Improvements all around

I've got some work to do...

It’s raining today. And lots to do. I’ve got leftover work I couldn’t get finished this past week that won’t wait — I have to square it away for Monday. And I’ve got other work I’ve got to get finished for some folks I’m freelancing for. There’s a lot on my plate, and there’s usually someone at work pissed off about things not going they way they’d like.

Not that they help. The directives tend to come from four levels above me, and they keep changing. Every week something different comes up, and I get the distinct impression that the people who are running things either don’t know what they’re doing or they don’t know what they want — or both.

This could be maddening, if I let it drive me crazy. I know my boss’es boss is easily pushed by the Person Who Is Constantly Changing Their Mind (who happens to run the show). I think most people in middle management are easily pushed by this person, who seems to have some Svengali-like hold over their minds, hearts and gonads. It’s very odd. The interactions I’ve had with this Terror have never struck fear in my heart. If anything, the “Terror” has been open to listening to what I had to say, they could be reasoned with, and when I stood my ground on principle, they backed off.

In some cases, they even told me that they would defer to my judgment, which is nice. They thanked me for keeping them honest, when I wouldn’t back down.

And yet, the folks who report directly to the Terror are all running around in a state of high anxiety and crisis, apparently due to pressure from THE TOP.

Hm.

Kind of reminds me of the Elvis Costello song – I used to be disgusted… now I’m just amused. It gets a little wearing, being so tweaked over the volatility of someone else. I could certainly do that, but what would be the point? I just need to keep steady with my own agenda and my own work. And to remember that I have an agenda… which would be looking out for myself within the context of the broader company, which spans many countries and continents, and within the context of my broader life.

There is, after all, more to my life than making my superiors happy.There has always been more to it for me, than that. It’s one of the things that’s made me both useful and a little dangerous — the fact that I stay true to myself and my vision and my goals, even in the face of external pressure. If something matters to me — and I mean really matters — I stick with it and don’t let anything or anyone stand between me and that goal. The only thing that can keep me from achieving it, is me — and I’ve done just that more times than I care to think about.

I literally am my own worst enemy, in so many ways. I’ve pushed myself, driven myself, exhausted myself, undermined myself, and done so many counter-productive things that made it much harder than necessary, to get from Point A to Point B… let alone Points C – Z. And when things didn’t work out, I was all too quick to just throw up my hands and say, “Oh, well, I guess it wasn’t meant to be,” and just walk away.

Crazy. What’s even crazier, is that I’ve gotten used to it and I’ve developed a whole repertoire of sour-grapes-type “explanations” for why I never followed through.

I’m working on that. I’ve figured out a bunch of issues and patterns I tend to follow, and I’m coming up with better ways of handling situations as they arise… and avoiding them to begin with.

One thing I’ve become keenly aware of is how I have traditionally made bad choices in friends — people who didn’t treat me right, who made fun of me, who gave me a hard time, who really dragged me down, and cost me a lot in terms of money and time and energy, not to mention reputation.

Thinking back, I have not had many good friends at all, over the years, who really treated me the way I deserved to be treated. And the people who have treated me well, I ran from.

I mean, it’s bad enough that I have spent so much time dealing with bad friends, but why the hell would I run from good ones?

Why indeed?

Well, I think I’ve figured it out. And it has to do with the same things as procrastination — but in a much darker way.

See, with people who treat me like crap, I’m much more alert. I’m awake. I’m on guard. Every bit of my mind and attention is pumped. And I feel alive. I feel like I’m actually with it. In fact, the worse people treat me, the better I feel like I can function. Because I’m so ON, thanks to the constant threat of ridicule and mistreatment at the hands of these “friends” of mine.

As for people who treat me well, I have almost no use for them. They don’t wake me up. They don’t make me feel like I’m “on”. If anything, they relax me and that makes me feel dull and dense and not entirely with it. Maybe it’s that general level of wakefulness that’s missing, or that slower processing speed. All I know is, people who are nice to me don’t hold my attention. If anything, they make me feel kind of bad about myself. Because I’m just not as present with them as I am in situations where I’m under constant threat.

Here’s a picture of the situation, as I understand/experience it:

Sad, but true

I hate to say it, but there’s something about being treated badly, that makes me feel good — and I really feel it’s due to the level of wakefulness, which is also connected with my agitation and restlessness that sets in even more when I’m not all awake. When I’m not awake, I become itchy and anxious and agitated. This does not make me feel good — about myself or the people I’m around. If anything, it makes me feel worse.

So, bad friends make me feel good, and good friends make me feel bad.

How’s that for a TBI after-effect?

Pain in my ass.

Anyway, at least now I’m aware of it. And now I can come up with some alternatives for handling the situation. Because you can’t go through life all alone and isolated… and surrounded by people who mistreat and take advantage of you. Something’s gotta change, so it’s time to take a look at this and see what I can do.

I think I really need to find connections with people who I can DO things with — structured activities, rather than sitting around and “relaxing” — which doesn’t relax me at all. I need to be doing something, learning something, engaged in an activity that holds my attention — but doesn’t tire me out too much.

Here’s an idea — I’ll join a Meetup for a language I’m learning — French, for starters. I’ve been checking out meetup.com and it looks like there may be some meetings in my area, which is a great thing. Who knows? I may make some good connections.  At least I’ll get out and meet new people.

And keep an eye out for the people who are pretty rotten. There are always some. Not that I plan to go into this with an attitude… just keeping in mind that I tend to gravitate to people who are not particularly nice to me, is helpful, and I can then manage to it. It’s when I’m not aware of the potential for getting caught in another web of destructive human interactions that I get into trouble.

Not that I’m very pleased about this aspect of my life. I’d like to think that I am surrounded by people who give a damn about me and will be there when I need them. I’d like to think that I have friends I can count on, who will stand with/behind me when need be. But as long as I prefer the company of people who treat me like crap, that will remain an elusive goal.

There is some good news, though.  Again, here I am looking at the fact that certain patterns in my life — which were always interpreted as being a sign that there was some deep-seated emotional/psychological issue at work — actually have a lot more to do with my neurology than my psychology. I don’t seek out the company of jerks because I think less of myself or I have some deep-seated self-loathing going on. I do it because it wakes me up and makes me feel alive. It makes me feel like myself, where being around people who relax me and don’t put me on edge, actually make me nervous and agitated.

So long as my brain isn’t fully engaged and fully charged up, I feel a lot less “human” than I would like to be.

And that’s no fun.

So the challenge now is to find ways of being fully engaged, fully awake, fully with-it, when I’m around people who treat me with respect and consideration. To find ways of being fully “on” when I’m not in constant danger. To find ways of getting myself in the game, without compromising my chances of developing positive, productive relationships with people who genuinely appreciate my company and input.

It’s a fairly tall order. Old habits are hard to break. But now that I’m aware of the fact that I need to make some improvements… well, I can.

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Good reading

I’ve just “re-discovered” Give Back, Inc., the organization/group that helps traumatic brain injury survivors get their lives back with self-therapy.

Their mission says:

GiveBack, Inc. is a recovery group for traumatic brain injury (TBI). Its purpose is not to help survivors to accept new lives that offer them limited options, but rather to help recoverers to deal with their deficits, improve their functioning, become active, and regain self-control of their lives.

I originally encountered them as Give Back Orlando, but the website has since disappeared, and it seems they’ve moved their operations to LA, as well as online. There is a Traumatic Brain Injury Support Group online that features regular postings from Dr. Larry Schutz, the founding director of this great organization.

I’ve been reading some of the articles about TBI and recovery and the different systems available to people. What I really respect about what I see, is that it’s based on many years of experience — both good and bad — and there’s still a perspective and a commitment to rehab and recovery, despite all the roadblocks in the way.

It’s safe to say that I would not be nearly as well-off as I am today, had I not come across Give Back. There was just the right amount of information for me, about just the right subjects, and I had room to move and develop my own self-therapy program based largely on what they outlined and suggested. And the changes to their suggested approach which I made to the recovery program I’ve been on didn’t negate the good their approaches offered. Obviously, everyone is different, and some of the suggestions just sounded hair-brained to me. But overall, the advice was sound, and I was under no obligation to do things exactly the way they said I should.

I’m really glad I came back to Give Back. Going along in my everyday life, it’s easy to forget about the things I need to do, to stay functional. And with the successes I’ve had, it’s easy (and tempting) to dismiss my difficulties and downplay them, thinking, “Well, I’m glad that’s over!”

But it’s not over. Brain injury is never over. The attention issues, the short-term memory issues, the fatigue and physical issues, as well as the processing speed issues may be mitigated by my coping mechanisms and compensatory techniques, but they aren’t going away. And if I don’t stay vigilant with them, they can rear their ugly heads and make my life a lot more “interesting” than need be.

The fact of the matter is, I have developed a lot of ways to deal with my issues. But if I don’t use them, I can get into trouble real quick.

So, I need to keep it green. I need to remember how close to the edge I was, when I first embarked on my recovery. I also need to remember that there ARE areas where I still have issues, and while my coping mechanisms may be great in most cases, they are not always second-nature, and I really have to work at them. I have to remember to do them.

And I have to keep in mind that when it comes to TBI, I may be a whole lot more functional now than I was three years ago, but I can easily go back to being non-functional with almost no effort at all. All I need to do is stop interacting with people when they talk to me, tell myself that I understand everything I think I do and not double-check, never write anything down, expect to keep everything in my head, and eat crappy food, drink too much coffee and soda, and stay up till all hours snacking and surfing the channels. I could also quit exercising each morning and stop paying attention to what’s going on around me. That’s a great way to go back to the way things were.

But if I keep my wits about me, stay mindful and pay attention to what’s going on, eat right and exercise each day, and I interact with the world and ask plenty of questions so I’m sure that I’m clear (even if I do feel like it makes me look stupid), I can stay on track. I just need to remember to do it.

And that’s where Give Back helps. Not only because of the forums they have there and the self-therapy materials they offer, but also because of the articles by Larry Schutz (I’ve been a fan of his work for some time, and that hasn’t changed). It’s so important for me to remind myself of where I come from, what I’m dealing with, and where I can end up, if I’m not careful.

I may move past the basic problems, and I may have my coping mechanisms in place, but if I don’t stay vigilant and keep up the level of effort required, I could end up like so many other TBI survivors — doing well initially, then slipping into long-term disability that I can never seem to shake loose.

Bad decisions make good stories

Great post from a reader who’s often contributed great stuff — Just in time, too, as I am obviously “Ancora Imparo” — still learning.

And I’m coming up with more good stories.

The short version is, I’ve been talking to a company for about a month, now, about a job, but my hard work with the interviews and connecting with them feels like it’s been derailed by an oversight on my part, with regard to my references. Basically, I listed a current colleague on my references, and I believe they contacted them — at my present job, where people do not know I’ve been looking for another position.

The cat may be out of the proverbial bag, which can really complicate things at the job where I am now. People there are not happy, but they desperately want me to stay in their midst. I know misery loves company, but do I have to keep them company?

If this gets screwed up, it’ll be a bummer. This job is a great opportunity, and they reached out to me, after I had reached out to them about a different job that was more junior and wasn’t a good fit.

The interviews went really well, we hit it off great, and it looked like things were settling in. I had been wondering why they didn’t ask for references, then last Tuesday they did. I was getting home late from a long day, and they were in a hurry to get the info together. Plus, my main computer was down — in the shop from a busted power supply — so I was working double-time on a backup computer after a long and arduous day. I pulled up my list of contacts and ran through it, thought it was all good, and sent it off. I was so sure I had it nailed — I had some really good LinkedIn recommendations on there, too. I thought I had the whole package deal together, and I shipped everything off to a couple of folks at the company, very pleased with myself for getting it all done.

Then, the following morning, it occurred to me that I had listed a current colleague on my list. This is someone who has been both very kind to me and back-stabbing treacherous. This is not the person you want to alert that you’re looking for a different job.

So, I revamped the list and emailed it to the folks I’d contacted the night before. And I asked them to not contact this person, because my job search is confidential.

Well… a day later, I get an email from this person just out of the blue, asking me some question about work that seemed really basic — not the sort of thing they’d even need to contact me about. That got me thinking that the new folks probably contacted them prior to me asking them to not do so. Or they went ahead and contacted them anyway. I’m guessing it’s the former — these folks have been pretty scattered at times and not the most communicative, so my best guess is that they either never saw the second email or they went full-speed ahead with checking everything, and I came in too late to stop them.

It honestly never occurred to me to call the people at this new company and tell them what was going on, so I could head this all off at the pass. For some reason, I thought an email was sufficient. I really dropped the ball on this thing, rushing my work, not thinking it all through, and then not following up after the fact, when things started to look a little dicey.

I’ve been getting a little paranoid about work, anyway. People there are not communicative, and they don’t say to your face what they are thinking. They just hint at things, and you have to go into secret meetings behind closed doors to figure anything out. You have to tend to their fragile egos and soothe their frazzled nerves to get anything done, which is a huge pain. And they’re very jumpy and reactionary, so every little thing turns into a HUGE DEAL.

Sigh…

Anyway, of course, now I’m questioning my basic competence and ability to do anything. If I can’t figure out how to send people the right references, how the hell will I be able to do this job, which has a big communication/project management component to it? What does this say about my fundamental abilities? What does it say about my professionalism? Who am I kidding? What makes me think I can do this job, anyway? The hits just keep on coming, and I have to work pretty hard to remind myself that it was basically fatigue and a combination of frantic factors and being rushed and letting others set the pace of my life, that gave rise to this. I simply didn’t take enough time to sort things through, and I didn’t double-check my work (which is a long-standing problem with me, that I have to really concentrate on fixing, each time it comes up).

And I was doing so well…

Well, if this job doesn’t work out, there are others. I’ve gotten a number of different emails, lately, from recruiters who have some tasty-looking positions available. I get tired thinking about starting the whole job interview process all over again, but if that’s what I have to do, that’s what I have to do. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be, if this thing doesn’t work out.

That’s what I’m telling myself, anyway, to make myself feel better. Deep down, I’m horribly upset with myself for this oversight. I’m trying to stay focused on the idea that life is full of these kinds of situations, and the true measure of my character and ability is not just how I manage to avoid these things, but how I handle them when they come up. It could be that this kind of thing will happen over and over and over, if I take this job. And it will be my job to make sure that the train’s brakes and other apparatus are all working well, so the train doesn’t fly off the tracks.

That’s how I’m looking at it, anyway. Life is full of these kinds of situations, for whatever reason. Whether it’s a momentary lapse of attention or a prolonged failure to attend to vital details, or it’s someone jumping the gun or enthusiasm run wild, there’s always going to be something making situations that much more complex and convoluted.

My job is to manage that and the associated fall-out. This isn’t an isolated incident in my life, by any means, and it’s probably not going to be the last time something like this threatens to derail a process. The main thing is to just keep engaged and not let it get the better of me… to deal with it with calm, collected confidence and carefully navigate through the minefield of modern life. And be mindful. Really think about what I’m doing, and why. And not let others push me to mindlessly rush everything.

Mistakes happen that way. And sometimes what you gain in time, you lose in results.

Ultimately, I’m sure this will make a good story. But for now, I’ve got to see the story through from start to finish.

Onward.

No one has a clue how hard this is for me

Even I don’t, sometimes.

Seriously. I walk through my days, going about my regular business, living my life, interacting with people, doing what I do, making mistakes, making it right… working (hard) to keep up. And I do manage to keep up. Most of the time.

At least, that’s how it looks on the outside. I’ve learned, over years, to present in a certain way… to project a certain image… to do a passable job of fitting in, by mirroring the mannerisms and “social pacing” of people around me. And it works. I had to figure it out by trial-and-error, but I did eventually figure it out.

In my early childhood, when I was first learning about how to live outside my parents’ house — in school, especially — I had a very hard time fitting into my surroundings. My early grade-school years were rocky and rough, and I went through a lot of bullying and teasing and marginalization. I also had a very, very hard time dealing with academic requirements. I could pretty much get by, but it was — again — trial and error. I remember working so very, very hard to make my teachers happy… without fully understanding why they were asking me to learn certain things and complete certain lessons.

I think part of the problem was that, despite having a hard time keeping up with what was going on around me, I was ahead of the kids around me, subject-wise. I grew up in a family that valued education and spent a lot of time exploring the world of ideas. My parents were — and still are — very well read, and my grandparents were experts in their fields. I was well accustomed to sitting around talking about complex subjects… more comfortable doing that, in fact, than spending time playing with the kids around me.

And it was awkward. Very awkward for everyone. At least, I think it was. I didn’t understand my peers very well, and they didn’t seem to understand me at all. Or maybe my perceptions were skewed because of my TBIs — poor judgment, slowed information processing, and misperception of the actions and/or intentions of others are all hallmarks of TBI. Maybe everyone was fine with me; I just wasn’t fine with them (or myself).

Anyway, I don’t want to harp on all my difficulties. Let’s just say my childhood was somewhat challenging.

All that started to change, however, when I started getting connected with kids who were several years older than me. My family had moved to a new area, and we had started attending a new church. That church did not have a very large concentration of kids exactly my age — they were either several years older than me or several years younger. My parents talked to the youth director and managed to get me “in” with the older kids in the young adult youth group.

I really wasn’t sure about it, when I started. I was painfully shy — no, shy isn’t the word for it. I was completely out of my depth. All the boys and girls — young men and young women, actually — who were part of the youth group seemed so with it, so together, so … grown up. They seemed like they knew what everyone was saying when they talked, and they seemed to know how to act around other people.

I was amazed. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to initiate conversations that weren’t about some academic matter, and I sure as hell didn’t know how to keep a conversation going. I was petrified, the first months I hung out with the other kids. But fortunately, some of the most popular kids in the “gang” at church were second cousins of mine, and they knew me from family reunions. So, I was “in” with the crowd, even when I couldn’t manage to put two words together.

It would be really easy for me to focus on how challenging those years were for me. But I’d rather focus on how much I gained from meeting those challenges head-on, and learning from them. Those several years with the older kids — I spent about 3 years among kids who were several years my senior — taught me volumes about how to make my way in the world. By watching them and seeing how they interacted with others, I was able to model my behavior on something positive — and types of behavior that obviously worked. I watched the kids who were clearly popular and having a great time being alive, and I mirrored their words and actions. I’m sure I looked a bit spastic, at times, tagging along and clumsily imitating everyone at the start, but eventually I learned how to smooth it all out and “deliver a seamless presentation” of the kinds of behavior I saw other people using — that worked well for them in social situations.

I could tell things worked, if people laughed at jokes. I could tell things worked for them, if other people smiled when they approached. I could tell things were “clicking” socially, if everyone was relaxed and enjoying each others’ company. It probably sounds pretty remedial and basic, but that’s how I learned. And I learned pretty quickly, too — so long as I could be a part of the group, but still be able to withdraw, now and then, when I got overwhelmed. Because I was with kids who were some years older than me, I was able to get “special dispensation” because I was younger. I was “just a kid” so I was allowed to mess up, now and then. Not all the time, but they tended to cut me some slack, which was helpful.

The fact that all this took place in a church environment, where there were very strict rules about how you did and did not behave was very helpful also. All the boys were well-behaved, and all the girls kept to very high standards of behavior. Even though a lot of us eventually left the church and went our own ways, far from organized religion, the fact that there were clear guidelines in place for us to follow made it pretty straightforward for me to figure out how I should — and should not — behave around others. The kids who were ahead of me modeled acceptable behavior, and I followed their example. I was part of a “gang” — but the gang was all good Christian kids, so I had the benefit of being in a group of pressuring peers who pressured me in directions that did not lead towards drugs, alcohol, petty crime, and teen sex.  (That pressure took place in the other “gangs” I ran with, several years later, in school and at jobs I held.)

During those early teen years in the church youth group, I learned how to integrate socially through the various activities we had — Sunday School, prayer meetings, weeknight services, organized youth group activities, like trips and outings, Bible quiz team, and countless other get-togethers that were organized by the youth leaders. They really did have a good program, I realize in retrospect, and I benefitted from it a lot. Being able to be around kids who were older than me gave me license to just be who and what I was — a little dorky, a little geeky, gangly and awkward and prone to say dumb things that were out of context — and be accepted, anyway, because I was young. I don’t remember being stigmatized, probably because it was generally expected that I was supposed to be different — but that was because of my age, not because I was a queer little brain-damaged freak who couldn’t fit in with my peer group.

What a relief it was, to be allowed to be different! I had been battling against my social surroundings for years, but that had gotten me nowhere. And I mean, nowhere. Standing out as being different (which was my “default setting”), had resulted in a lot of bullying, ridicule, and general hardship for me. It had also not helped my academic performance or my general ability to get by in the world. But being able to hang out with kids who were not only older than me and showed me how to behave, but being given some leeway with how I behaved, totally took the pressure off.

I was finally able to relax, socially. And I was able to learn. I was able to pattern my demeanor after the most socially successful members of the youth group — the guys and gals who were the most capable, the most popular, the smartest, the most respected-by-adults. I’m sure I looked kind of dense, stumbling and bumbling my way after them. But you know what? No matter how dorky I looked around the older kids, when I was around my own peer group, those behaviors and mannerisms made me look a lot more mature than I felt. I didn’t need to understand exactly why someone would say certain things (like social pleasantries) or do certain things (like strike up a conversation with people you’ve never met before in your life). I only needed to understand how they did it, and that it worked for them… and perfect my impressions of the most socially successful people I knew.

Granted, my “performance” wasn’t always perfect, and there were a lot of false moves over the years that got me in trouble with older kids and teachers and other authority figures, but you know what? By practicing and practicing and practicing some more… observing carefully when others did things that made them look good… by rehearsing the “role” I wanted to play in the world in the privacy of my own bedroom, out in the woods where I could have some alone-time… by constantly checking and re-checking the results of what I’d done, learning my lessons and “taking my lumps” as I went, I was able to build a really compelling and convincing repertoire of social graces that have stood me in good staid.

Okay, so my parents were probably pretty concerned throughout the course of my life, when I’d spend hours just talking to myself. And I’m sure they’ve often wondered about me walking around having animated, in-depth conversations about topics I’m passionate about… with no one in particular. To this day, I still have extended animated converstions with myself when I’m alone or in the car driving. I do it — and have always done it — to work on my vocal pacing, my delivery, my presentation. I have a role to play in the world, and I know well enough (inside my own woolly head) how hard it can be for me to keep my act together. I get lost all too quickly, so I need to keep my composure skills up, and “running the lines” my life does it for me. This “regular life” stuff doesn’t come easily to me, so I have to work at it, work at it, work at it some more. All the time, whenever I get a chance.

Fortunately, I enjoy it, and when I’m having intense, protracted discussions with myself, pretending to talk to another person — breaking now and then to let “them” get a word in — I’m usually going on about something that captures and holds my interest. So it’s not work as much as it is effortful play. And it pays off.

In countless ways. Can I just tell you, the best validation of my efforts has been all these people telling me, over the course of the past year or so, that they never would have guessed I had a head injury, let alone half a dozen. It never would have occurred to them that I was anything less than perfectly normal. On the outside, then, my presentation is intact. And all my hard work has paid off. The countless hours I’ve spent analyzing my interactions with the world, checking and double-checking the results of my relating to others… the untold time I’ve spent carefully tweaking my demeanor during the course of converstaions… the tricks I’ve picked up about how to interact effectively with others… it’s all paid off. Big time.

Now there are some days, of course, when I feel a lot more like a fraud than I feel functional. I feel like I’m just walking through my days playing a role that has nothing to do with me. I’m sure a lot of people feel that way — especially as they age and start to examine their lives. But with me, it’s especially pronounced, because there are many, many times I say and do things without even thinking about them which don’t sound anything like me, or what interests me, or what I care about. There are times when I’ll get to the end of a conversation or a complex interaction with someone and realize that I have no idea what just happened — I wasn’t even personally involved in the interaction. I didn’t even say what I meant or thought or felt. I just mirrored that other person, without even knowing what I was mirroring. They thought for sure that I agreed with them wholeheartedly and was validating their point of view by repeating it back to them, but I was really just saying and doing the bare minimum to get in and out of the conversation without getting too turned around.

Indeed, this is the great pitfall of this approach, socially successful as it may be: that I can get swept up in a chain of events that I don’t agree with, don’t care about, don’t even want to participate in… because the action is moving a lot faster than my little brain is, and I’ve unconsciously mirrored everyone so well, that they enlisted my help and swept me into their grand designs without my ever consciously assenting to it. And they think that because I’m able to mirror them so well, I’ve consciously chosen the path they’re taking because I’m as totally into it as they are… But I haven’t deliberately chosen.  And I’m not totally into it. I’m totally into nothing more than just participating and navigating the situation successfully enough to not be found out as a head-injured dimwit.

It can be a problem. Especially when I try to slow down the action long enough to say, “Hey – I need a while to think this through before I get involved.” Slowing things down is terribly difficult for me, in the first place, because I tend to be highly impulsive and get swept up into the energy of things. I also hate feeling as slow as I am, and I hate feeling so friggin’ retarded — as in the literal meaning “to be delayed”, which is exactly what I am at times. I have developed an elaborate and effective cover/compensatory strategy for my limitations, and I like how I feel when I’m “under cover”. I like feeling whole and hale and hearty and fast and smooth and with it. I like feeling complete and well-integrated. But when I “buy my cover” and forget that it’s just that — well, things can break down pretty quickly.

I suppose it’s all a balancing act.  There’s no way I’m going to just dispense with my compensatory behaviors — why should I? Everyone needs a little cover, now and then, and plenty of people say “yes-yes-yes” while they’re trying to buy time to think things through on their own, in the privacy of their own heads. But I don’t want to fool myself into thinking that everything is perfectly alright, since I can present well, articulate, keep my act together in very controlled circumstances. I don’t want to fall into the habit of thinking that because I can function very well in a highly structured environment where I’m literally just mimicking people around me and able to perform well as a result, than I can duplicate that same level of effectiveness out on my own.

I’ve tried it, and it doesn’t work. I once thought that my on-the-job skills at my highly routinized, heavily project-managed 9-to-5 position at an established corporation would translate into the same level of effectiveness and success when I started my own company. But I was wrong, and that experiment ended very, very badly. I’m still picking up the pieces.

I once thought that because I saw other people conducting workshops and I understood the form and structure of them, that I could duplicate their efforts and do just as well. What happened was, I got 10 minutes into the workshop and lost control of the “flow” and ended up riding a wild bucking bronco of a workshop where everyone talked out of turn and wouldn’t stay on-topic — very similar to what happens inside my head when I’m tired and overwhelmed.

I once thought that because I had worked in financial services for many years, and I had a burning interest in financial planning, that I could and should become a financial planner. But I ended up enrolling in a program for a bunch of money and then was unable to even finish two of the six courses. I was also unable to get more than a C grade in the two tests I took. And I had no idea why! As so many times in my past, I actually forgot about the program for a while and wandered off to do other things… and it didn’t fully sink in that I was supposed to be working on it until I got a notice that I had all of six… then three months left to complete the 18-month course. It slipped my mind, for the most part… and I couldn’t finish the program. What could — and should — have been a simple matter for me turned out to be a whole lot more complicated than I thought it would be. And I was a whole lot less up to the task, than I had assumed.

I once thought that because I had worked with many different kinds of lawyers for many years, that I could read and analyze and understand important legal documents for my family, but I ended up really turned around and confused, and if it weren’t for the fact that I had a good lawyer waiting in the wings, I could have really screwed things up.

The wild thing was — I had gotten myself into all these messes at the urging of others around me. Others who were so very, very sure that I could handle myself perfectly well, that I was perfectly capable, that I was perfectly equipped to deal with all of this… who had no idea at the time (as I) that there were some serious neurological impairments holding me back. There weren’t a lot, but there were enough.

And as a result, I have danced on the edge of disaster repeatedly throughout the course of my adulthood — and I’m still running into instances where I overestimate my capabilities. They’re less and less pronounced, and I’m getting more acclimated to “quality controlling” my assumptions, but the risk still exists that I might overreach and not realize I need to take special care to compensate for my limits.

I suspect that these may be good examples of anosognosic hazard — having lacking self-awareness get in the way of living your life. I know that they’re good examples of how buying my own cover can get me into trouble.

The thing is, I don’t feel like being disabled, I don’t feel like being head-injured, I don’t feel like making special exceptions for myself. But when I don’t at least consider that my broken brain may be complicating my life needlessly… getting me into trouble, yet again… well, the feeling of being in hot water is far worse than the feeling of tending to my relatively few special needs.

I really, really hate having to consider how difficult some things are for me. I detest having to bumble and fumble and stumble my way through situations until I figure out how to handle them. I cannot stand having trouble with sequential steps and not being able to remember stuff that “should” come easily to me. Most of all, I hate the idea of revealing to others how hard I have to work to do the most basic of things, like getting up and going through my routine each morning, and actually getting to work on time. It’s embarrassing, it’s disconcerting, it’s a total downer. But that’s how it is.

And even if I don’t show it to everyone else, it’s important that I not lose sight of it inside my own head.

‘Cause you can’t fix something, if you don’t know it’s broken.

I was afraid this would happen…

I am tired. I am so tired, in fact, that I cannot rest. It’s not good. I haven’t had 8 uninterrupted hours of sleep in I don’t know how long. I haven’t had seven hours at a time in a while, either. Right now, I’m averaging about 6 to 6-1/2 hours of sleep a night, which is not good.

I’ve been going on adrenaline for a week, now, but it’s taking a toll. I spent the long weekend — all three beautiful days of it — laid up in the house, fighting off an infection that really dragged me down. What a waste. Then again, I did need to rest, so it was probably my body’s way of getting me off my feet.

Things have been going pretty well at work. It’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, I’m pretty freaked out at how much I have to learn. A lot of this is new to me — the aspects of this advanced technology I have to master are specific to the company I’m at, so I have to learn it even more specifically. And there’s a lot going on, so I have to learn a wide range of of specifics. Part of me is petrified. I really want to do my best at this job, and I will. But what if my best is not enough? What if I’m not nearly as proficient as I think I am?

It’s happened before. Lots of times. My brain has told the rest of me that it “got it” just fine, when it was way out in left field. It’s been a recurring problem.

Another issue is that I’m not following what people are saying to me. I’ll be sitting with someone, going over issues with them, and all of a sudden, I’ll notice that I am not understanding a word they’re saying to me. Somewhere, back a few minutes before (and I can’t remember when), I stopped listening. My brain quit on me. It just dropped out and ceased to function. Bye-bye. This is not good. I need to be able to pay attention when I’m talking to people. I need to be able to listen to them the whole way through. And I need to remember what they said to me later on.

This has me very concerned. Very worried. Very uptight. I’m getting that sick, sinking feeling in my stomach around my inadequacies and shortcomings. And I’m starting to get really worried that this is going to impact my ability to do my job — and my reputation. It feels like people I’m working with are noticing that I’m spacing out… that I’m getting lost. And my interactions with them are faltering, especially later in the day.

The people who brought me on board took a bit of a gamble with me, when they hired me. They brought me on based on what they knew of me in the late 1990’s. It’s now almost 10 years later, and I’m trading on a ten-year-old reputation. I can’t let these people down. I can’t let these people down. I can’t embarrass myself. I just can’t.

What to do…

Ah-ha! I’ve got it! I’m brilliant! I have a solution! It’s so common-sense, it’s almost frightening — use “assistive technoloy” I have (literally) at my fingertips, every day: My laptop.

My laptop is my lifeline at work. It plugs me into the network, it connects me with people near and far, so I can do my job. It’s my soother — the rhythmic action of typing really chills me out. And it also paces me, makes me do things systematically. And it’s a great prop for me to hold onto, whenever I’m getting tweaked and nervous and agitated.

I’m going to take my laptop with me, whenever I go out and consult with people who need my assistance, and I’ll use it to record what’s going on in our conversation. I’ll take my laptop with me to meetings, and I’ll have it logged into the network to check on various pieces of information that come up. I’ll always have it with me, and I’ll make a point of “capturing information” at the time I’m meeting with people, whether it’s one-on-one, or in a meeting. This is brilliant on a number of levels.

First, it makes me look like I mean business. I do mean business, but having my laptop with me bumps up my appearance by several orders. It makes me look like I take the situation seriously, by getting a computer involved. It’s true — I do take the situation(s) very seriously, and this communiates that to others.

Second, it slows down the action. Typing takes time to do. The computer has to run its programs, which tend to slow things down. Reviewing my notes in the moment also takes time. It basically keeps the action from getting way out of hand, and when it does, it gives me a great reason to circle back and recap. I’ve noticed that when I’m talking to people, I’ve been losing information, which is not good — and they’re smart, so they see it. Now, if I can type while I’m talking, I can find some middle way to keep up and get others to slow down. So many people I work with are very verbal, very interactive, and when we start writing things up, they have to slow down.

In a way, we’re inversely speedy — They’re as fast when they’re talking, as I am fast when I’m typing. They’re as slow when I’m typing, as I am when they’re talking. So, if I can type things up, I force them to slow down, which has to start happening.

Third, it speeds up my interaction. For some reason, when I’m typing things up and “thinking on paper or on-screen” I’m better able to collect my thoughts and communicate. I see issues and come up with ideas that are buried in the information. Writing things up and typing them out helps my brain organize the ideas that just get jumbled around when I’m talking and listening to people talk. I can really fly. And I type very fast, which makes me look good. I look even faster than I am, because I’m typing as I talk — highlighting my skills and abilities, rather than getting bogged down in my limitations.

Fourth, it creates a record for me to refer to. I can not only keep up while I’m meeting with someone, but it captures what we discuss, so I can come back to it later. This is huge with me. I lose so much, when I’m talking to people, and what I do retain, tends to get “filed” in different places in my brain.

The inside of my head feels a bit like my home office looks — papers and books all over the place, artwork and supplies and various items left here and there, in no particular order. Some of the mess is hygienic — just plain laziness keeping me from putting things in order. But some of it is necessary — one of my vexations is “out of sight, out of mind” where I literally lose things I cannot see. I forget that they exist, and then they get lost for long times, when I really need to keep them in mind. Like one of my W2’s that went missing in the past month. I distinctly remember getting it in the mail and putting it with my tax forms. But now it’s gone. And I have to file for an extension and request another copy. I searched high and low for it, but it’s nowhere to be seen, and I may have accidentally thrown it away. There’s a very good chance I did just that.

To avoid completely screwing up my new job and pissing everyone off and wrecking my future chances at employment, I’m going to just write everything up for myself — and others, so I have it to refer to. Just because my working memory is for sh*t, doesn’t mean my career needs to be trashed

Fifth, it chills me out with the typing. Something about the rhythmic tap-tap-tap soothes me and quiets my nerves. It’s an outlet for my nervous energy, I suppose. And I’m notorious “tapper”, anyway. For some reason, I tend to tap away at things, when I’m nervous. So, typing gives me a way to get that out of my system in a productive and positive way.

Sixth, it helps me think better. I do so much better in writing, than in speaking, so why not make that work for me? Writing things down lets me process information more quickly. And my typing is way faster than my handwriting — and it’s easier to read — so what I come up with is shareable. I can seriously come up with some great solutions when I’m working on-screen. I don’t know what I did before I had computers to help me out. Actually, I do know what I did — I floundered and foundered and made a mess of things. I made plenty of notes that were no use to anyone, including myself. Something about the keyboard helps me think more clearly. That’s a good thing.

So, I don’t need to get all tweaked and freaked out over the difficulties I’ve been having with listening to people. I work in technology, with computers. I use a laptop at work. I can use that laptop over and above its customary use by others. And I can make it work for me in lots of new ways.

This is good. This is so very good. Not only is it a workable, pragmatic solution, but it takes the pressure off my worried brain that has been sweating big-time over these difficulties. One less thing to worry about. Lots less things to worry about.

Now, I just need to take care of my wrists.

And make sure I start getting to bed sooner each night. That part is critical.