused on turning that corner, that I failed to notice the hazards in my life. I can get extremely focused on My Main Goal, to the point where I block everything else out, and I go on auto-pilot. So, I can’t blame the world for my misfortunes. I’ve played a role in many of them.

But still, I do get a little tired of being lectured about not living up to my potential. I know I haven’t done that as well as I want, and it really burns. It aches. It tears me up inside. And there’s nothing I can do about the past.

But I have my present — which is really just a pale shadow of what I wished it would become, once upon a time. If I hadn’t gotten hurt regularly, when I was younger — a fresh concussion every other year or so, sometimes two of them within a few months of each other — I might have had more of a fighting chance. But what’s done is done.

And now I need to focus on the positives and keep myself moving forward, using everything I’ve lost, every hardship I’ve experienced, for the good.

Because, to be honest, this motivates me. All the missed opportunities, the screw-ups, the failures… they motivate me. Because I don’t want to do them again. I need to get back on the horse and try again. I need to keep going, keep moving forward in my life, keep looking for ways to contribute. I may not be in the top-flight leadership position I always expected to be in, oneday, but I can do my part in the place where I am right here, right now.

And there are advantages that I have, thanks to my concussion history. I have the advantage of knowing how capable I am at recovering. I have the advantage of knowing how concussion works, how it affects you, and what you can do to overcome it. I have the advantage of on-the-ground, hands-on life experience with TBI recovery, which is a far sight more than a lot of rehab professionals have. I have an insider’s view, and I’m able to articulate that to others who may need to hear about these things.

So, my experience is good for something.

And I have to wonder if maybe my distance from the standard-issue path to social acceptability and respect may actually work in my favor. Because I haven’t been in the mainstream as a fully-vested participant (I do a great impression of somebody with skin in that game, but I honestly don’t have the energy to play a leading role), my thought patterns haven’t been overtaken by the status quo. I’m always the outsider, in so many things, and that gives me a creative edge, as well as a motivational edge.

Because popularity and success and public acclaim haven’t been lavished on me, I haven’t been corrupted by those influences. And that’s a plus. Especially when it comes to talking about things as eclectic and as misunderstood as mild TBI. I have no investment in sticking with a party line, and I have no use for the usual platitudes and prejudices that seem to run the world.

All in all, I think I have plenty to be proud of. And when I look at my past and present through the lens of appreciating what all I’ve had to overcome (which my parents and most people will never begin to understand), it really eases the burn of all the disapproval, all the lectures, all the marginalization.

I have my life. And I’ve got a lot to be thankful for. I can never lose sight of that.


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.

6 thoughts on “Retrieving my past, making peace with my present”

  1. Thanks for sharing. It’s been twenty-nine years since I sustained my TBI and I’m just beginning to accept, and respect, my injury. After reading your post, I am inspired by your insight, your articulation and your self-acceptance.

    My husband and I are in the process of moving our young household two miles away from where we are now located and, I’m allowing myself to take a neurofatigue break (as soon as I’m finished with my comments!). Please keep sharing. I look forward to reading more.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. OK, I have a story from a few years ago. A person I got to know rose up the ranks at a government contractor from working the loading dock to become a VP and division head. He had a nice home, large family, etc. The company gets taken over, and he is immediately fired because he didn’t have a degree. Eventually, he because a housepainter and letter carrier for the USPS at a small fraction of his former income. It happens.

    Does the diploma provide a measure of self-worth? No. But we’re in an age in which computers read resumes before people do. Without certain keywords, the resume is bounced before a human ever sees it.

    We’re also in an age in which the jobs in high demand require specific technical skills. “Generalists” have less value, and there are fewer positions and lower salaries. Once you turn 50, you may not be employable. A lot of people past that age are scrambling to find second careers. That’s why there are so many insurance agents struggling to make $25,000 a year.

    There’s nothing to stop you from signing up for online classes to finish your degree. Some of the credits for work you completed may transfer, and there may be some credit for life experiences as well. You may find completing a degree at this time to be a very different experience. There are a lot of older students now; you’ll have lots of company.

    So, it’s not about arguing with your father; it’s about your future and what you want to do. (And what happens if your spouse become disabled?)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great column. Im proud of you and Im just a reader who has been on the journey with you. Do your parents know that ‘mild’ tbi has consequences that are far from mild? Do they know it’s called the hero’s journey? Do they know that with damage to executive functions there are things we cannot do, no matter how intelligent? Have they seen research of inability for students with executive function loss to succeed at university? One reason being their deficits, another the unwillingness of lecturers to understand or make allowances for this kind of disability? Like you I have experienced parents unwillingness to accept how I am, or make any allowances for me. They just have no idea how much we have faced and how well we have done with the equipment we now have. We have pluses – we can see things others cannot see because we are free of the sophistry and as you say the platitudes etc. Thanks MMD too. Im 16 years how, it is always good to hear from people who have been there for longer. I am too, beginning to be able to say, this is the way I am now. Take me as I am, and by the way I have neurofatigue and am taking a break 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for the info and thoughts. My spouse actually is disabled, so I already know the answer to that. I have a lot of experience in my field, and I do have pretty good prospects, in terms of the job market where I live. I’m a seasoned technical person in a field filled with unseasoned (and unfit) “tech serfs”. So, I’m actually in pretty good shape, job-wise.

    It’s the fact that my contributions and achievements aren’t recognized by the people closest to me, that’s the issue. A lot of people in the world outside my family actually do know my worth. I just live in a very different world from my parents, so of course they’re not going to understand.

    So, I should really not expect much else.

    And you’re right about the degree business. I could probably finish up in a couple of years, if I had the money. I just haven’t had the available thousands of dollars, and I still don’t. (The house needs some repairs, and I have to keep at least one month’s living expenses as a safety net.) Also, time and energy. At the rate I run out of energy, it’s going to take longer than a few years to get my degree. And by then, it’ll be time to retire. So…


  5. Thanks very much for your kind words. No, my parents don’t really know much about any of this. I did tell them about my TBIs, years ago, but they seem to have forgotten all about it. The very thought of a “brain injury” freaks them out, and they stop listening.

    I guess it’s probably a good idea to not dedicate so much energy to “cursing the darkness” of others’ willful ignorance, and just get on with creating my own life on my own terms. My whole family refuses to see what I’ve been through and what I’ve overcome. Either they think I could never recover from what I’ve described… or they can’t believe it was ever that bad, if I’ve recovered as well as I have.

    But that’s not really my problem, I suppose. I have a life to live, things to accomplish, and there’s important work to be done with and for people like us. We need help, and I’m determined to help provide that to others who are struggling.

    What motivates me, is what I can give — not what I can get. I’ve always been that way, and I’m not going to stop, anytime soon.

    Thank you again for your words of encouragement. What you’ve said is a great reminder.


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