Laying low, letting the dust settle

snow covered buildingsIt’s snowing again. Or rather, still snowing. So, I’m going to work from home today. Take it easy. Focus on my work. Keep things simple.

I’ve spent the last few weeks clearing out a lot of extra clutter from my life. A lot of old projects were hanging around that were going nowhere. If something hasn’t gotten anywhere in 6 months, I need to learn to let it go. A lot of those old projects were years old — some of them older than 10 years.

Time to let it go. Just accept that they’re not going to happen, and they were never going to happen, in the first place, because I was following a “success template” that works for others, not me.

Frankly, a lot of the “recipes” for success that are out there seem completely foreign to me. They’re all about money and power and influence, which is the default First World mode, I suppose. But it’s just not for me. Personally, I’d rather focus on doing good work and being supported in doing that, without having to do all the marketing mental mojo that goes on.

As we’ve seen in the news, lately, online marketing can really be a problem… especially when it’s used to trick people into doing what you want them to do. Leveraging the weaknesses of human nature… deceiving… manipulating… I’ve been in that world, and it doesn’t sit right with me.

Anyway, it’s time to hunker down, watch the snow fall, and get some work done. I have a quiet day to myself, today. I think I missed a late work appointment I had last night — completely spaced out and forgot about it. So, today, I need to make up for that as best I can.

It’s another day. Life goes on.

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SO, SO ready for this long weekend

field of sunflowers with blue sky overhead
Summer is shaping up nicely, so far

Happy July everyone. The next week or so should be pretty quiet for me, as we’ve got a long weekend for Independence Day, and a lot of people are going to be out of the office on vacation both today and next week.

And what a relief it is. Things are continuing to be weird at work, as the merger is supposedly on track, and we’ll supposedly be fully integrated into the new company by the end of the summer. I’m giving a lot of thought to what I want to do with myself. I know I have not been 100% happy with my situation for a couple of years now. I miss doing web development, and I miss being with really technical people.

I’ve been working in situations where people are just skating by, for some time, now. And it wears on me. I really need to be around people who are sharp and smart and a lot more daring than they’ve been in my situations over the past number of years.

So, I’m working on my skills, getting up to speed with reading about the latest technologies, just getting conversant with them. This is really important to me, and there’s even a chance I might be able to do some programming again, after having been away from it for so long. It’s been more than five years, since I was able to regularly do programming, and it’s depressing me that I can’t do it. Programming is my “happy place” — I have such a sense of belonging and purpose when I am doing it… and after years of doubting myself and not thinking I could do it ever again, I think I may be wrong about that.

I have really struggled with learning new skills, since I fell in 2004. I could not read for a while, and I could not retain information, and I could not work with other people. I drifted from job to job, hoping I would find a better fit, but I could never keep it together long enough to make a “go” of it. And I couldn’t maintain my focus on my tasks — it made me incredibly anxious and emotional (and explosive), and it also depressed me. That hindered my TBI recovery, and it made things even worse.

So, I had to find a different way, in a different place. So, I got away from doing that work, and I did more project management since 2010. But as much as I enjoy project management, I’m still not able to really do the kind of work I love — building things. Inventing things. Making things that no one has ever seen before.

That’s my happy place. And when my brain is engaged in programming, I feel whole and useful and complete. Time has no reality for me. I’m just “in it”… absorbed… So happy. So content. It used to be like that every single day for me, and even when I was working for people who exasperated and frustrated me and had no clue what they were doing, I still got to code. I still got to make things.

I’d really love to get back to that… to have that sense of satisfaction and fulfillment on a regular basis… to be totally and blissfully absorbed in my work, like I used to be.

rundown house in a field
This is kind of what my programming career seems like to me

I had a dream the other night, that my spouse and I were looking for a place to live. We were back in an old neighborhood we used to live in, and we were shown a house we used to live in. Before, we’d been in cramped quarters, because there was all sorts of leftover furniture and junk from prior residents in many of the rooms and the basement. The house was even more run-down when we looked at it again, but we loved that house. It had a lot of rooms that were full of the same old junk that was there before. The lawn was grown up, the neighbors had taken over the garden plot, and the roof was leaky.

But this time I was looking at the house with a whole new view. It’s like I wasn’t looking at the old house at all — when I looked into the rooms with that familiar junk, I just saw opportunity. Instead of seeing a pile of jumbled furniture, I saw individual pieces that could be pulled out and restored. And I saw how we could clean out those rooms and have a really nice house, in the end. I could actually see the big picture — not just get overwhelmed by the jumbled mess in all those rooms. I could see a clear path to moving forward. And although the neighbors were suspicious of us at first, when they found out we’d lived there before, they were happy to think we might be moving in, so they could have some help with the garden and other upkeep around the property.

That’s kind of how this job search thing is going. OR should I say, “Career reboot”… I’m being smart about this. I’m inspecting the territory. I’m checking it out. I’m doing my research, and I’m focusing my efforts on first of all finding out what skills are in demand, these days… and then what I can learn / re-learn in a relatively short period of time. There is always the chance that I actually cannot get my head around the newest technologies. It could be that those days are over for me. But I have to find out for sure. I can’t just give up.

So, this weekend, I have a chance to “play around” with things a little bit. To just stretch my wings and see what I can do with myself — and what I can’t. I don’t want to run off on some boondoggle where I waste a lot of time and energy on things that really don’t pay off — and end up humiliating myself in the process. But in any case, I do need to get more conversant in the latest technologies, so I can hold an intelligent conversation with my peers.

And so it goes. In the past, I’d say, “I need to get a new job RIGHT NOW!”, update my resume, and then go after whatever came along first. Now, I have the ability to hold back while I do my prep work, and pick and choose what I want to do with myself. So I don’t get in the same sorts of situations I did before.

That would not be good.

I know better know. And I can DO better now.

Onward!

Amazing podcast – Dr. Rhonda Patrick on the Joe Rogan Experience

This is my latest vice – podcasts with Dr. Rhonda Patrick on the JRE. Check it out. A wealth of knowledge about TBI, head trauma, Alheimer’s, MMA, and more. Watch (or listen) and learn. Crazy good.

Loving the tweets from all the brain conferences

My new “vice” is following tweets being sent from brain injury conferences.

Yesterday I was following the American Academy of Neurology Sports Concussion Conference (check out the link to see more details), seeing things here and there as they unfolded, complements of some of the attendees. Unfortunately, I did not have the time or opportunity to really get into it or see if there might be a live feed. I was helping my spouse with an event they were attending, yesterday, so I only got to check it out in bits and pieces.

The Kent Surrey Sussex Air Ambulance Trust Brain Conference is the latest I’ve found – with all the tweets shown at https://storify.com/jeffdoran/2015-brain-injury-conference-brighton

It’s really phenomenal, how many people are presenting and talking about these brain injury issues – and it’s really heart-warming to see how much they care and really respond to the real people behind the injuries.

It’s also absolutely amazing, how possible it is to find out what they’re talking about, either in real-time or not long after. Or even later on, as all the tweets are stored on Twitter, and if you know the hashtag, you can find everything… as well as the people who tweeted, who are people who genuinely care.

For those who are doing the tweeting – thank you! And for those who are organizing the conferences to connect people and better educate them – thank you as well.

Try, try again

Yes

So, the course I have been taking, has had some surprises for me.

First, there are quizzes. I had been watching the lectures and I’ve found them pretty straightforward. And there were some reminders about things I needed to do. But when I took another look over the weekend, lo and behold, there are quizzes I need to do, and I missed the first two of them.

The first one I can’t retake, because it’s too long ago. The second one I took, and got a 100% on it (on my 2nd try), but I’m not sure I’ll get full credit because I was late. The third quiz I took, I got 40% — which is actually good, because it is forcing me to rethink my answers and more fully understand the materials and the reason for the answers being correct.

I’m kind of upset with myself for spacing out — not knowing how things go. But that’s how things often are with me, and it’s how I learn best. I mess things up, the first time through, then I go back and take a second look and make sense of it all.

And I do much better in the end.

Ultimately, I believe that the measure of your intelligence is NOT how you do on one-time tests, but rather how adaptable you are… how well you learn and incorporate new information and adjust to changing situations. That, for me, is what intelligence is all about. And the folks with the Feuerstein Method agree with me.

I’m really happy I found them. Not because they are telling me anything I didn’t already believe in my heart, but because they provide confirmation and additional context for this way of understanding what it means to be intelligent. It’s not how you do on one single test, that you take one single time. It’s how you learn from it and apply the knowledge you gain from the whole experience.

So, I’m going back into the course and taking a second look… giving more thought to things and realizing where I went wrong. That’s half the battle – figuring out what to screen out, and what to take in.

And it often takes me a second try, before things start to make sense. So, I’ll just do that, and learn – learn – learn.

 

Keeping even more focused

Lots to focus on… tough to keep a single point in mind

What I learned over the weekend is that sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I cannot keep my mind focused on what I know I should be focused on. I was really consumed by concern about my upcoming job change, and I was so worried about backlash and people giving me a hard time — and the possibility that I would not handle it well, that I would lash out, that I would start to yell and get into a fight with someone. There is always that risk, when I am feeling pushed, and I really had to keep myself chill, thinking about how I would handle things and coming up with different options, in case things got nasty.

As it turns out, things did not get nasty. And I am quite certain that my mental preparation helped. But what a time-sink. It was exhausting. I’m still wiped out.

I also didn’t take care of some things I was supposed to do over the weekend. I did not get hardly any exercise at all, aside from some juggling. I slept, but not as much as I wanted to. I have a presentation I am doing to a community group in another week, and I was supposed to have some slides and the outline done by today, so I can review it with one of the organizers.

This did not happen – completely, anyway. I have the outline done, and I have some presentation slides done, and I know what I’m going to say, but I have not practiced – practiced – practiced, as I promised I would, and I have very little time today to get myself together for tonight.

So, I am going to wing it. I’m going to put together what I can, and then check in with this person, and then really dive into things this weekend. My spouse is away for a business trip from Thursday afternoon till Sunday – maybe Monday. And I am taking two days off work on Thursday and Friday. And I have Saturday and Sunday to work. So, that will be fine.

But I’ve had a heck of a time keeping focused on anything other than giving notice at work.

Yesterday went really well, all things considered. And people I work with are being decent about me leaving. So far, anyway. I think that the vast majority of people I work with would do exactly the same thing as I, so they do not begrudge me this. Plus, they know that I have been overworked for years, and it doesn’t surprise them that I’m moving on.

Now I have to stay focused on collecting everything I’ve worked on, over the past months, and organizing it, so that the person(s) who pick up the slack will have what they need to move forward.

I will be also thinking about what will make someone successful in the role I’ve held — much more than any specific skillset (although certain skills do come in handy) is a real passion for learning, a focus on acquiring new skills, and an open mind to try new things and be resilient. The specific skills are maybe 30% of the abilities required. Much more critical is openness to trying new things and a positive attitude.

Without that, the job is hell.

Actually, even with it, the job is hell. But others don’t need to know that up front. They can find out for themselves.

So, there is a lot to do in a very short period of time. I need to keep focused and centered and stay productive in this short (and getting shorter) timeframe. I have made up a little Q&A sheet for people who will be visiting my desk over the coming days, so I don’t have to stop and talk every 10 minutes. All the interruptions are bad enough without this added point of interest.

I also need to be gearing up for transitioning into my new role, which will allow me to sharpen a specific set of skills that make sense for me in the long term. I have decided to put my programming on the professional back burner and just do it for fun on the side, and focus on project management for my professional activities. It brings together things that really challenge me in many, many ways — some challenges seem overwhelming to me at times, and I need to really push myself into the midst of it and work at overcoming those challenges, rather than hiding out and avoiding them.

This will surely be a test for me, and the times that are the most testing are the ones that teach me the most.

I have also realized, over the past months, that for certain skills, I have not really applied myself to sharpening those abilities. I have just relied on situations to teach me how to move forward by trial and error. I need to fix that, and teach myself up front how to do things. I need to get properly trained. And that means studying and reading books and materials that are in ample abundance, but I have just dismissed because A) I thought I didn’t really need them because of my work experience, B) I was having trouble reading, and that threw me off, and C) I get blocked when I am tired, and I have been tired an awful lot, for the past three years.

Now my reading has resolved, to a large part. And I realize that I need to put more effort into concentrating on what I’m doing. Something in me seems to think that I have trouble learning… but I think it’s just because I go about learning in the wrong way. Or I expect things to sink in a lot sooner than they do. Or I think it’s going to be easy, so I don’t apply myself, and then nothing really sticks. I’m thinking about the whole “Perceived mental effort changing tonic arousal” concept, and I’m going to keep a “beginner’s mind” in this new job, so that I don’t get so overconfident that I can’t do a good job.

I don’t have to tell myself I’m stupid — just that things are more difficult than I initially think they are. That will get me to take it seriously and focus.

Focus.

Focus.

All this talk about focus is making me tired. I also need to rest.

Rest.

Rest.

This is a big change for me. I’m a bit nervous about it. But once I get going, I am quite certain I will find my “sea legs” and be just fine. It’s all wide open. Plus, I’m not going to spend all my time driving around, I will have more time to take care of myself and the things that interest me. I’m gonna get my life back.

And that’s worth the extra attention.

Onward.

 

 

I’m only going to great lengths to help myself, because no one else will

Happy Festivus Everyone

Festivus is coming. It’s an alternative celebration for the Christmas holiday season that provides an alternative to materialism and commercialism. I’ve come across it before, but it caught my attention again over at The Concussion Blog. Reading up on it, I see that it traditionally takes place on the 23rd of December, but you can celebrate it just about anytime.

You celebrate by:

  • Setting up an unadorned pole
  • Airing grievances against those who have failed you over the past year
  • Engaging in feats of strength – such as wrestling the head of house hold and pinning them (festivities aren’t over till the alpha gets pinned)

I don’t have a pole handy, and there’s nobody around to wrestle, but I’d like to start with the airing of grievances, just to warm up.

I came across an old rant I had written up a while back and saved in a folder on my computer. I wrote it (probably) a couple of years ago, when I was searching high and low for explanations about my symptoms, and why my life was falling apart as much as it was. Seemed like everywhere I turned, I could not get answers from doctors or neuros or other folks, and nobody seemed to think I actually needed answers. They all seemed to think I was crazy, and I was blowing things out of proportion. So, I decided to really take it upon myself to do something about that. This is the rant that bubbled up.

I’m only going to great lengths to help myself, because no one else will.

Either they cannot understand me
Or I cannot make myself understood
Or I cannot understand them
And/or they dismiss me
And/or they make fun of me
And/or they just tell me I’m wrong — they tell me what ISN’T, not WHAT IS, so that’s extremely unhelpful
And/or they don’t have sufficient medical knowledge to identify what’s going on with me
And/or they jump to conclusions before they can figure out what’s up with me
And/or they just write me a script for a med that DOESN’T WORK and then get angry when I come back and tell them it doesn’t work
And/or they treat me like a hostile malpractice risk
And/or they refer me to someone else
And/or they just humor me and try to get me out of their office asap, so they don’t have to feel badly about themselves and their lack of information

IF ONLY SOMEONE WOULD JUST TAKE IT UPON THEMSELF TO ACQUIRE MORE INFORMATION AND FILL IN THE BLANKS, RATHER THAN THROWING UP THEIR HANDS AND ACTING LIKE THERE IS NO ANSWER — SIMPLY BECAUSE THEY DON’T HAVE THE ANSWER(S) I NEED

I don’t think it’s too much to ask, that doctors show a little bit of intellectual curiosity

I don’t think it’s too much to ask, that they make a diligent effort to augment their knowledge on a regular basis — especially if there are clear gaps in their knowledge

I don’t think it’s too much to ask, that they simply admit they don’t know some things and make it their job to find those things out

Or maybe it is…

In the ensuing years, I’m happy to report that I have been able to get some help, but not from the folks I would expect it from. Even my neuropsych has been partly unsuccessful in understanding just how this all affects me. They are fond of telling me that my perception is a bit skewed, thanks to my past injuries, and they love to redirect my attention to the bright side of life. That’s fine, but sometimes I actually have to confront my issues head-on, so to speak.

The big disappointment has been with my doctor. At first, when I was telling them about my issues and explaining to them how it affects me, they were fairly receptive to the info. But I think their interest and involvement ended when I left their office. To this day, they are still not “up” on the details of TBI, and when I go to see them, they either skirt the issue of my TBIs or they act like they know all about them, because they talked to neurologist colleagues about brain injury a couple of times. They are still surprisingly un-clued-in to the issues and effects of them, and I sense a certain bias in them towards me because of my history. It’s like they still think I’m mentally challenged, because I have these issues. But frankly, I’m not in the mood to educate them. Not when I’m sick and tired and am having trouble just handling my own situation.

It seems to me that the lack of knowledge about TBI and concussion on the parts of medical professionals is a sign of systemic, pervasive negligence across the whole medical spectrum. For all the individuals who experience brain injury of some kind each year — and for all the other thousands upon thousands who have a history of brain injury or concussion — you’d think that doctors would exhibit at least a tiny bit of intellectual curiosity about the condition.

But no. It would appear that the medical profession has turned our doctors into highly compensated pill dispensers, just as the financial services profession has turned many a financial advisor into a highly paid sales rep for one “financial products” company or another.

And that’s just sad. I’m not sure how this can be possible. We have tons of focus on heart disease and cancer and many other medical conditions which affect fewer individuals than the legions of TBI survivors out there in the world. I’m not saying those conditions don’t matter and that they shouldn’t get attention — they do, and they should. But brain injury can have such a lifelong, pervasive, persistent effect on people and their long-term quality of life (oh, heck, ability to have a life), you’d think that learning about it and dealing with it would be a top priority for every medical school in the world.

You’d think it would be required continuing medical education, especially considering all the new advances and discoveries that are being made about it each year. You’d think that, with all the new material coming to light about a condition that affects every aspect of a person’s life, from relationships to lifestyle choices to health maintenance, people in a position to help might be just marginally interested in learning about it, over the course of years.

But no. Wave after wave of freshly minted doctors are washing up on the beaches of the medical world without so much as a clue about TBI. Career physicians who have been practicing for decades still persist in their stupidity about how brain injury makes a person immoral or retarded. And neurologists and GPs sit there and look at you like you have two heads, when you try to describe your symptoms to them — and can’t, because you’re all turned around in your brain.

Geez, what excellent fodder for Festivus. If only I had a physical to wrestle and pin… Or a pharmaceutical sales rep…

Ah, well, the day awaits. Here’s hoping I got this out of my system.

Learning the hard way may be the best way

I recently came across this article – Learning information the hard way may be best ‘boot camp’ for older brains (thanks Twitter) and I found it very encouraging. It seems to support what I believe more and more every day — learning things the hard way is the best way of all. And it seems to support my sense that when you’re bouncing back from TBI, and you’re working at overcoming cognitive and behavioral deficits, pushing yourself a bit, making mistakes, and then learning from your mistakes can be very, very helpful.

I’m not a rehab person, so I can’t speak to how rehabilitation theory goes, but it seems to me that — especially with TBI — there may be an eagerness (conscious or not) to ease up when things get tough… easy does it… and let up on the amount of challenge that’s presented to the patient/survivor/individual. I think it may actually be human nature to do that, since you don’t want to push people too terribly hard, especially if they have been injured. You don’t want them to overdo it, and you also don’t want to put yourself in danger by provoking aggressive behavior.

I think that aggressive behavior and tendencies to lash out are particular dangers when it comes to TBI and recovery. People get intimidated and/or they just don’t want to have to deal with it, anymore. When someone with TBI gets overwhelmed and feels put-upon / threatened, they can lash out and make the lives of everyone around them pretty miserable. It’s not fun for anyone, and the person being pushed can end up feeling stupid, depleted, and generally less of a real person than they were before.

And nobody wants that.

So, we tend to back off. Unconsciously, I think. Because we don’t always know what to do, and our lives are often “exciting” enough without having to deal with someone’s brain injury on top of it. So, we don’t push others. And if we’ve got our own brain injury issues to deal with, we may get dispirited from having a bunch of bad experiences that make us think there’s something wrong with us, and we have to do less instead of more, so we don’t end up looking/sounding/acting like freaks.

The thing of it is, though, this may be the opposite of what we should be doing. Especially if we are older. It’s one thing for kids who experience TBI – their brains are changing and growing and they are still being developed. And learning the hard way may pose issues for them, as their personalities are still developing, and they may pick up some flawed messages (or interpretations of messages) from their experiences.

For older brain injury survivors, however, it could be that making mistakes and learning from them is the best medicine.

From the article:

Canadian researchers have found the first evidence that older brains get more benefit than younger brains from learning information the hard way – via trial-and-error learning.

The finding will surprise professional educators and cognitive rehabilitation clinicians as it challenges a large body of published science which has shown that making mistakes while learning information hurts memory performance for older adults, and that passive “errorless” learning (where the correct answer is provided) is better suited to older brains.

“The scientific literature has traditionally embraced errorless learning for older adults. However, our study has shown that if older adults are learning material that is very conceptual, where they can make a meaningful relationship between their errors and the correct information that they are supposed to remember, in those cases the errors can actually be quite beneficial for the learning process,” said Andreé-Ann Cyr, the study’s lead investigator.

In two separate studies, researchers compared the memory benefits of trial-and-error learning (TEL) with errorless learning (EL) in memory exercises with groups of healthy young and older adults. The young adults were in their 20s; the older adults’ average age was 70. TEL is considered a more effortful cognitive encoding process where the brain has to “scaffold” its way to making richer associations and linkages in order to reach the correct target information. Errorless learning (EL) is considered passive, or less taxing on the brain, because it provides the correct answer to be remembered during the learning process.


In both studies, participants remembered the learning context of the target words better if they had been learned through trial-and-error, relative to the errorless condition. This was especially true for the older adults whose performance benefited approximately 2.5 times more relative to their younger peers.

This really excites me, because it confirms what I have firmly believed for some time — that the process of learning from mistakes is far more instructive than getting everything right the first time. I’ve seen it time and time again, and I do believe it’s one of the secrets of my success over the years — I’m not afraid to make mistakes. The times when mistakes are a problem, are when other people have no tolerance for mistakes, and they expect me to get everything right the first time.

Here’s the deal — I’ve had enough injuries and experiences over the course of my life, that the chances of me getting everything right the first time are slim to none. And in fact, the times when I do (by chance) get things right the first time, I’m less likely to repeat the performance on down the line.

So, I have a pretty high tolerance for screwing up the first time through. The problem is, however, I am working with people now who don’t have a high tolerance for it. They get nervous. They think it means there’s something wrong. I say, as long as people are pulling together as a team and can help cover for each other and area available to help — and there is no stigma associated with screwing up — you can get a ton of work done, and do it quite well. And everybody can learn something from it. But if you hang your hat on always getting everything right, delivering everything ON TIME and being 100% error-free at all times, without fail, well then, you’re just setting up bogus expectations that will make everyone feel like crap.

I think one of the hurdles with overcoming TBI when you’re older, is that conviction that you’ve already learned what you need to know, and you’re not going to need to learn things again. Or that if you have to learn things again, and you screw up the first time (or first couple of times) you do something that “should” be familiar, it means there’s something wrong with you, and you’re damaged permanently.

This is also a big problem, when you’re dealing with other adults, who hang their hats on the idea that they are experts and they know all there is to know about their subject matter and domains of expertise. It’s tough, especially in professional circles, where your livelihood depends on KNOWING how things work and being EXTREMELY CAPABLE  in everything you do. In a business environment, where precision and perfection are prized and financially rewarded, it can be pretty tough going. Especially when everyone around you is even harder on themselves than on others. In a work environment, there is this mythos of perfection, of ideal execution, of getting things right, no matter what. Especially in technology, we’ve got this, and it’s a pain in the ass at times. There’s just this expectation that if you’re being compensated a certain amount, you’re going to perform at a certain level. And there’s not a lot of margin for error. Getting it right the first time is the ideal.

But I don’t think life works like that. And I think that sets us up for failure of our own making. Of course things will be overlooked. Of course we will make mistakes. Of course we need to relearn things. Of course we’re going to be constantly surprised by the areas where we have to make more progress, even repeat former progress. Of course we’re going to have plenty of occasions where we’re a lot less facile than we thought we would be. That’s all part of relearning to live our lives in this new way. But it doesn’t mean we’re broken, permanently damaged, or unable to have full and fulfilling lives.

Far from it.

It just means we’re human in all different ways, and we have the opportunity to learn again — again and again and again.

Ultimately, I think a lot of it is about avoiding those mental traps we block ourselves into — being too brittle, inflexible, and not being open to greater possibilities in life. TBI is problematic in that it can make us more agitated, restless, irritable, and aggressive, and our brains are really sensitive to flagging energy, so that can make this kind of “boot camp” learning problematic. But if we can get past the idea that messing up means there’s something wrong, then this kind of trial-and-error learning can be a very powerful tool in helping us get back to where we want to be — and even better.

The importance of not giving up

I am looking for a new job. The one I’m in, while a step up from where I was a year ago, is not a good long-term prospect, and I need to reach out and stretch to see where else I can learn and grow.

It’s no small feat, taking this on.  It’s downright nerve-wracking, in fact. Every time I look at my resume, I am reminded of my past injuries, for most of them immediately preceded a job change. People have been asking me for years, why I moved from job to job so often, and I’ve long since gotten in the habit of saying, “A better opportunity came up.” But in fact, many of the changes I underwent happened because I got hurt and/or my brain stopped working thanks to my longstanding issues, and I couldn’t do the job I was doing before.

So, I had to find a new one.

Another thing that makes resume-updating difficult is covering all the details again, making sure I haven’t missed or misstated anything… finding old errors that I missed before… it’s a little unnerving, thinking that these inaccuracies have been out there for so long without my realizing it. And there might be other things I have missed.

So I review my resume one more time.

As daunting as it is, I’m not giving up, however. As I look over my work history, I am frankly amazed at how well I’ve done for myself. Not bad for someone whose working memory is in the low-low end of the spectrum, and whose behavior issues have cost them numerous quality relationships along the way. And as I look over the parts of my past that signal Warning Will Robinson! Danger! Danger! I am making a conscious, concerted effort to turn my mind away from its automatic impulse to think the worst of myself, and I’m choosing to think the best.

I wasn’t a bad employee. I wasn’t a bad person. I wasn’t a slacker. I wasn’t a good-for-nothing deadbeat. I was injured. Repeatedly. And I have prevailed, nonetheless.

Still, it’s tough going. One of the hardest things for me, at this point, is dealing with the fact that I don’t have a degree. I attended college for four years — two in the States, and two in Europe — but I never got my degree. I had so many serious problems, when I was in college, due in no small part, I believe, to the multiple concussions I sustained during high school, and the bad patterns and behaviors I developed as an adolescent with a history of head injury.

Looking back, I am frankly amazed that I wasn’t worse off than I was. Don’t get me wrong, I was running wild, engaged in various kinds of petty crime and involved in business dealings with criminals. But my external circumstances never caught up with my interior reality. Frankly, I’m lucky I didn’t end up in jail. The one thing that I think saved me was that my parents were prominent members of their community, and nobody seriously thought that I was at risk or a troubled teen. I was just ‘moody’ — just another angry young person who would eventually grow up and grow out of it. Or something like that.

One thing I wasn’t saved from, however, was the lack of education. High school, let’s face it, was not an educational time for me, or for many of my peers. I fudged my way through most of it, thanks in no small part to the preponderance of multiple-choice (multiple guess, in my case) tests throughout the four years. Nobody paid much attention to deeper thought or intellectual activities. School was a either training ground for the adult world of work and 9-to-5 schedules, or it was a place to rack up points to get into some college.

High school as we now know it didn’t exist in my day. It wasn’t the kind of thing my parents really went out of their way to support me in, like I see happening with kids today. My folks just assumed that I’d get certain kinds of grades, and they just assumed that I’d graduate and move on from there. Get a job, settle down, be a regular person. But the importance of high school wasn’t really on their radar. In fact,  I’m not sure my parents even bothered to come to my graduation. They may have come, but I have almost no recollection of the event. Another result of concussions, perhaps?

Anyway, high school was survivable, but college was where it all broke down for me. My parents had decided that I would go to a certain religiously-affiliated college, near where some of my relatives lived. I think their plan was to send me to the school to reform my wicked ways within plain sight of my relatives, so they could report back about me. Either that, or they could try to curb my wild behavior.

When I announced I was not going there, the reaction was, “Well, then you’re on your own.” They eventually softened up and offered me a thousand dollars a year for help with tuition and living expenses, and they just barely managed to complete the financial aid forms so I could get some help from someone.

Long story short, I had a very interesting time earning my way. Again, I fell in with some bad folks, I ended up doing some illegal stuff to make ends meet (though, ironically, I didn’t realize at the time that I was doing anything wrong), and before long, my only viable alternative for continuing my education was to leave the country. So, I did.

Quelle adventure. Those are more stories for other times. On the whole I had a really great experience and learned a whole lot, the first year I was there. But again, my troubles caught up with me, and I spent the second year scrambling to keep my act together — on another continent in a different language. When I got back to the States in 1987, I was a stranger to myself, my family, and my country.

I had run out of money, and I had no degree. What to do?

Well, I managed to get some temporary work, here and there, and then eventually employers would notice that I had a spark or something, and they would promote me for no apparent reason I could see. But I went through the motions of being a good employee, discharging my duties… feeling like I was falling farther and farther behind… In the meantime, I’d get in a car accident, and/or my neurological issues would flare up again under the stress of increasing responsibility and pressure, and that combination would set me back again big-time.

And I’d totally screw up what I was doing — or at least become so agitated and anxious that I thought I was screwing up — and I’d have to find another job to keep sane. And keep afloat.

In the meantime, I met the love my life and married… didn’t (dare) have any kids — my intense emotional lability and violent temper of 15 years ago might have led me to seriously injure my children, I’m not happy to say. (But I am happy to say, I’ve improved tremendously over the past decade.) And I just kept working. I had to keep food on the table. I had to keep a roof over our heads. I thought about finishing school a bunch of times, but I barely had the energy to crawl home at the end of each day. Take on college coursework on top of that? How?

Well, now I find myself wishing that I’d been able to figure that one out. Twice in the past year, I’ve either been passed over for consideration for a good job or I’ve been docked 10% of the base salary offer because of my incomplete degree.  Nobody I talk to has any idea what I’ve had to overcome, and they never will. No way am I going to play that card. Maybe I’m too proud. Or maybe I just want to be on the same playing field as everyone else. But it does take a bit out of you to be brushed off because of what I consider a formality – that academic piece of paper.

I suspect the intensified requirement for a degree is the result of our increasingly global job market. How can global companies know you’re good, just by glancing at your resume? They need to see evidence of a degree. It’s nobody’s fault — it’s just a sign of the times.

But it is pretty troubling to not get a chance at jobs I know I could do — and I could them well — and earn accordingly, because of my troubled past. Nobody really cares that I’ve gotten my act together. Like my parents, they probably think I never should have gotten in trouble to begin with, and it’s my own damned fault for ending up where I am. Brain injuries mean nothing to most folks — other than that you’re “permanently” impaired, and you’ll need special assistance all your days.

Oh, what the hell. People are going to do and think what they want, but I’m not giving up. I’m not like my parents, who gave up on me when I was in college. They shelled out two grand, then they cut me off when I went to Europe. So what? I made it through. Just barely, but I did make it. I’m still here, and I’m still a contender. I’m still here, and I think there’s a reason I keep hearing Tom Petty sing “and I won’t back down” on the radio, as I’m driving to and from work.

It’s important to not give up. It’s vital to keep believing, to keep the faith. That’s true, whether you’re a TBI survivor or you know someone who is. If you’re a survivor, depending on the nature of your injury, you may be predisposed to depression and negativity. I seem to have “lucked out” in that regard and been “blessed” with injuries that make me more inclined to minimize or disregard imminent danger — for better or for worse. Or maybe I’ve just been through so much crap over the years, I’ve gotten used to everything looking like it’s going to hell, and I know from past experience, that that doesn’t always hold true.

In any case, I’m sure I’ll find something. Even in a job market flooded with young noobs who think (and act like) they know everything and have the paperwork I lack — that coveted Bachelor’s. Somewhere, somehow, someone must have a place for an adventurous soul who never gives up and refuses to quit till they get to the goal.