Back when I fell in 2004, I was positive it wasn’t going to bother me.
So I hit the back of my head on those stairs. So what?
So I was having trouble sleeping, and I had “anger issues”. What did that have to do with anything?
Well, I found out.
Over the course of months (and years), I progressively lost my capacity to perform at the level I’d been at before. I couldn’t interact effectively with people at work. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, and I couldn’t make myself understood. I couldn’t hold my attention on anything for more than a few minutes. I couldn’t learn the things I needed to learn — and my job as a programmer was really all about learning.
I was crazy-impulsive, and I couldn’t seem to keep anything straight in my head. I bounced from job to job, progressively becoming less and less able to function, increasingly unable to even conceptualize how to program.
All the things I’d done almost for 15 years were suddenly a big-ass mystery to me, and I was lost… lost I tell you.
So, I changed direction. I moved into different types of work. Less programming. More project oversight. Project management. More people, less machines.
And it was fine for a while. It was actually really good for me. For four years, I worked with an international group of team members all across the globe, coordinating their work on most of the continents. I did all kinds of conference calls, trainings, projects, you name it. If people were involved, I did it. And there was less and less actual programming involved.
I did some things on my own, and some of what I did was pretty cool. But my thought process was convoluted, and looking at the code now, I’m surprised any of it actually ran. It ran, but I also ran out of steam before I could refine and finish my concepts. It was demoralizing, too. Because I’d get so tired — mentally tired — with all the work. I couldn’t keep going on the things I used to love the most. And I couldn’t seem to keep up on my skills.
That persisted for a number of years. I tried to get back into the programming world about 5 years back, but when I interviewed and people saw how I coded, they actually laughed at me. I was a has-been. Washed up. I couldn’t hold my head up. I could only scurry back to my corner and stay in my non-programming domain.
Lately, however, something has changed. It’s shifted. It’s actually taken a dramatic turn for the better. And all of a sudden, programming makes sense to me. Stuff that used to confuse and frustrate me… it doesn’t anymore. I find I can actually concentrate for extended periods of time, which is key and critical for this kind of work. I don’t lose my temper as quickly, I don’t give up as quickly. I can keep going, keep analyzing, keep working at problems I need to solve. And that’s a huge change for me.
It’s a change I was not expecting.
I had pretty much given up, to be honest. I had abandoned the idea of ever being able to seriously program again. Making up my own personal projects, where I able to move at my own pace, was one thing. Being an industrial-strength developer again, where I could crank out professional-grade code… that was something very different.
Now, though, I find myself more and more able to handle the extended process of deep thought and learning that was once so much a part of my daily life. I find myself more and more able to keep calm in the face of adversity and think rationally through sticky quandaries that used to stump and frustrate me. It’s a very different feel — a very different situation — a qualitatively different sense, compared to where I was, just a few years ago.
So, yeah — life after TBI does change. It improves. It shifts. It has plenty of surprises. Not everyone has the same experience, of course. Some people recover much more quickly than I have. Others not as quickly. Some never get back to where they want to be, while others may hardly notice a difference in their lives after head trauma. It’s always different from person to person. But every now and then, commonalities appear.
And that’s what we have to focus on – our commonalities, so we can learn from each other.
Problems after TBI are rife and rampant. We have tons of them, in fact.
We just have to keep going, to get to the other side — whatever “side” that may be for us.