My last decent vacation in a good long time…

open book with a landscape scene in the pages
The way life goes, you never know how things will shape up. I’ve had so many hopes and dreams over the years, and so many times, I’ve been on the verge of really breaking through… then something happened. And that “something” was often a TBI.

I was just getting my act together in elementary school, finding my footing with my peers and getting involved in a special program for “gifted” kids and discovering what worked for me, when I got hit on the head and things changed. I became combative. Difficult. A behavior problem. So much for the gifted program. They showed me to the door on that one.

My family relocated, and I was finally figuring out how to interact with the people around me (who all talked with thick accents I could barely understand). Then I fell out of a tree and wrenched my neck. And I kept hitting my head while playing sports. Football. Soccer. Just playing outside. Hitting my head was routine. I can remember a number of really significant blows to my skull that disrupted my consciousness, but they happened against a backdrop of regular clunks on the head. It seemed like every time I got on my feet and started feeling like I had a grip on my life, I’d get hurt (again), and I’d be back at square one.

I eventually got out of my parents’ house and got on with my life. When I drank a lot, I fell down — a lot. I may have (probably) hit my head a bunch of times, but I don’t remember much from the 4-5 years after I left my parents’ home.  Those years that could have been some of my best (and in some ways, they were). They could have been years of exploration and learning and experience like no other, but instead they were mired in the muck of hangovers and all the confusion that comes from not knowing what happened the night before. A few scrapes with the law… being ostracized by my peers… some violent confrontations… making money by borderline means, just to get by… it was definitely an experience — that’s for sure. But it took me years to recover from the damage I did to myself.

After I was in the working world, driving to work each day, I got in a bunch of car accidents. They weren’t huge deals, mostly just fender-benders, but whiplash and getting clunked on the head didn’t help matters any. During years when most of my peers were getting on their feet, finding their way in the world, I was scrambling. Trying to catch up, after being set back. I got a job, then got hit by a speeding door-to-door salesman. I left that job without saying why. Just left one day and never went back. I relocated to a really great city, but just before moving, I got rear-ended and spent the next several months in a manic haze.

Years later, I had a pretty decent job with a lot of responsibility, then got tangled up in a 7-car pileup, and everything fell to pieces there, too. That worked out okay in the end, because I found a much better job and a completely different career track, but it did a number on my self-confidence, and it caused me to pass up a golden opportunity that my new manager laid at my feet (and begged me to take). I can only imagine how much more stable my life would be now, had I actually taken them up on it.

The last and most debilitating TBI was when I fell down a flight of stairs at the end of 2004. I was just 18 months away from having some investments mature, and if I’d been able to hang in there and keep up with my life, I could have repaired and paid off my house, gotten rid of my debt, and really solved a lot of logistical problems that are the kinds of things that only money will solve. None of that got solved. It all fell apart. And it’s taken me 12+ years go piece it all back together to just a semblance of how things once were.

So, what does this have to do with my current vacation (which is now drawing to a close)?

In the course of my life, I’ve never known just when everything would fall to sh*t. It’s partly me being oblivious, partly me not having a reliable crystal ball that lets me peer into the future. So, all those times when I just assumed I’d have time to do this, that, or the other thing… all those times when I thought I was set… all those times when I didn’t pay attention to what was Right In Front Of Me… in so many cases, they were the last hurrah for that part of my life. The last shred of self-confidence. The last vestiges of feeling competent. The last months of feeling like I could actually plan my future with certainty. The last weeks of being able to take certain things (like how my brain worked or how I’d react to experiences) for granted.

I didn’t savor those things when they happened, because I was too damn’ optimistic. Too oblivious to just how sh*tty life could get for me. Not experienced enough to realize that things could get That Much Harder for me in a moment’s time. I took them for granted. I didn’t wring every last bit of goodness out of them, while the goodness lasted. And now I just look back on a lot of wasted opportunities and chances I totally missed enjoying… all because I thought there would be another time that would be somehow better.

I don’t believe that anymore.

Especially not this morning.

From here on out, my vacations will probably be a lot more work than relaxation, a lot more frustrating than renewing, and a lot less worth it to me. But they’ll continue. Life goes on. Sh*t gets complicated. So it goes.

For today, I’m just going to enjoy myself. Because this might just be as good as it ever gets.

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First, the basics

                             How it stacks up

Probably one of the hardest things for me to handle in this TBI recovery business, is taking care of the basics. Keeping things simple. Keeping things from getting way out of hand. Keeping myself on track in a way that makes sense for me in the short and long-term.

It’s not easy, to be sure. One of the problems with the basics, is that they are not very exciting. They don’t make for high drama (unless you completely forget all about them and you have to fight the fires that pop up when they go neglected for too long). They also don’t hold my attention as well as, say, a fire. THAT holds my attention, and it often gets me involved in my own life on a level previously unexperienced. That’s exciting. It’s also draining. While it may be engaging and invigorating for a while, it tends to drag my attention away from still other basics that I really need to pay attention to, so I don’t end up with more fires.

First, the basics. A good night’s sleep. Saying good morning and good evening to my loved ones. Paying attention while I’m making breakfast. Eating breakfast, in the first place. Getting regular exercise. Not letting little things get to me. Running my errands on time, not in a panic. Doing what’s in front of me to the best of my ability.

I think one of the things that gets in the way is just the sheer amount of time it takes me to do the basics. The old seamless, quick, simple ways of doing basic stuff is a thing of the past. No use fighting or worrying about it. I just need to do things differently than before. But it is time-consuming, and it can be tiring. And at the end of the day, I end up with far less accomplished, than if I’d been able to quickly dispatch the easy things and move quickly on to the next more exciting and more advanced thing.

It can be very discouraging to start out my day with a list of cool things I want to get done, then get sidetracked by fatigue or distraction, and end up with half the things still undone on my list. How frustrating. I mean, how hard can it be to do such-and-such? Apparently, it’s harder than I thought.

Either that, or I’m not nearly as capable as I imagine. Either option is a bit deflating. Why don’t I just go back to bed, then, if I’m never going to get anything meaningful done? Why not just pack it all in?

Well, because there are some things I really, really want to get done. I want to live my life. I want to live it to the fullest that’s humanly possible. I want to explore, I want to find out what’s out there. I want to stretch and test my limits and take it all in, like a meal that never ends. I want to live. Even if it means that I have to pick and choose between the things I really want to do, and the things that I’m likely to do. Even if it means turning my back on the things I think I want to do, but will very likely never, ever get done — either because there is just too much time involved in getting it all take care of, or because it’s some dream I had from when I was younger and different and didn’t have the perspective I have now.

The basics. Get back. In the end, it will be worth it.