The biggest barrier to progress, is being convinced that you KNOW

Imagine what’s possible, when you just let it go — and grow

Okay, so here’s my question of the day:

In the land of mindfulness-oriented behavioral health providers, how is it that the concept of Beginner’s Mind gets lost?

I’m specifically talking about my own experience with behavioral health folks, including friends who are psychotherapists, counselors I’ve seen, as well as my neuropsychologist. In all my years of seeking out help for my issues, I have but rarely encountered individuals who were really able to suspend judgment and not get stuck in the trap of continually seeking out ways to reconfirm their own world views.

And how many times have I sat across from someone who was professionally trained to help me, watching them not listen to me for what I was saying, rather for confirmation of what they believed…?

I think it’s wonderful that there are professional tracks for people to go down, to learn how to help others. At the same time, though, people also need to not get stuck in thinking they have it all figured out.

Because the behavioral health landscape is changing dramatically, especially compared to where it was just 10 years ago. We know so much more about the brain and its mechanisms than ever before. Yet we have just only begun to scratch the surface. So, let’s not get all hoity-toity about how much we know and how clued-in we are, thanks to our specialized skills and whatnot.

To me, orthodoxy (being convinced that you’ve got THE SECRET to how things work) and rigidity (never, ever changing your world view) are even worse liabilities than a brain injury. They make it extremely hard to adapt — which is precisely what we need to do as TBI / concussion survivors. We may be changing and growing and whatnot, while our providers are still stuck in their own versions of reality — which may or may not be useful to us.

It really is a problem. But I’m not the one to run around telling people that they’re too stuck in their ways. They have to see and realize it for themselves, and let go of their pride, arrogance, hubris. I’m sure it can be very, very difficult, dealing with brain-injured folks and their families/loved-ones, not to mention the healthcare system. It can put you into a state of perpetual fight-flight, which makes you even more susceptible to egotistical tendencies, arrogance, and prideful blindness.

I think especially for those folks who have been on the leading edge for many years, who were ridiculed and marginalized and made to feel “less than” because of their forward-looking stance. When you’re continually attacked and thwarted, it can do a number on you. I know how that is, and it’s no fun.

So, that cannot help but affect you. It cannot help but color your world view and make you biochemically and neurologically inclined to behave in ways that are defensive and self-supporting. Especially if you’ve had to shore up your own self-confidence and self-image and professional reputation, lo these many years, that can train you to be a certain way… a way which is intent on finding proof that you’re right, that you were right all along, and “they” were all wrong to doubt and thwart you.

Yes, I get how that shapes and conditions you.

At the same time, the higher purpose (of being of genuine help to others) needs to trump the hunger of your ego.

In the end, isn’t it more fulfilling to continue to learn and grow, rather than being someone  whose main purpose is to ease the pain of the daily stresses of life and prove their “rightness” to themself and others?

I’m not a behavioral health provider, but personally I think I’d rather be learning and growing than constantly being on the defensive about my own convictions.

In the end, it can much more interesting to find out you’re wrong… and expand your concept of what’s right. There is so much more to discover about the human systems, the brain, and how they all interact.

I hope I’m not alone in this.

There is no shame in asking for help

I was watching an old episode of “Northern Exposure” last night — remember that? the show about the New York doctor who has to work off his tuition in the wilds of Alaska? I watched it religiously when it was on, in the early 1990s, and thankfully it’s now available on DVD through my local library. (Have I mentioned yet, today, how much I love my library — indeed, the whole system they belong to, which lets me request books from all over, even colleges that would normally be off-limits to me?)

Anyway, the show was about knowing how to ask for help. Swallowing your pride and accepting the help that others offer. It was a great episode, I believe from the fifth season. A bunch of people in town were in situations where they needed a little (or a lot) outside help, and they were eventually able to see past their own pride to either ask for or accept assistance from others.

Having a brain injury (even a “mild” one) that leaves traces of impairment can be devastating, in and of itself. All of a sudden, things don’t work the way they really should (I’m not going to pretend that I think my memory issues and emotional volatility and mood problems and cognitive issues are absolutely okay — they’re really problematic, at times, and a lot of the time, my life would very likely be a lot less complicated, if I had all the functionality available to me, had I not been hit on the head so many times). All of a sudden, the world gets turned upside-down, and very little seems to work like it once did. It can really lay a person low, losing faculties and abilities that you used to once take for granted. And it can really do a job on you, when your difficulties are not immediately apparent to others, but you’re dealing with them, all the same.

Things like slower cognitive processing — figuring out what someone just said to you and how you should respond… constant crazy-making ringing in your ears… wild mood swings and sudden temper outbursts… sleep disturbances… the whole raft of issues and challenges that can accompany mTBI, may be well-hidden from the outside world, but that doesn’t make them any less real or any less difficult to deal with.

Things get even more complicated by the fact that it’s your brain that’s been affected. It makes it harder to figure out just WHAT is going wrong, and how, and when, and what you’d like to do/see/feel/experience instead of what’s going on inside and around you. It can make it harder to even see that there IS something wrong, and you can spend a lot of time (like I did, for several years after my last fall) walking through the world in a kind of daze, wondering what they hell is wrong with you and why you’re having so many problems with such simple things.

That’s where help from other people comes in. That’s where assistance offered from others really comes in handy. I’ve had years and years of experience dealing with my head injuries, and much of that time has been spent trying to go it alone and do things myself. I’ll do it myself! was my battle cry for most of my life, especially during childhood. It was so hard for me to figure out what was going wrong, what the cause was, and what should be done about things, that conceptualizing it in a way I could explain to others — and then effectively communicating it to others — was an almost insurmountable task. So, I ended up taking on a lot by myself, and I really muddled through my life, one day after another… for decades.

But when I finally started to put two and two together, and I realized that many, many of my difficulties could be traced back to my head injuries — my behavior and my life experience changed dramatically either immediately after the injuries, or they went downhill very precipitously within months — it became all the more clear to me that I did need help. That I had limitations. That there are parts of me that don’t function the way I want/need them to. And that I couldn’t go it alone anymore.

So, I started asking for help. In small ways, then building up to larger and larger ones. I have to admit, I still have a lot of trouble at times asking for help, in part because of my pride, in part because I sometimes have a really difficult time knowing whom to ask and what to ask for. But I am learning that if someone offers me help, it’s often best to accept. And not only for my sake — for the sake of others, as well.

Asking for and accepting help isn’t just for you. It’s not just for me. It’s not just for the benefit of the person who needs assistance. It’s for the person who wants to help, too. It’s for the person who sees another human being in need, and wants to reach out and lighten their burden. It’s for the person who longs to make a valuable contribution to life, who longs to pitch in, who longs to be of use. I’m one such person — I love to help other people, and I love to contribute to their well-being. It’s been that way all my life, and I’ve actually gotten in trouble for being “too helpful”.

Helping others is a need I have. It’s a need I feel compelled to fill. And I know for a fact that others share that same need. We want to be valued. We want to be included. We want to be part of the solution and help overcome others’ problems. We want to pitch in. We want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We want to be the best people we can be, by helping others to do the same.

So, accepting help from others doesn’t just help me — it helps them, too. It includes them in my life. It makes them part of something good. We all need that.

So, the next time someone offers you help, whether you’ve had a TBI or not, please accept their offer (within reason of course). The next time you’re struggling, and someone offers to help you out, let them. Let them carry something for you. Let them help you complete something you started. Let them come to your assistance. Let them hold the door open for you. Let them be of use to another human being. When you accept help from another person, you don’t make yourself weaker. You make yourself stronger.

And that’s how it should be.