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.

Disaster at Sea – My ill-fated encounter with “Life of Pi”

Some years back, my parents gave me the book Life of Pi for a present. It’s the story about a guy from India whose ship goes down at sea, and he ends up in a lifeboat at sea with a bunch of wild animals (that had been on the ship) with him in the boat, and how he manages to survive the voyage with a tiger on board. I guess my folks thought I would enjoy it, since I work in technology and I have a lot of dealings with folks from India on a regular basis. Plus, it was full of interesting facts about animals and zoos and …  I’m not sure what else, because I couldn’t finish the book. Bottom line is, it was just the kind of book I loved as a kid, and they seemed to think I’d really get a kick out of it.

In retrospect, some Benadryl would have done me more good in improving the quality of my life. I know my folks were only trying to help me entertain myself, but my attempt at reading the book — about a year after my fall in 2004 — was so ill-fated, it stands as an excellent example of what TBI has done to my thought process and memory… and how that affects my ability to read, remember, and make progress with written material. It also highlights how TBI has utterly stripped me of one of the great joys of my past life — engrossing, fact-filled fiction that educates as well as entertains.

If you’ve read Life of Pi, you know that it is rich in detail and the action is pretty cerebral — it’s perfect for my parents, who are very heady types and love to noodle around with ideas that intrigue them. It used to be perfect for me, too, but from my very first attempt at reading the book, it became pretty clear that something was different with me. I started reading and got pulled into the backstory… the early years of the protagonist in India, his upbringing, his experiences, and how he ended up on a ship with a bunch of animals on it.

I did prett well for the first 20 pages or so, but I found that the farther into the book I got, the more turned around I got. I thought I was following, but things were starting to not make much sense. There’s a lot of information in there about animals and India and zoos, and the action switches between a lifeboat at sea and a house in — I think — Toronto, Canada. And the more information that was packed into the storyline… the more references there were to past info that I “should have” remembered… the more confused and frustrated I got.

Once upon a time, I would have really thrived on this sort of writing. It read like a wave of accumulating detail, each page building on past pages of information, insight, cross-reference, and so on. Talk about a recipe for TBI disaster! Before long, I was totally lost. I couldn’t keep track of who was doing/saying what… which animals were in the boat… what the main character was talking about… if it was in the present or the past, or wherever. It was the supreme WTF?! reading experience for me, and I had to keep back-tracking to refresh my memory about who was who and what they were doing and why they were doing it. Here’s a picture of how my reading experience went:

Attempt at reading Life of PiIt was really very frustrating. There I was, with this book in hand that my parents were sure I would just love — and just a few years before, I probably would have. But I kept getting so confused and so turned around by the details and losing my place and running out of steam and not being able to concentrate and not being sure what was happening and why I should care… it took me months and months just to move a few pages ahead, and even when I was making good progress, I would have to retrace my steps, check details earlier in the story, and then slog on through, trying to pick up where I’d left off.

Eventually I just gave up and left the book on my bedside stand.

My intention was to pick it up again and finish reading it, but time passed, I lost track of even more details about the story, and ultimately I had to hide the book — out of sight, out of mind — that danged reminder/hint that something was wrong with my brain.

The wild thing was, it didn’t even occur to me that I might be having genuine cognitive problems reading and comprehending and remembering. I thought that the book was the problem. “It just didn’t hold my attention,” I told myself. “It was obscure. Obtuse. Disconnected.” Or somesuch. I didn’t stop to think that it was my brain that was having the problem — it was the book… all about the book. Oh, no – the problem couldn’t possibly be with me!

I spent the next year or so dodging questions from my folks about how I liked the book. I gave them some vague answer — like I have done my entire life, when they’ve asked me about things or tried to talk to me about things that I was foggy or confused about. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I couldn’t finish it. I couldn’t tell them that I’d become hopelessly lost, a quarter of the way into it, and I just didn’t have the stamina or the patience to slog through the ordeal of  — from the way they described it — a pleasant and entertaining read. I didn’t want them to feel badly — for me, or for themselves. They had been so sure I would love the book, and in a former incarnation, I’m sure I would have. But that kid they once knew was gone, and in their place was this overtired, cranky, easily confused, easily provoked wild person with a hair-trigger temper.

Crazy. Just crazy.

Eventually, I gave the book away — I almost made the mistake of giving it back to them for a holiday present. Thank heavens I at least remembered where the book came from, so I didn’t have to dig myself out of that embarrassing situation. It’s bad enough losing something that meant so much to me once upon a time — my love of fiction — but having to explain it to people who don’t perceive or understand that loss is a recipe for despair. And I’m not going there, if I don’t have to.