Well, why didn’t they just SAY so?

People need to talk so others can understand
People need to explain things so others can understand

When I was a little kid, I had trouble hearing. I could pick up a full range of volume just fine, according to the tests they gave me, but I had a hard time distinguishing between sounds.

“S” sounded like “F” and the soft “TH” to me.

“B” sounded like “V” to me.

Unless I saw a word written out, it was sometimes hard for me to understand precisely what was meant. Based on what I heard, it could have meant anything, really.

I was also a very literal child, who didn’t “get” the whole slang thing. That 1970s song “Convoy”, which was an extended conversation between truckers using their trucking slang, was pretty interesting for me to listen to. I had all sorts of unusual ideas about what exactly was going on there, and when my mother asked me if I knew what the song was about, I said, “Sure! It’s about truckers going bear hunting!”

She gave me a strange look that made me think I was probably wrong — and sure enough, the “hunting bear” reference was really about truckers doing battle with the highway patrol.

I also had a lot of disagreements about what people were talking about and what they were saying to me. I got my letters mixed up, because they all sounded the same to me, and I made up my own (stubborn) mind about what words should be used — and how.

I remember one time I had a pitched battle with my mother, who told me that the name of one of my school friends was “Valerie” — with a “V”.  I heard “Balerie” — with a “B”. Never in my life had I heard her name pronounced with a “V” sound, so being the stubborn kid I was, I argued for quite some time and got very, very angry, that my mother had it wrong.

She kept repeating “Valerie… Valerie… Valerie”, drawing a “V” in the air with her finger, and I got angrier and angrier.

Because that wasn’t what I experienced. It wasn’t what I heard.

I also had trouble pronouncing words. I had a “lisp” when I was little, partly because I didn’t realize you had to form “F”, “TH” (the soft one), and “S” differently with your mouth. I thought they were all the same sound, so I picked the one that was the easiest for me to tolerate.

Part of the issue was that I had trouble with my ears — they were so hyper-acute, the sound of an “S” literally hurt them. It was painful to pronounce “S”, so I tried to soften it, like a “TH”. And of course, that was wrong, so I was in speech therapy for some time, to try to correct it.

That was rough. They took me out of my regular classes, and not only was everyone staring at me, but then they walked me through the halls of the massive school that seemed so cavernous and vast to me. I could never remember how to get there, and I got lost a number of times. People got upset with me, because apparently it was easy to get to the speech therapist’s office. Easy for everyone else. I got turned around and couldn’t find my way. And the speech therapist had to keep coming to my classroom to show me the way.

So, I figured I must be an idiot.  Such a simple thing … and it was so hard for me. There must have been something really wrong with me.

I also couldn’t makethe sounds right. The speech therapist kept trying to get me to sound out the sounds, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t tell that there was a difference between them, and try as I might, I couldn’t make the connection between what they were telling me to say, and what I could/did say. It all sounded the same to me, and nobody explained to me the way to shape the sounds in my mouth, so I could say them correctly.

After some time trying to work with me, the speech therapist gave up. They may have suspected I just wasn’t trying. Or they couldn’t justify spending any more time with me, because I wasn’t making any progress. They may have also believed I was deliberately being difficult.

There were a lot of things that were pretty challenging for me, which I “should” have been able to do. But I couldn’t. And nobody seemed to know how to help me.

What really would have helped, is if someone had just told me that you shape words different ways with your mouth. Everybody seemed to take for granted, that everyone knows that. But looking at someone’s mouth from a distance, you cannot see the position of their tongue or their teeth or even the subtle differences in their lips. “B” looked pretty much like “V” to me. And even though “TH”, “S”, and “F” look different from a distance, I could not tell the difference in the sounds, so I could never tell if I was saying it correctly.

So, I went with the sound that was the least painful — the “TH”.

Eventually, it dawned on me that sounds were shaped differently, and if I just formed them properly, even if it didn’t sound right to me, others would get it. I have no idea if I reached this conclusion myself, or if it finally sank in, after I was on my own and the lessons of the speech therapist finally sank in with me. I used to think I figured it out by myself, but now I think it could have been a delayed realization.

In retrospect, it would have been really helpful, if someone had just sat me down and explained to me slowly and carefully, in very clear and logical terms, that words and sounds were produced with certain positions of lips, tongue, and teeth. And have me practice making those sounds with my mouth. Even if I couldn’t hear the sounds properly, I could know that I was forming the words correctly, so others would understand me. Even if I didn’t get it, at least someone would. And 1 out of 2 is better than 0 for 2.

Then again, they may have tried. But I was a tough case. I had trouble paying attention. If people didn’t explain to me why we were doing something, I lost interest. I was also overwhelmed and stressed from the walk to the speech therapist’s office, so that made it hard to concentrate. Plus, I didn’t know why I wasn’t getting it. I just didn’t know. And neither did they, apparently.

The whole speech and articulation thing just messed with my head when I was little — to the point that I started hyper-articulating things, and I became pretty OCD about making sure I was pronouncing words exactly right. It’s one of the reasons I can pronounce foreign words pretty well and also simulate a non-English accent pretty well. I get extremely nervous if I don’t pronounce something right. It’s a visceral reaction to past bad experiences, I guess.

As a kid, I had so many failed interactions, thanks to my speech and comprehension difficulties. On my first day at kindergarten, I couldn’t articulate to the teachers what my address was, so they couldn’t put me on the right bus. And after my first day of school, ever, when my mother was waiting at the bus stop, her firstborn was nowhere to be found. The school called to tell her they were giving me a ride home, but my mother almost lost it when I didn’t get off the bus.

I had lots of trouble with kids at school, too. I tried to talk, but I couldn’t seem to make myself understood. I felt like I was babbling into the wind, and it might have sounded that way to them, too.

Ultimately, when I could read books, I turned to them for company. That was enough. It was more than enough for me. Books didn’t make fun of me, they didn’t look at me strangely, they didn’t correct me, they didn’t test me to see if I got it. They were just there, waiting to impart their knowledge. Of course they never told me how to pronounce the big words that I found there (I thought rendezvous was pronounced renn-dezz-vus, until my dad told me otherwise), but then, that never mattered, because I had the meaning in my head.

I swear, I really don’t know what is up with people who can’t be direct and just come right out and tell people what the deal is. Hinting around and intimating makes me nuts.  It drove me nuts as a kid, and it still does today.

If I’m messing up, just tell me. I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again. And it’s a heck of a lot easier to deal with, when you have direct information, rather than trying to “go easy” on me. Easy is hard. Direct is simpler.

Don’t make me guess — just tell me what the deal is.

And then I’ll deal.

You see, I did leave my therapist — back in 2009

firecracker
Discussions can get fiery…

An interesting thing happened yesterday. I was going through some old posts that I had un-published for some reason, and I decided to re-post them. One was from 2009, where I was debating whether to fire the therapist I was seeing. That was almost exactly six years ago, today, and long story short, I did fire them. After I figured everything out.

With me, a lot of the stuff people say doesn’t sink in right away, so I have to take some time to figure it out. I have to ask questions — and I have to ask them the right way, so I don’t sound like an idiot. Truly, there are things that block me, that keep me from understanding what’s going on, and unless I can ask questions, I get lost.

That’s probably the issue with emails, lately. I don’t talk to real people enough, and I don’t get what they’re saying in writing. How ironic, that I need to talk to people.  Writing has been my preferred mode, for as long as I can remember. But the practice at having discussions with people has really paid off — and I’m a heckuvalot more functional at getting information and processing it now, than I was, at the time I wrote that post about my therapist.

I guess everybody’s like that, to some extent — we need to bounce ideas off others, get their opinions, see what they have to say, before we make up our minds about things. It’s not a TBI thing. It’s a human thing. For some reason, my brain tells me that I’m stupid and dull and not getting things. Then again, it’s not just my brain — it’s most people I’ve ever talked to about things I didn’t get, throughout the course of my childhood and youth. People just couldn’t fathom why I was so dense about some things, why I would miss details, why I would struggle with decisions that seemed so straightforward to them. And even when people helped me without questioning me, I had a hell of a time understanding their facial and vocal expressions, and interpreting how they really felt about me. It was safer to assume the worst, because I’d assumed the best about people so many times, and I’d been wrong.

If people tell you you’re an idiot (in so many words) — or you think they believe you’re an idiot — even if you logically know you’re not stupid, it starts to take a toll.

And you shut down. Which is what I did. I just couldn’t take all the frustration of trying to talk to people, trying to express myself, trying to make myself clear.

Truth be told, I still feel that way. I am definitely making progress with extracting needed information from others, but I’m still not  great at communicating in words. There’s too much going on, that can’t be translated verbally — it’s a whole world of sensation going on in my experience, that doesn’t lend itself to words.

And I’m sick of trying — and failing — to get my meanings across.

So, I’ll look to my writing to help me put things in order. It helps with my thought process, and it’s a huge help for my head. I feel much less alone, when I’m writing things down. Talking… that’s a very different thing.

Which is ironic, because I need to start looking around for another neuropsychologist. I know my current one is not leaving till March/April, but it takes time to find a replacement, and I need the time buffer to pick carefully. I’ve been ’round the barn with a handful of different therapists, all of whom eventually annoyed the living sh*t out of me — including the last one, who (I now realize) is just an a**hole with a license to do social work.

Caveat: I’m going to rant a little bit here about the last official therapist I had — cover your ears /scroll ahead if you don’t want to hear it…

Okay, so I was seeing this therapist, in addition to my neuropsych, to handle caregiver concerns about my spouse. The whole point was for me to get support so I can be a better caregiver, and also take care of myself. And that was my expressed intention, going it. But oh no… the therapist couldn’t just work with me on that — they had to spin my marriage into some sort of competition between my spouse’s needs and my needs, and they were actually gleeful, when they asked if my spouse noticed my behavior had changed to be less helpful, less sympathetic, since I started seeing this new therapist. The therapist was constantly talking about how my  needs were their concern, vs. my spouse’s — as though the two of us were competing parties vying to get our needs met from limited resources, and both of us couldn’t be served at the same time. They treated my marriage like a zero-sum game, where only one person could win, and my spouse was just taking advantage of me. They COMPLETELY disregarded the fact of my spouse’s neurological issues — the strokes, the diabetes, the panic/anxiety issues — and they treated them like they were a manipulative sociopath. When I told them about how my spouse would get upset over things, that therapist actually smiled and was pleased. Fuck Them. Fuck them and their self-centered, divisive bullshit. You go up against my marriage, and you go up against me. So, fuck you very much, you miserable, hard-hearted, shriveled-soul idiot.

Okay, enough. Obviously, I’m none too pleased with that therapist, and I’ve had a number of other experiences that have been similar. Everybody seems to take an over-simplified approach, where my spouse is either more disabled than they are (and getting worse, because after all, they are getting on in years and they do have their own set of issues), or they are not disabled, they’re just a manipulative narcissistic sociopath.

Granted, a lot of my spouse’s behavior could qualify as the latter, but they have neurological issues. And they’re not like that ALL the time. I need help managing myself and my relationship with them, and I need someone to understand that I actually do have some issues that I need to address.

And the approach that my current neuropsych takes — I have some issues, but I really blow them out of proportion because my thinking process is screwed up — that’s getting old.

Well, this post is turning into a longer one than I planned. It’s time to take a break. Give myself a breather. And chill out. I need to stay positive and pro-active, not get sucked into negativity from external circumstances. I’ve been sick. My resistance is down — and that includes my mental resistance to negativity. Best thing I can do, is look to the good lessons I’ve learned and focus on them.

Bad stuff happens all the time. But good stuff does, too.

And that’s where I need to put my attention. Hopefully, I’ll find someone to work with who feels the same way.

Gearing up for my new job

Getting everything in place

In three weeks, I will be at my new job. It seems surreal. I am finishing up with my current job, just trying to get all my “ducks in a row”… along with rolling with all the change that’s going on in the organization.

It’s a hard time for most people there. And it’s hard to not get pulled down into their frame of mind.

So, to counter-act that, I am expanding my skillset and gearing up for the next stage in my career. I’m taking some courses that will get me prepared for my new job — and my new career. I’ve always been out on the “front lines” of my industry, and this is giving me the chance to get out ahead of it again.

It’s pretty amazing. Exciting. And the beauty part is, the line of work I’m getting into is so new, there are no real college degrees in it, so the fact that I don’t have a Bachelor’s or Master’s doesn’t work against me. Nobody has that, yet. It’s all about practical results. Being able to do the job. Produce the numbers. Meet the need that my employer has.

I’ve got them covered, in that respect.

Anyway, I’m feeling like I have a new lease on life, with this new job. I’m finally getting out of the rut I fell into, when I crashed my head down those stairs in 2004. It’s taken me 10 years (and a few months) to get myself functional again the way I want to be… the way I need to be. And I still have a ways to go.

I can get there. I’m not going to be held back. I can use the same sorts of skills I developed in my TBI recovery to recover my career, as well.

Now, this isn’t all happening overnight, and it’s not happening in a vacuum. Nor is it some situation where my fairy godmother or a genie from a bottle is showing up to shower pixie dust on me. I have put in a lot of hard work, over the past years, to get to this point. I have been studying and studying, working and working. Back when I was injured in 2004 until around 2010, I was unable to read books the way I had before. I had always been an avid reader, but I lost the ability to keep information in mind long enough to go from page to page. I would literally lose the train of thought if it went on past several paragraphs.

So, I quit reading, period. I read websites, in bits and pieces… news… etc. Whatever I could, without wiping myself out. I studied TBI and the brain, because that was the only thing that held my attention. It was the only motivated reading I could do, and even that was in fits and starts. One of the books that changed my life — The Brain That Changes Itself — I had to read in bits and pieces. In fact, I’m not sure I ever completely finished it (I should do that now).

I surfed the web and researched brain injury. I struggled to find really good sources of information — partly because there weren’t as many out there as there are today, and partly because it was hard for me to sort through all the search results and decide what was helpful and what wasn’t.

I also studied trauma and its effects. I managed to read a few books about trauma, but it was slow going. I had to find summaries online to really make sense of things.

Over time, my ability to read improved — ironically it came back after I had given up on it completely and decided, “Well, I’ll never read again…” It was slow going — fits and starts. But eventually it came back, and I worked my way back slowly.

One of the books I read (Aging With Grace – a study of nuns who outlived the surrounding population by 10-20 years and stayed sharper and functional longer than was typical for their geographical area) showed how “idea density” can contribute to holding off Alzheimers and other kinds of cognitive decline. Basically, with “idea density”, the more ideas that are packed into a sentence / paragraph, the more “dense” are the ideas. And I found out that scientific research papers had a lot of idea density. Not the most, but a pretty decent amount.

So, I started actively looking for scientific papers about TBI that related to me. Long-term outcomes. Childhood head trauma. Behavior issues. Mood disorders. Mental health issues. Sports injuries. Recovery approaches. Rehab. Frontal lobe and executive function. Mindfulness. I specifically searched for information that related to me, that would be useful and meaningful… and I could put to good use.

All together, over the course of several years, I found and downloaded over 300 research papers about TBI and TBI recovery. There were a lot more that I found and did not download. I did not read all of them from beginning to end, but I did read the summaries and abstracts, and sometimes I read the discussions recapping all their findings.

That was the best rehabilitation I could have asked for, because it was intimately related to me, it was self-directed, and I believe it even helped with my gist reasoning.  When I did read the whole papers, and then I read the abstracts again, I could piece together the central theme of the data that was collected, and learn to screen out the things that did not matter. So, many, many researchers have indirectly contributed to my recovery.

Slowly but surely, I’ve felt my abilities improve. It took time, and it took a lot of diligent effort. Each and every day, just about. Each and every weekend. On my free time. During my not-so-free time. I have had a total life orientation towards TBI recovery that has paid off.

I never felt like there was a choice for me. I have been given a lot of gifts in life, and I believe it’s on me to ensure that I return the favor to the universe — or whoever else has helped me.  I really feel that sense of responsibility. Even when I’ve been at my worst, I never lost sight of that. I knew I had to get back… I was on a mission.

Now I can read books again. And I can remember what I read, pages and chapters later. Miraculous. And I’m gearing up for my new job by reading some more. And thinking. And taking some classes. One class I started, but I’ve realized it’s best that I do another class first, so that I have a better foundation. I also need to strengthen some of my skills, including math. Geometry has always made perfect sense to me, and I was doing advanced fractions when I was in elementary school, years before most kids even had a concept of fractions.

It all just made perfect sense.

But over the years, that sense got kind of trained out of me, because nobody was really qualified to help me excel. They were so busy trying to get kids “normalized”, and I was so un-normal in some ways, that they focused on my weaknesses, rather than my strengths. And in the process, any latent ability I had for advanced materials got lost in the shuffle because of my attention/distraction difficulties, behavior issues, and trouble understanding what people were saying to me. I kept getting punished because I simply did not understand.

Now things are different. I’m all grown up. At least that’s what they tell me 😉 And I have to let go of that earlier conditioning. I’m not stupid. I’m just out of synch with a lot of the world. And now I have a new chance to start fresh in a line of work that suits me so well, it’s scary. I’m going to my dream job in less than three weeks, and I want to be ready for it.

So, I’m studying. I’m finding more papers to read, that have to do with my new field, rather than only TBI. I’m also pacing myself, taking my time, not getting ahead of myself and being very systematic about my approach. Because it matters to me so deeply, and I am so grateful for this opportunity to learn and grow.

On top of it, I have an appointment tomorrow with a trainer who focuses on strengthening specific neurological features. I’ve been reading about this method over the past couple of weeks, and I’m very excited to see what comes of our meeting tomorrow.

It’s all good.

Onward.

Good day, good progress

It’s been a very busy day today — full and just about as complete as you can get. I started with waking up around 6 a.m., which gave me about 6 hours of sleep. Not great, so I lay in bed for a while and just relaxed, drifted in and out of sleep. Then, by 7, I was awake and ready to get up and go. I got a little bit of exercise and stretching, then had my breakfast and sat down to catch up on some reading I’ve been meaning to do — as in, reading I haven’t been able to do for years. There’s this book that I’ve needed to read, but I just couldn’t manage to start it, for some reason. I started it yesterday, after years of just looking at the book on my shelf. And today I continued — got the first chapter read — and understood.

So, that was pretty huge. I have really struggled with reading, and I’ve been missing it; I used to be an avid reader, just about all my life, but after my fall in 2004, I wasn’t able to really sit down with a book and read it the whole way through. It’s been slow going, getting back into the swing of things, with some fits and starts. But now I’m feeling pretty strong and optimistic — this book is about things that really interest me, that I can use in my everyday life, so I have a lot of incentive to read it.

The morning just flew by, and I made a lot of great progress, so to celebrate I went out for a walk in the woods near my house. I got a little turned around and lost my way once, but I just kept going until I recognized something. The woods are not that big – I can just keep walking and eventually come out to a road or a pond or a stream which I recognize.

Such a great way to spend a few hours on a beautiful fall day. I took it all in — the colors, the sights, the sounds, the scents — I got more exercise, going up hill and down…  and I had a few more decent ideas that built on what I read this morning, which is always nice. I also had some time to just sit in the sun and see how I was feeling — and I wasn’t feeling that great, when I stopped to think about it. I was shaky and sick to my stomach, my head hurt, and I felt really foggy. It wasn’t stopping me from going about my business and doing what I needed to do, but it wasn’t me at peak. Not even close.

I was tempted to spend the whole afternoon outside, but I needed to come home, have some lunch, and have a nap. I’ve been so wiped out — I need to make extra effort to sleep when I can. So, I walked home, had some soup and crackers, and then slept for about an hour.

I got up feeling pretty good, and after I cleared the fallen leaves off the driveway, I helped my spouse load the van for an event they were going to. They were having a little trouble focusing in and getting everything together — they’ve been distracted thanks to another upcoming business trip next weekend which promises to be quite challenging for them. So, my evening was spent coaching and reassuring and gently nudging them in the direction they were supposed to be going.

After they left, I had a little leftover barbecue chicken from last night, and I caulked the seams of our kitchen counters, which have been cracking and separating, now, for years. I’ve been looking at those seams, promising myself I’d do something about them. And tonight I did just that.

I’m pretty happy with the result, too. It’s neat, it’s going to look great when it all dries, and I managed to get through the job with only a couple very minor freak-outs, when I was dropping things and having a hard time holding the caulk tube steady. I managed to finish the job without melting down, which is nice. Even though I’m on my own tonight, and there’s no one to hear me flipping out, it still feels like crap when I lose it, and it takes me some time to recover from the outburst.

I don’t want to focus on the flipping out, though. I want to focus on the fact that I’m back to taking care of the house and doing right by it. I have not been keeping up with things at all, over the years. It has just been too much for me to get my head around. Now, though, I seem to have regained my ability to take things one step at a time and not get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things that need to get done. I’m not panicking at the sight of a stack of firewood that needs to be split and moved. I’m just grabbing the axe and having at it.

I’m also doing much, much better at being “editorial” in what I do. In the past, I have been so bogged down by distraction and details that didn’t matter at all, that it kept me from starting things and getting them done — it was all just too overwhelming, and I didn’t know which things mattered and which didn’t. In the past year, however, I’ve learned how to cut through all the static and focus on the core things that need to be done.

Now, instead of being overwhelmed by thinking through the minute details of every single step I need to follow, I am “roughing out” my chores and just cutting to the chase — focusing on the essentials, like grabbing one piece of wood and splitting it cleanly, then tossing it on a pile to move later. In the past, I couldn’t even grab a piece of firewood, because I couldn’t figure out which one I should pick out first, how I should place it on the chopping block, how I should place my feet, how I should stand, exactly, how I should hold the axe, what angle I should strike with the axe, and where I should toss the wood when it was split. I had so many competing details rattling ’round in my head, that I couldn’t even get started.

Now that has changed dramatically. The sequencing is much clearer and cleaner — less static, more flow. I honestly believe all the cooking I’ve been doing has been helping me with that. So, I continue to cook. And more good things follow.

Yep, it’s been a good day, all in all. I’ve got a few more little things I need to do tonight, but it’s no big deal. I can do them while watching a movie, which I plan to do shortly. With any luck, I’ll get to bed before midnight and get some real rest.

It’s all good.

Yes indeed, it’s all good.

The magical learning loop

Look – learn – act – look – and learn again

Speaking of re-adjusting and recalibrating, I had an epiphany in the grocery store the other evening, when I was picking up supper after a long day of yard work. I was dog-tired from working, I was a bit banged-up from moving and lifting and hauling, but I felt great. As I was walking through the store, I was getting sort of confused, not being sure where I was or where I was going. No biggie. It happens. I get disoriented for a few seconds — usually because I’m overwhelmed with the bright lights and the activity around me and fatigue — so I stop what I’m doing, I take a few breaths, I look at my list, and I continue on. This happened several times, and after the 2nd or 3rd time, I realized that it really wasn’t bothering me. I was so friggin’ tired (I worked my ass off on Saturday and never got the nap I needed), and I was out of it and spaced out and disoriented and feeling like a zonked out zombie. But it didn’t bother me. I just dealt with it.

This is a huge change from how things used to be — I used to get so worked up and bent out of shape about this kind of stuff. I would get anxious and nervous, my heart would start to pound, my head would start to race, and I’d have all these crazy thoughts running wild in my brain. It would practically incapacitate me, and it just freaked me out. And in the process, things would get even worse than they already were. And I’d be even more disoriented, confused, and forgetful.

But yesterday it didn’t. It just sort of was what it was… I knew I was tired — and for a very good reason. I knew that when I get tired I get forgetful and spaced out. I also noticed that there were a lot of people around me who were in really crappy shape — the father who couldn’t keep his kids in line without yelling at them… the guy who was all over the produce section with his cart… the ladies who were so engrossed in the displays that they blocked the aisle with their carts and wouldn’t let anyone pass… everybody was sort of at their wits’ end — probably for the same reason I was — we’d all been working our asses off for the past two days, maybe longer.

At the same time, the folks who worked in the store were very cool. They greeted me like they knew me, even though I didn’t recognize them. Maybe I should have recognized them – I don’t know. All I know is that they were very pleasant and personable, and it’s always nice to have someone greet you and treat you like a decent human being.

I also noticed that I was really relaxed. I mean, really relaxed. I was tired, yes. I was out of my head, yes. But I was relaxed and chilled out and putting out a vibe of real confidence and calm. I was dropping stuff left and right, bumping into things, forgetting things, not knowing where I was or what I was doing, here and there. But it wasn’t bothering me. I just kept going. I just kept on keeping on.

And it worked.

Not only did I pick up all the supper items on my list, but I also remembered a bunch of other things we needed, and I came home with two full bags of groceries that we needed for the coming week. Score.

And then I went out and seeded my lawn — at least, that’s what I thought I was doing… until I realized that I’d bought fertilizer earlier that day, not seed. And I was going to miss the opportunity to seed my messed up lawn before the rain comes later this week. That really threw me for a loop – I had it carefully planned, how I’d rake up all the dead grass, then seed, and water, and then I would be done for a few days.

Except that I didn’t buy grass seed.

After getting a little tweaked over it, I let that go and just decided to fertilize my lawn instead. God knows, it needs it. So, I got out my spreader, gave my lawn a nice dose of fertilizer, and watered afterwards. It wasn’t a total waste, and in fact, it’s probably an even better idea than seeding right off the bat. I just picked up seed the next day, when I was less tired and could read and comprehend the labels on the bags — which was giving me a LOT of trouble at the hardware store the day I bought the fertilizer — I could hardly comprehend anything I was reading, and the words weren’t making any sense to me. But I got in and out without too much drama.

Anyway, this is something new for me — not only taking steps to avoid issues, but learning how to gracefully handle the times when issues are in my face and unavoidable. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been pretty focused on keeping bad things from happening. A huge amount of anxiety has followed me everywhere in life because of that. But now I’m getting the hang of not having the screw-ups really screw me up — just learning my lesson, dealing with what comes up, and getting on with the next thing.

Just keeping moving. Learning. Living. Using what I learn in that “learning loop” and taking things to the next step without missing a beat. Paying attention to the feedback that comes from the world around me and finding the pieces that will help me get to the next level — or just to the next step.

And trusting that I will be able to apply what I’ve learned in a way that makes things better the next time.

TBI Issue #5 – Trouble understanding

What’s going on out there? What’s going on in here?

So, I had a pretty good Thanksgiving. It was good to be with everyone, but I also burned through my money on gas and incidentals. It was cheaper than flying, but it’s still expensive to drive all that way.

Anyway, now I’m back and I get to resume my regular routine. I can get back to my daily work and start eating the foods I prefer to eat, at the times I prefer to eat them. I can get back to my usual “grind” which isn’t a grind at all – it’s quite pleasant, actually. I have refined it and honed it, to where I am pretty productive everyday, but at the same time, I also have room to move and breathe and make plans and preparations for what’s next in my life.

I have been thinking a lot, lately, about the issues I have understanding others. I have especially been thinking about the time, back around 1988, when I was in a car accident, got hit on the driver’s side of the car, and all of a sudden, I couldn’t understand what people were saying to me. It was especially difficult with people who had non-American accents – when they were talking to me, it sounded like they kept “clipping out” — like an old movie that has a choppy frame rate. In and out, in and out, getting only small pieces of what they were saying.

It was a big problem especially because they were my boss, and I could not understand what they were saying at all. So, I quit. It was a temp job, anyway, but to quit work… that’s something that was very unlike me.

That’s one kind of trouble understanding – just not being able to hear.

The other kind of trouble understanding (as I think about it) is needing enough time to catch up with what someone is saying to you. That’s what I’ve got going on now.

I often have to ask people to repeat what they said, because I need a minute to switch gears and catch up with them. I’m not stupid. My brain just processes information a bit differently, and that takes a little more time. I’ve tried to speed things up, but it doesn’t always work. It’s especially bad, if I’m in an “open environment” at work, where there are so many, many distractions. That is truly maddening with all the visual and auditory stimuli crowding me, and it makes it really hard for me to understand what people say to me right away. I usually have to ask people to repeat themselves.

I used to never do this. And it was a huge problem for me. In fact, not being able to hear — and never asking others to repeat what they said — had me blocked into a dark corner, where I was pretty much guessing all the time at what people were saying to me and what we were talking about. I have to admit, I’ve gone back to a bit of that — faking my way through. But this time, I’m aware of how spotty my working memory is, and I’m aware of what a hard time I have understanding people the first time they say something to me, so I really work at making up for the lapses. I take steps to actually “get” what others are saying to me.

There are several factors that come into play with me:

  1. Not being able to make out sounds, the first time I hear them.  I actually can’t hear the sounds if I’m not listening closely — it sounds like a garbled jumble of noise, and I have to really attend closely to get what others are saying.
  2. Being subject to tremendous distraction in the environment I’m in. Especially at work, where everything is open and countless sights and sounds are competing for attention. Having visual distractions actually makes hearing harder, because it distracts me from what I’m listening to. It’s really hellish, and as much as I’d like to make the best of my current situation, there is no way. No way in hell. In the spring, I have got to go, if they don’t reconfigure the environment.
  3. Slower processing speed, thanks to multiple concussions/TBIs. It’s bad enough when you can’t make out sounds, and when you have to deal with heightened distractability. But when your processing speed is slower than you’d like… triple-whammy. Everything slows down – it’s just crazy. And it’s exhausting, because I have to work so hard at processing everything. I sometimes feel like people avoid dealing with me, too, because I have to slow them down and our conversations can be so plodding. What fun is that? Not much for them, and certainly not for me.

Small wonder I’ve gone back to faking my way through a lot of conversations. It’s just so laborious at times, and I feel like such an idiot, not being able to “get” things right away. I can fake it through many situations, but eventually people tend to figure out that I’m fudging my way through, and then things start to come down around me.

Small wonder, I do so well with computers and prefer them and their company to real-live people who have no knowledge or compassion about my situation. A computer won’t yell at me and force me to “keep up”. It just says “yes” or “no” and always gives me another chance.

Others try to reassure me that I’m doing fine, that I am not impaired but they cannot see or feel how slow it is for me, and how hard I have to work at things. I try to explain to my neuropsych, but they cannot imagine what it’s like because we always meet under ideal conditions — in a quiet office without any distractions or pressure, and no terrible consequences for screwing up. I would venture to say that I am a very different person in my NP appointments, than I am in the outside world. I just wish I could communicate that to them.

Well, anyway, my work day is about to begin. I am working from home this morning — have a few conference calls I need to make, which requires a lot of listening and understanding. The thing that works in my favor is that I’m talking to folks outside the USA, and we ALL have trouble being understood. In a way, my difficulties make me easier to work with, in that respect, and I can offer my colleagues a lot of leeway they don’t get with my other American colleagues, because most people don’t understand what it’s like to have trouble understanding what others are saying to you.

But I understand. Very well, in fact.

So, now it’s time to go and put that knowledge to use.