Keep it simple. Or else…

I’m discovering an interesting phenomenon with this blog… that correlates with other facets of my eventful life:

The tendency to complicate things and overwhelm myself. I am naturally inclined to break things down into little tiny pieces and focus on those individual pieces so intently, that the sum total becomes vastly complex, and I get overwhelmed with all the detail.

For example, I started this blog with the simple intention of recording my daily experiences as an MTBI survivor. Just to tell about what it’s like, so others can see how it is to live with a broken brain that doesn’t do justice to their brilliant mind.

Pretty soon, I feeling like I wasn’t offering enough “quality content” and I got caught up in doing all sorts of research and reading and going off on tangents to try to better understand something I was writing about. Comprehension and deeper understanding are admirable goals. All good, right?

Not so much. Because after a while, I started to lose track of what I was trying to do/say. And I ended up getting down on myself for losing my way. My brain couldn’t keep up with my mind, and I ended up in a vicious loop of diminishing effectiveness.

I go through this process with planning. I do it with doing. I do it with everything, from understanding personal relationship issues to parking the car. I get all enthused and discombobulated and turned around and swamped and confused and upset and discouraged with myself, and it takes a toll on my self-esteem. But then I regroup and figure out how to move forward, by breaking down steps into little tiny pieces and doing each one properly. But I need to be able to discern what is a reasonable level of complexity to indulge.

Here’s how the loop goes, in linear terms:

  1. I decide on a simple goal (recording my daily TBI-related experiences)
  2. I start work on that goal
  3. I make good progress, right out of the gate (I posted a whole bunch of stuff and found good info to share)
  4. I start thinking about how I can take it to the next level (I looked at some of my past posts and thought about what more I needed to know/say about them)
  5. I identify a bunch of different tangents to explore (TBI experiences, returning Iraqi vets’ experiences, more details on symptoms, medical research, psychological research, all sorts of research…)
  6. I go off on a tangent and explore that (I start reading up on impaired self-assessment)
  7. I get pulled into reading about other tangents (I start reading up on sleep deprivation, PTSD, military policy, alternative cognitive rehabilitation, alternative healing, complimentary healing modalities… etc.)
  8. I take notes and make outlines of what I want to write (I outlined at least three separate pieces I want to work on and identified various projects that move me.
  9. I get all motivated and fly into action on a handful of these things (I created of my headache journal, with several versions available, not only as PDFs but as coil-bound books, as well)
  10. I think about everything else that needs to be done, and I get overwhelmed with all the work involved (promoting my projects is a full-time job in itself).
  11. I get swamped by the details (I have pages and pages of planning, all of it accurate, all of it necessary, all of it overwhelming).
  12. I get stopped. I can’t ask for help, because by the time I get to a place where I’m stopped, my brain has become so immersed and inundated and absorbed in the details, that articulating any of it to an outside party is just beyond my abilities (I can’t even begin to explain to someone how things are supposed to work — to do that, I’d have to start at the beginning, and that’s so far back, I can’t remember anymore where I started, exactly).
  13. I have to take a break and go off and do something else for a while (I start other projects that motivate me, often with a completely different focus and using a different part of my brain — like drawing or programming).
  14. I start into this same cycle with these new projects, eventually get stopped with them, and then end up with a backlog of all this stuff I’ve started, but haven’t finished (I don’t just have articles I haven’t written, I have headache journals I haven’t properly promoted, I have artwork I need to have scanned, I have hobbies I would like to pursue… none of which are taken to fruition)l.
  15. I look back on my list of things I intended to accomplish, and I feel horrible about it all. I get down on myself, get stressed, get angry, get frustrated, get cruel with my brain… all the while conveniently forgetting that my cerebrum was compromised several times, once upon a time, and I can’t realistically expect it to do everything. For that matter, I can’t expect anyone to do everything I set out to do. There’ s just not enough time in the day, and until I have a full staff or can find someone to help me — with whom I can communicate — I’m going to have to scale back what I’m doing. Big time.
  16. Then I need to take more time off to recap, regroup, reprioritize, and see what I can reasonably expect to get done, so I can feel good about my progress and not be stopped anymore (I take some serious time away, do some “light” reading and/or distract myself with working in the yard, till I feel better… then I pull out all my notes from projects I’ve started, I work down through their status, and I pick out the ones that are closest to being done — the “low-hanging fruit”.)
  17. When I’m all sorted out and my projects are prioritized again, I make my list of things I need to do to complete each one, and I make “punchlists” of items, so I have some guidelines to keep me on track (I collect all my notes in 3-ring binders of multiple sizes, and I keep the notes for individual projects grouped together).
  18. I then take things one at a time and walk through each item, till it gets done. True, being systematic and logical about things is a lot less invigorating than flying into action and “losing myself” in a task. But it actually allows me to make progress.
  19. I try to build in some sort of rewards system for myself, so that when I actually complete something (I have very important projects still going on, that have been start-stall-stop for years on end) I can celebrate… and relax. Take the pressure off. I’m still trying to figure out what those rewards are. Actually, making money is the reward I crave most. So, all my projects need to be money-makers, or I’m just not content.

I really need to be careful that I don’t overwhelm myself. When I do, everything stops. And I have to take a break and regroup. Which works on myself-esteem and makes me feel like I’m “behind”. I haven’t posted to this blog… I haven’t done my chores… I haven’t done this… I haven’t done that… The string of recriminations is just endless. And it works on my self-esteem, because I’m so deep into my work that I can’t see outside myself and I can’t perceive that I’m really in need of a break.

But I have to remind myself that when I take time off to regroup, I’m not actually “behind.” I’m just taking a breather. So I can return and get back in the saddle again. And I need to cut myself some slack.

So, that’s what I’m working on. Ideally, in the 19 steps above, I would really start around step 17 and plan everything out up front. The problem is, when I’m heavily planned and “project-managed”, I lose a lot of my drive and my motivation. I need to engage my heart and my spirit, not just my head. Getting the two together is a huge challenge. But once I figure it out (I’m still working on it), I suspect the sky will be the limit.

Getting up early…

I’ve been having some issues with waking up early, again. I’ve been waking up at 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. Sometimes on the same day, sometimes in the same week. If I can sleep till 7:00, it’s a miracle. 5:00 a.m. seems to be the magic hour, these days. I’ll wake up and lie there, hoping I’ll go back to sleep… then after half an hour of just lying there, I’ll decide to just get up and get moving – do something constructive with my time and energy, other than ruminating.

It helps to move. And then later, if I manage things properly, I can have a nap. Which helps.

I think the stress of finding work hasn’t helped. I find that I get “beside myself” with concern over making ends meet, and then I have trouble relaxing… and staying asleep.

But any kind of stress will do it. Health issues, logistics, you name it. It can and will wake me up. And unless I can get my head around a solution and a plan for later, I’ll be UP.

But the next job interview did go well

The second interview I had with the next recruiter went completely differently, and so much better, it was like night and day. Everything that went wrong, the first time out, went right the second time… in part because of things I did differently, in part because of how the recruiter was handling things.

As a result, I came away from the interview not only energized and excited, but actually willing to work with this guy. And I had a lot more confidence that he’d actually find me work.

Here’s what made the difference:

  1. The first big difference had to do with the working style of the recruiter. The guy actually took his time talking with me and getting to know me and my working style and understanding what my priorities are.
  2. The second, was that he actually followed up with me in a timely manner, kept in touch, and confirmed everything in writing. He confirmed not only by email, but also by phone, which was huge. And it helped.
  3. I got there on time — 20 minutes ahead of time, actually. That gave me time to get my act together, find a bathroom to make sure I wasn’t completely falling apart, and get to the office with 10 minutes to spare. I showed up relaxed and calm and in command of myself.
  4. We actually had an office to sit in — private, behind closed doors, where I could just settle in and talk, without worrying about others listening.
  5. The guy actually told me about himself and we had a lot in common, including that technology is a second career for each of us — both of us had been out in the world as bohemian artiste types for years, before we got pulled into technology.
  6. The guy actually knew about the kind of work I do. Unlike the recent college grads I spoke with last week, he could actually hold a conversation about the kind of work I do, ask intelligent questions and get an actual “read” on what it is I do for a living.
  7. The conversation didn’t take too long, and it didn’t get cut too short. It took almost exactly an hour, and it ended up with me feeling confident in myself and in the recruiter, and feeling hopeful about my future, which is a lot more than I can say for my experience last week.

I suppose in all fairness to the folks last week, I wasn’t particularly well prepared for the meeting. It was my “first time out” in many, many years… after having been hunkered down at a permanent job with the same company for nearly a decade. It’s a little like leaving a doomed, long-term marriage that you tried to salvage, year after year, only to find it collapsing around you… and then getting back into the dating scene. It’s very much like it, in fact.

So, my first foray into the world of recruiters was bound to be a rocky one. And I suspect that I chose those folks last week as my “test run” so I wouldn’t completely screw up a connection with people I actually cared about.

That’s something I’m constantly wary of — screwing things up with people I care about. I tend to “fall behind” and not pick up important clues and cues in how people act/think/behave, and then I say/do the wrong thing which really pisses them off. And if the people I piss off are people I care about, I descend into a morass of self-recrimination and blame.

I just don’t want to have to do that anymore. I need to protect my relationships with the people and connections who mean most to me, not just “wing it” and hope they’ll understand.

So, all in all, I think I’ve handled this job search business brilliantly. Doing a test run with people I don’t have an investment in. Figuring out what went wrong the first time, before my second time “out”. Making sure I follow up and am very clear about everything. And just holding my sh*t…

Yes, this week was much better than last week.

Bottom line is, I need to really pick and choose the people I work with. I also need

Now it’s starting to sink in… avoiding the trap of extremes

I’m starting to get really bummed out about that job interview yesterday. It really set me back, in a way. Or did I set me back? One of the issues I have with the TBI is “intrusive thoughts” — the constant replaying of scenes from an event (or series of events) that I don’t feel like I have resolved properly. I keep thinking back to all those individual instances where I might have said, done, or thought something different than I did, and therefore salvaged the interview.

Or could I have, given the environment I was in? I think it was a lost cause, from the moment I showed up (late).

I have to be careful that I don’t fall into the trap of extremes — either blaming others for my shortcomings, or blaming myself for things beyond my control

On the one hand, I’m tempted to blame the firm for their environment that wasn’t conducive to me being clear. I have to be careful of that thinking pattern, as I tend to find fault with others, when actually their way of doing business is probably quite common (which is why so many boutique recruiting firms pitch themselves as not a bullpen filled with anonymous headhunters). I have a tendency to start blaming everyone except myself for what went wrong.

On the other hand, after I give things more thought, I’m usually tempted to beat myself up for what I didn’t do right. In this case, for not speaking up on my own behalf, not confirming the time and date with the firm, and – frankly – not walking out, when I saw the bullpen they had going. I tend to ride myself pretty hard, once I figure out what went wrong, blaming myself, in place of the others.

A guilt and blame/shame fest, all around.

But there are other interviews and other firms and other jobs. If I’m going to get back in the game and do my utter best, I need to avoid this trap of extremes, be really easy on myself, and just take things as they come. And learn from each experience.

Learning from each experience salvages otherwise hopeless causes. It redeems even the most wretched blunders. Learning is everything. At least I can do that!

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The job interview did not go well. Oh, well…

Well, I had my first face-to-face meeting with recruiters who are helping me look for work. They’re a permanent placement firm that specializes in high tech, and they are not the people I need to be working with. Looking back, I really missed a lot of clues about whether they would be a good fit for me, and I was feeling pretty down on myself yesterday, for “wasting” my time with them. They were not a good fit in so, so many ways. But the more I think about it, the more I realize it was very educational for me, especially with my new information about TBI impacts and after-effects.

The first clue actually came when I was first talking with the recruiter who contacted me — a guy who just wouldn’t take “no” for an answer, when he was trying to get me to come in and talk to them. He kept pushing for me to show up at a certain time, and I told him, “No, I can’t do that time.” I told him I was booked prior to that time, and I couldn’t make it. (I’m getting tense, just thinking about it.)

He just wouldn’t let it go, and I had to really snap at him, before he backed off and agreed to see me at the time I said I could meet him.

I’m kicking myself for not picking up on that clue, first thing. But I’m a kind-hearted sort, and I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Plus, I wanted to get my resume out there, and it sounded like they were a firm that really makes a great effort to find good opportunities. I don’t like to write people off, right away, but as it turned out, I probably should have.

The next clue came when I had to reschedule our meeting, and the recruiter kept pushing me to come in sooner and sooner than I said I could. This guy just wasn’t hearing me, when I said, “No, that time won’t work for me.” He just wouldn’t budge. Thinking about it, now, a whole lot of frustration and anger comes up, but when I was in the moment, it didn’t occur to me that his behavior was inappropriate or pushy or out of line. It just was what it was.

We finally agreed on a time to meet — at least, I think we did. I wrote down 4:00 in my book — right in front of me. The guy kept pushing for 3:00… I don’t think I agreed to 3:00. But I may have… I should have confirmed by e-mail the time we agreed to meet, just so we’d both be on the same page. And I’d have actual written confirmation. Ideally, it would have been best if he’d e-mailed me with the time.

Because when I got there at the time I’d written down (4:00), the guy said, “You finally made it!” and he sounded a little miffed. I didn’t even pick up on it, at that moment. Just went right over my head. I innocently said, “Yes,” like there was nothing wrong. And then he disappeared, after telling me that he was handing me off to some of the other recruiters at the firm.

So, that was odd, and I was wondering why he seemed agitated with me. “Oh, well,” I shrugged, and had a seat. They had a small seating area in front, with a receptionist who wasn’t really that “with it” sitting there watching the clock. She kept asking me if I needed a drink of water or coffee, or whatever. I had just had a cup of coffee, so I declined.

I started to get a bit agitated, sitting there in the reception area. Not only was their clock a few minutes fast, but the receptionist had to print out copies of my resume — I’d been told to bring extras, which I did. But they told her to go ahead and print out additional copies.

I sat in reception, waiting for someone to come see me, as the clock ticked away… watching through the open door into their “bullpen” of recruiters. It looked like a scene from the movie “Wall Street” with everyone sitting at tables, facing each other, phones wedged between chin and shoulder, talking loud and high-fiving each other and passing notes back and forth. That should have been the third clue that told me to get out of there. The whole “bullpen” was chaos, loud, frantic, hustling… I was starting to get nervous, just watching through the door. I could hardly believe that they left the door open to reception, so everyone could see and hear what was going on in there. Not the most discrete — or professional — of presentations. I sat and watched, intending to just observe… and learn what I could. It’s been a while, since I was in the job market, so I thought it couldn’t hurt to do some observing.

Still, what I saw didn’t make me terribly pleased.

Next clue: The first recruiter who came out to talk to me strode purposefully across the room and stuck out her hand. Not a firm handshake. She was pretty speedy and clearly had a pretty high opinion of herself. She whisked me back into the bullpen, pointing out the different groups — .Net, COM, Java — who were working there. I was absolutely overwhelmed with the energy in the place — very speedy, chaotic, frantic, hustling. But I still thought I’d give it a chance…

I was expecting to go to an office to talk, but she sat me down with her at her part of the table, in the midst of the action. I could hardly believe she was just plopping me down at her desk — no privacy, no ability to talk — it was a very intrusive environment, and I began to get really nervous. She commenced to ask me about my past, my jobs, my activities, etc. She asked me a lot of questions about the technologies I used, the percentage of new development vs. maintenance, what applications and operating systems I used, etc. Very high-level, and when I talked about what I’d done, she had this blank, glassy look on her face. Not very confidence-inspiring. But I still thought I’d give her a chance, and not jump to conclusions…

All in all, it was a very weird situation. It felt like she thought I had something to hide, as though there were something wrong with me for taking time off from work for a while… It was kind of strange, she kept asking me about my reasons for leaving, etc., etc. I supposed it’s all standard procedure, but I was getting increasingly nervous, sitting in that room with all those people on phones — distracting and disorienting… she probably interpreted that as me trying to hide something… or being unsure of my history and my abilities.

She asked about my past and got the names of my past managers… and she said she was going to check in with them… check my past/history… as though there were something more she needed to know. She seemed genuinely perplexed that I would make a break from my huge-ass multinational one-time employer and go off to do something else. Well, I suppose if you’re just a few years out of college, and you haven’t been behind the grindstone for the past 20 years, you wouldn’t understand.

Anyway, she passed me off to a couple more recruiters she works with — they all work as a team, apparently, but it was extremely disorienting to be handed off from one person to another, to another… Having to start from scratch each time, was working on my last nerve, and I really wanted to just get out of there. That was yet another clue that this firm is not a good fit for me — one person after another… chaotic frenzy… and other folks commenting, “You finally made it!”

And me standing there, grinning like an idiot, wondering why they kept mentioning that…

I did get to talk to one gal who was very nice and seemed a whole lot more intelligent than the rest of the lot. She had a position that sounded like it might be a good fit for me. But again, it’s a permanent spot, and it’s a ways from home, which is going to put a whole lot of pressure on me, physically, to commute back and forth. I haven’t done a big commute since my ’04 TBI, and I’m not sure I could make it. Having the fatigue issues that I have, I don’t think driving 20 miles each way in rush hour traffic is going to do it for me. Plus, I’ve heard stories about this company from someone who was treacherously ejected from the company, and knowing what I know, I think it would eventually be too great a stressor to live with on a daily basis.

Plus, I suspect they’d want me there all day, every day. Which I really don’t want to do. I need my rest. I need a part-time contract job, really. Something pretty basic and straightforward.

The final clue that this would not work out, was when the recruiter I was talking to pushed and pushed and pushed for me to interview at this company ASAP — time was of the essence!!! Oh, honestly. She pushed and urged and haggled for me to go talk to people tomorrow, of all days. Nope, sorry — I’ve got things I need to do. She was really pushing for Monday, but that wasn’t working, either. So, I agreed to Tuesday — against my better judgment really. I wanted to do it, actually, but in hindsight, I realize that I shouldn’t have committed to that.

Well, anyway, the end result was that I felt pushed and hurried and rushed, and nobody really understood what I do for a living, or why I would step away from a wonderful company like my huge-ass multinational one-time employer. I felt judged and second-guessed and completely underserved. Of course, it could be me and my mind playing tricks on me (again), but the experience was not a good one.

It just brought up all my TBI issues, all my problems and it made me feel like even more of a reject than I did, when I went in.

So, ultimately, it was a beneficial experience, albeit a very uncomfortable and undermining one.

What I learned was:

  1. If someone is not listening to me and keeps pushing me, despite me being very clear about my boundaries and limits, I cannot work with them.
  2. Have firm confirmation of details in an email, not just personal notes jotted down. I can get distracted when I’m writing things down, and I may write down the wrong thing.
  3. Make sure I get there early, because being on time may be too late, if they’ve set their clocks ahead.
  4. If someone makes a comment, always counter with an observation or a question. Had I simply said, “We agreed on 4:00 right?” that would have cleared things up. But I didn’t make any mention of the time and the comment, so there we have it.
  5. I cannot attend an interview in the midst of a bullpen. I need to speak with someone in private, with a door that closes, so I can concentrate only on them and hear them very clearly.
  6. I cannot work with a large group of people who may or may not be able to find me jobs. I can’t just field calls from whomever.
  7. I cannot be rushed and pushed into someone else’s schedule. I just can’t work with someone who doesn’t respect my limits and boundaries… and who’s going to hustle me into a position that suits them (and their earning potential), not me.
  8. If something doesn’t feel right, from the get-go, I need to stop the action and check in with someone who can give me objective feedback about what’s going on. I can’t be afraid to ask for help. I just need to find someone who is impartial and who can offer me some rational input about what can be a very irrational process for me.

So, all in all, it was a beneficial experience. I can’t work with those people, and I need to tell them to remove me from their database. But it was good to find out how… and why… I get hung up on job interviews.

It could be that I need to seek out some rehabilitation or vocational counseling. If I continue to have issues, I’ll need to do that. But for now, I’m pretty focused on just finding a job, so I can make ends meet and introduce more structure into my daily life. And make money using the skills I already have.

Technorati Tags: brain damage Brain Injury cognitive-behavioral issues Emotional Fallout Family Issues Head Trauma journal Mild Traumatic Brain Injury military Motivation and Inspiration mtbi Neurology Neuropsychological Effects of TBI neuropsychology Personal Experiences with TBI employment job interview recruiter Social Issues TBI Physiology TBI Rehab TBI Resources tbi survivor TBI Symptoms tbi traumatic brain injury

I really am very tired…

I’ve been thinking, these past few days, about how many things I’ve blocked out over the years of living with a tbi… I’ve effectively blocked out the fact that I usually have a headache, that I have constant ringing in my ears, that I sometimes can’t make sense of what people say to me, until 10 minutes after they say it…Β  So many things I’ve succeeded at ignoring. Including being tired.

I don’t think I’ve had many full nights of restful sleep since my fall in 2004. I’ve had a lot of job stress and a lot of personal stress… and frankly, it’s worn on me. But I believe a lot of my sleep disturbances have been due to my injury, not just external stress, and I’ve just gotten used to being constantly tired.

Fatigue with TBI is a big problem, and I keep coming across discussions of it.

It’s a theme. For sure.

Of course, it doesn’t help that all of American culture seems hell-bent on adding sugar/aspartame/whatever sweetener to every single form of solid food and drinkable liquid. It doesn’t help that we’re all hopped up on caffeine and pushed to constantly go-go-go. It doesn’t help that our food is full of preservatives and God-knows-what-else. And it doesn’t help that the television and radio and internet are constantly pumpingΒ  us full of stimuli that offer us little in return for paying attention to them, other than their agreeing to go away and leave us alone.

This country is full of over-tired, over-taxed, under-served citizens, 2% of whom are walking around with TBI’s… a lot of whom (myself included) are having trouble sleeping.

About the last thing we need, on top of our already challenged sleep patterns, is a nationwide campaign to keep us awake long enough to spend whatever money is left in our wallets or on our over-taxed credit cards.

<sigh>

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Ruminations of a high-fuctioning mtbi survivor

Okay, so this post is purely self-serving, in that I need to remind myself that I am indeed a high-functioning mild traumatic brain injury survivor, who has managed to build a pretty incredible life for myself and my family, despite my injuries at age 7-8 and three years ago at age 39.

I’m in the job market again, and I’m looking at my job prospecting with a whole new eye — keeping tabs on my stressors and trying to navigate the world of recruiters and headhunters, who are all so incredibly DRIVEN and don’t give themselves, let alone me, a chance to breathe. Take a deep breath, folks. Honestly…

I’ve been talking to headhunters, on and off, for a few days, and they’re starting to make me crazy. All that go-go-go stuff and the constant pressure to schedule something with them… to make it happen… make it happen! Can-do shit and all that. I have to admit, I’m a bit tired of all that pushy crap, and it’s making me antsy and short-tempered. I actually snapped at a headhunter today who was just pushing too hard. People can’t push me hard, anymore. Not anymore. No thanks. Give it a break.

Still, one must work, one must earn money, one must pay the bills… If only I could find a job I could do from home, instead of going out into the world. I’ve been thinking I really need to work for a company that can offer me structure and reliability and some sort of regular schedule. I’ve been in and out of the regular job scene for a while, back and forth to a part-time job and futzing around for the past year or so. I’ve been thinking that I need more than that — more structure, more involvement…

But the more I talk to people in the working world, especially recruiters for technology companies, the more it gives me the willies. And I don’t relish the idea of going back to a 9-to-5 position. Especially if it involves driving an hour each way. Just too much.

Especially since I’m starting into dealing with this TBI stuff. I really don’t want to have to put my diagnostic testing and rehab on the back burner, while I try to figure things out. I don’t have an unlimited amount of money in the bank, so something must be done. But really, I’d prefer to work at home… telecommute. Work remotely. Not have to go into an office.

Better yet, I’d prefer not to have to work at all.

But that’s not really in the cards, at this point. Unless people buy so many of my headache journals that I can retire. Or they purchase more of my writing/research/resource guides. That’s always a possibility. A slim and distant one, but a possibility, no less.

But seriously, folks, there must be a better way for tbi survivors to make a living, than having to schlep into an office and be surrounded by people who neither understand nor care about your condition. I’ve worked with disabled people before, and while our employer did accommodate them, and they were great friends with everyone they worked with, the simple fact is, they had to work like the dickens just to get by “normally.” And while people did help and reach out to them, there was always that undercurrent of pity that makes my skin crawl.

I just can’t bring myself to “play the disabled card” as a tbi survivor. I’m still up in the air about whether I’d even mention it to an employer. I certainly will not mention it to consulting clients. That would totally work against me, I believe.

I just need to keep it to myself, unless there’s an expressed need to let people know what’s going on. I guess it’s all in a day’s work for a tbi survivor… trying to figure out how to navigate the working world. Or the world in general.

But I don’t think I started this post to bitch and moan about my job situation… where was I? Oh, yes, now I remember: ruminations of a high-functioning mtbi survivor. That means I’m supposed to focus on my strengths, I suppose πŸ˜‰

The oddly conflicting fact of the matter is, being a high-functioning tbi person can make things all the more difficult, because if you don’t “present” like a tbi person (like me), it can be pretty difficult to get people to take your limitations seriously. I’m having a getting-to-know-you meeting with a counselor who’s seeing a friend of mine, who’s really struggling with my newly discovered tbi status. This counselor knows a bit about tbi, and they don’t think I look or act like a tbi survivor, whatever that may be like. So, I need to sit down and explain things and hopefully elucidate my situation.

I’ve invested a whole lot of time and energy in making sure that nobody, but nobody, realizes I’ve got a disability, and now I have to sit down and explain to someone how my front is often just a front, which makes me a fraud and a fake, I suppose, on a certain level. I’m not nearly as smart as I pretend to be. Or as quick. Or as inspired. I just do a great job of imitating someone who is. Or maybe that makes me a highly resourceful survivor extraordinaire, who just doesn’t want to miss out on life and sucks at self-assessment, so they can’t see that they’re not quite as smart/quick/inspired as they think they are.

It’s all very confusing, and I’m not helping myself any, right now. I’m actually very tired. And stressed. And worried about these interviews I have coming up over the next few days.

Just remember, on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog…

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Straight to execution…

Way back when, at one of my first technology jobs, my boss (the company owner) chided me for “jumping straight to execution.” He wanted me to spend more time researching a new program — learning to use more of its features in a lot of different ways — before I started using it.

It rankled me, that he was trying to “hold me back” and not give me my head, so I could just jump right in. But now, when I look back, I realize that this has been an ongoing pattern with me — and it appears to be directly linked to my TBI after-effects.

I do tend to jump right into things without thinking them through completely, up front. It’s a huge drawback, and seems to stem from my diminished self-assessment abilities, which don’t tell me enough about my limitations… not to mention a lack of impulse control.

It really upset me, when he told me I should be forging right ahead with things… But now that I think about it, that was a really important piece of information for me to have. And I’m grateful to him for passing it along to me, so I can benefit from it.

TBI self-assessment challenges are a biggie

Imagine, if you will, you’ve got serious issues in your life with job responsibilities, personal interactions, private relationships, and generally getting by in life. But your problems start at the very place you depend on, to understand your situation — your brain. In particular, the parts of your brain that are in charge of logical thinking, monitoring your behaviors, interpreting external stimuli, and controlling your impulses and reactions to the world around you…

Welcome to the world of the TBI survivor.

It’s a troubling and problematic issue, this post-TBI condition. I mean, how much more convoluted can you get? The very part of you that you depend on, to determine how well/ill you are, is more compromised than it can imagine. And the people around you may not even realize it, so trying to explain your situation to people who don’t “get” your altered cognitive state can even reinforce the mis-conception that there’s nothing wrong with you… It can be very frustrating and crazy-making.

And it’s pretty much where I am, these days.

I’m telling people close to me about my TBI, one at a time. But they have to be very close. And I need to feel safe telling them. It’s a tough one, especially considering that they don’t have a lot of information or experience with TBI, and it scares the be-jesus out of them to think that I’m not the person they thought I was, all those years.

Well, I wasn’t the person I thought I was, all those years, either! πŸ˜‰

I’ve had two different kinds of reactions:

  1. Disbelief — I can’t believe it! You don’t seem brain-damaged!
  2. Denial – That can’t be! You can’t be brain-damaged!

It’s because they love me, I know. They hate the idea that I’ve sustained an injury of that scope. And the fact that it has to do with my brain — it absolutely freaks people out, when they think about something going wrong with your brain — such a new frontier, such an integral part of our lives, such a mystery, and the prospect of something going wrong with this mysterious and essential part of ourselves is so terrifying for most people, they cannot possibly respond in a constructive manner.

They just have too much fear. And ignorance. And they cannot deal very well with the idea that there’s something really wrong with how my brain works.

In the face of their incredulity and ignorance, I withdraw. I don’t do well with people telling me that what’s going on inside my already struggling head just isn’t the case. I know people are trying to protect me (and themselves) from a “terrible” fate, but being told that what’s taken me 35 years to figure out, is just plain wrong, is not helpful.

So, I turn my attention to what’s going on inside my own head – to the best of my ability, that is. I pull myself away from those folks and do what I do best — look to my own resources and go online to research self-assessment and self-awareness in TBI survivors. What I can’t find in person, I can find online.

I really need to pinpoint the issues I face in a productive and constructive way. So, I’ve been reading about self-assessment in brain-injured individuals, trying to figure out ways to be adapt to this condition and live my life to the fullest. I can’t be held back by this state of mind. I have to develop ways to work around what I cannot do, and figure out what I can do. I need to understand self-assessment and self-awareness issues from the inside-out, from top-to-bottom.

I’ve come across some good reading, and I think I have some good ideas.

Reading List

Strategies

  • Write ideas down and review them before “floating” them with others. This lets me get clear — on paper — about my ideas before I open them up to others, and it lets me edit my “content” before it goes in front of critics — even well-meaning ones — who may (will) find fault with my ideas.
  • Actively plan and prioritize my days. My over-eager brain tends to get turned around about what it cares about and what’s important. I may start out the day planning to take care of my banking, only to find myself drawn into re-compiling my personal e-mail contact list. I have only banker’s hours to get my banking done, and I can do my e-mail list-keeping anytime, but my brain — if it’s not directed with clear priorities — can forget that I’m time-constrained and I can lose days of productive opportunity, while I’m fiddling with my computer. My brain also tends to get “sucked in” by one exciting (but transient) idea after another, seemingly without rhyme or reason, but with frustrating results. An activity like researching songbirds of Idaho may seem very important to me, one day, may not be that important, the next. But I’ll spend all day working on one idea (like researching songbirds) that doesn’t have “sticking power”, then move to another (like tracking NASCAR results for the past 10 years), then move to another (like identifying number patterns in the last two years of Big Game lottery results), then move to another (like healing family dynamics trauma)… until I have started a whole lot of things and not finished any of them. Planning and prioritizing and sticking to my structure keeps me on target. And makes sure I get to the bank on time.
  • Keep a journal… and recap frequently. This lets me “blow off steam” and wax eloquent about things I care deeply about, without allowing them to derail my entire day. It also lets me see where my thought processes are going, and it lets them just “go there” without investing a whole lot of active time and energy in exploring them. For example, I became convinced, two years ago, that I wanted to become a massage therapist/bodyworker. I had this intense desire to learn the inner workings of the human body, so I could use it for healing work. That lasted about a week. I wrote about it in my journal, and I gave my mind free rein to “experience” being a massage therapist in exhaustive detail. What I realized is that the idea that my mind thought was fabulous, was onerous to the rest of me. My brain thought doing body work on others would be a good path. My body and heart and spirit actually disagreed… I’m not the kind of person who does well with a lot of folks with physical ailments that need to be addressed. And when I went back to my journal and re-read the pages, I could see what my thought process was that convinced me that I’d “found my true path” to massage therapy. Seeing that thought process in place, and realizing just how off-base I could be about things, was a sobering reality check. And it a highly valuable lesson in seeing what my brain is capable of telling me.
  • Read the stories of others like me. This is a huge one with me. Because I sometimes cannot even see what’s happening with me, unless I see it mirrored in others. So, I look around online for people who are writing about TBI. Or I check out books from the library. Of course, there’s the danger that I’ll over-identify with people who really aren’t anything like me. But reading about others’ struggles and successes with TBI and other neurological challenges can be tremendously helpful. It also helps to keep a journal about what I read, so I can compare my own notes with what I’m reading. I have to be careful that I don’t internalize information that’s not pertinent to me, but when I find info that does apply to me, it’s priceless. Now, one of the problems with reading TBI stories is that people appear to often lose steam talking about their situations, so you don’t get the whole picture about them. Especially online. I think that people start out with great intentions and want to pass along their experience, strength, and hope, but they either get overwhelmed, they lose their focus, or they don’t get the kind of feedback they were hoping for. Or they get too much — and they get overwhelmed, which is what can happen with me. It may happen to me, yet, with this blog. Who can say? All I can say is, it’s not always easy to find online long-term, in-depth accounts of living with TBI.
  • Be humble and honest and a bit agnostic. I always have to remember that I could be wrong about a lot of things, and I don’t dare kid myself. I have to be 100% honest with myself — not as honest as I want to be, but as honest as I must be. The minute I start lying to myself intentionally, I know I’m in trouble. Because even when I’m being as honest as I can be, I may be wrong. So, lying undermines my already tenuous grip on “reality” even more. This is especially important with my family and closest friends. I have to be honest with them about myself and my abilities, even in the face of their fear, anxiety, panic, frustration, denial, etc. If they can’t be 100% honest with themselves about me, I have to take the lead and show them how I do it. I don’t always succeed as well as I’d like, but I have to model a brazen sort of fearlessness with them, so they can see that truthfulness is possible, even in the face of such a tricky condition.
  • Find support from capable folks. Having a counselor or therapist is hugely helpful, and they can offer you more objectivity than emotionally invested family members. It’s their job, after all, and they’re professionally trained. Having support — from a counselor or support group — takes the pressure off your loved-ones to be your “everything” in overcoming TBI. And having someone available to do a reality check (in a safe, supportive environment) on a regular basis can go a long way towards building self-assessment skills.

Yes, self-assessment and self-awareness challenges are big ones. For me and other TBI survivors. But because others often know so little about us and our condition, we have to learn to do a lot of it ourselves. But having external tools like journals, priority lists, stories of others, willingness to be honest, and the input of outside emotional/psychological supporters, can go a long way towards helping a TBI survivor improve their self-assessment skills.

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When they think your TBI is PTSD

I just checked my blog stats, and somebody came over to this site while Googling for info on soldiers and PTSD.

I want to quickly put in a word for military folks who are seeking help for post-combat/deployment issues, who may be headed down the PTSD treatment road, but may miss TBI treatment in the process.

I started professional counseling about six months ago for “coping issues” that I couldn’t get my head around. Everything in life had just gotten so difficult, and I couldn’t understand why I kept running into dead ends with jobs and relationships and why I couldn’t seem to advance in life. All my peers have “moved on” and “grown up” — many of them now with grandkids and advanced careers, long-term homeownership, and all the accoutrements of adult life… while I languished in a no-man’s-land of false starts, scattered ideas, and a long line of failed or aborted attempts at living a normal life.

Now, don’t get me wrong — on the surface, my life looks like it’s highly advanced. I’ve got a great home, a wonderful marriage, and two cars in the garage. My resume looks fabulous, and I’ve got a lot of respect from folks. But my external circumstances don’t match my internal state… and they haven’t for a long time. Nobody really knows just how deep the self-doubt, anxiety, self-criticism, abysmally low self-esteem, and constant invisible struggle really goes.

Except me. And I don’t breathe a word of it to anyone. Not if I can help it.

So, when my health and career and personal life all started to tank in a very big way, this past year, I sought professional help. The counselor I found is highly experienced, compassionate, insightful, kind, caring, and very adept at what they do. But I found myself over time feeling as though they were looking for some sort of horrific trauma in my past that would cause me to lose big chunks of my memory, be uncertain around people, and erode my emotional and behavioral (and cognitive) foundation.

I got the distinct impression they were looking for emotional trauma. Abuse. Neglect. Some sort of terrible thing(s) others did/do to me that cause me to have PTSD. Or some life-threatening event that brought on PTSD.

We had talked about post-traumatic stress a good deal, and both of us accepted that it could have a part in my difficulties. But no matter how closely I looked at my life, I couldn’t for the life of me find THE Event(s) that had wrecked me for “normal” life.

It just didn’t make any sense to me. And when I dug deep and did my own research and realized that sustaining a traumatic brain injury at the age of 8 (and possibly other times), as well as another TBI three years ago, did actually fill in a huge, gaping missing piece of the puzzle.

It’s not that my counselor was incapable or incompetent. They were just looking for the wrong thing in the wrong place. They’re a wonderful resource for me, and I really value their input, but in the case of TBI, I had to come up with my own diagnosis.

This article was very helpful:

Concerns grow about war veterans’ misdiagnoses – Brain injuries can defy easy detection” – I passed it along to my counselor, and they found it very helpful… as well as a bit disconcerting.

And the blog “A Soldier’s Mind” has some more info.

If you’re in the same boat I am/was, you may need to do your own research & preliminary diagnosis, too. After all, TBI tends to make it very difficult for people to tell what’s going on inside our heads — and it can make it tough for us to figure that out, too. Doing research online is a great way to make a start.

I’m finding that TBI is not particularly well-known in the psychotherapeutic community — I have a bunch of friends and associates who are therapists, and when I’ve talked about TBI, I’ve gotten blank stares. That’s not entirely their fault. They aren’t always trained to look for physical ailments, which are the domain of medical doctors. If anything, they’re taught to look away, in terms of medical issues — liability issues, I suppose. Unfortunately, there seem to be a lot of highly trained individuals who simply don’t have the kind of physiological orientation that treats cognitive-behavioral symptoms as possible neuro-physiological phenomena. They are accustomed to looking at emotionally traumatic life experiences as the root of PTSD problems. They’re looking for the right thing… but they’re looking in the wrong place.

I really want to devote a fair amount of time and energy on this site to explaining to psychotherapeutic professionals the personal realities of living with TBI, as it relates to trauma. There are different aspects of the condition that both mask post-traumatic stress and exacerbate it. TBI adds another wrinkle to the whole scene that complicates matters and requires greater sensitivity to our situation.

When I informed my counselor about my TBI, they seemed a bit concerned that I wouldn’t need their help anymore… or that I’d terminate my sessions with them. They seemed to think that TBI work would replace the cognitive-behavioral work I was doing with them. But in fact, the TBI aspect makes it even more important to do cognitive-behavioral counseling. It doesn’t make counselors superfluous. If anything, it makes them all the more essential.

Other posts about PTSD:

Better today… of pain and ptsd

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