TBI Benefit #27 – An increased refund from the IRS

I got a surprising letter today – actually it came yesterday, but I was napping and resting most of the day, so someone in my household brought the mail in, opened it up, and left it for me on the kitchen counter. Lo and behold, the refund I’d calculated for my 2007 taxes (I filed for an extension and did an estimate, which was conservative — I took all the deductions I could legally take, according to TurboTax, and along the way, when I found some other deductions I was pretty sure I could take, but wasn’t 100% certain, I just didn’t include them. Now the IRS is telling me that they owe me a bigger refund — probably by a couple hundred dollars, since I don’t have my tax returns in front of me.

You don’t hear that every day!

My strategy of claiming less deductions than I suspected I was owed paid off… for now. I actually found some other earnings that I’d completely missed when I filed my estimated taxes, so my refund may actually be lower, but the habit of being more conservative and less hasty worked out for me. Playing it safe, with the understanding that I could be completely wrong in my math, soothes me and gives me something to fall back on. In any case, my thinking about things tends to get fuzzy and I tend to lose my train of thought, so I don’t dwell too intensely on tax anxiety.

I guess my attitude towards taxes is very different from most folks’ — I believe in paying them and paying my fair share. Yes, there are a lot of places my tax monies go that I don’t agree with, but all in all, the tax burden here is far less than in many European countries, PLUS I get a whole lot more freedom here, than anywhere else, so I figure it all evens out. I pay my way. TBI or no, I pay my way.

I like my roads paved and plowed. I like having elected officials. I like the fact that children of poor people have access to milk and cheese and other WIC resources. I’m not one to judge others for “gaming the system” — too many people do it in too many ways for me to get started on that, and it just confuses me. Our governmental system, say what you will, makes it possible for us to live in an amazing country that people are literally dying to get into.

Yes, I pay my taxes.

Paying taxes for me, is actually an important symbolic thing. Sure, I slip up sometimes and have to file for extensions. And sometimes I’ve messed up and even missed the extension deadline. But I do pay up, because being able to participate and contribute to this country is not something I take for granted. I’m a very different person from most folks, and my abilities are varied and my disabilities are often hidden, so the times when I can participate as a “normal” person… pitch in and help out… do my fair share… help make a difference, in however small a way… well, I take that opportunity.

I think a lot of “neurotypical” people take things for granted that mean so much to so many of us who are on the margins — by chance, trick of fate, or horrible accident. I think people tend to take for granted the ability to go out and get a job, the ability to participate in casual conversations, the ability to meet other people and be active in their communities. I think that a lot of regular people just assume that things are done a certain way — you get up in the morning, shower, dress, go off to work, put in your hours, then come home, pay some bills, watch some television, and go to bed… and do it all again, the next day. On the weekends, there are sports games and activities… movies and get-togethers… travel and leisure pastimes that many, many other people are doing… take the boat out on the lake… go skiing or surfing or skateboarding or sailing or hiking or play a ballgame of some kind.

But for someone like me with a history of tbi’s, none of those things are foregone conclusions, and they rarely go as smoothly as regular think they do (or should).

Getting up in the morning can be a challenge, as I’m rarely fully rested, and I tend to wake up either too early (most of the time), or too late. Showering can be a complicated thing, as I often can’t keep track if I’ve soaped up and rinsed off, shampooed my hair, or how long I’ve been under the water. And my lightheadedness and vertigo can make just standing in the shower a really nerve-wracking exercise.

Dressing for work can set me off, because I tend to forget what I’ve worn earlier in the week, and unless I have my clothing all lined up in chronological order, I can easily end up wearing the same thing twice in two days. Plus, if I’m really out of it, with vertigo or sensory issues, I can walk around for most of the morning with my shirt buttoned all wrong or my fly open. (I once went through a whole animated job interview, standing at a whiteboard, sketching out possible solutions to problems posed to me… with my fly open… which is NOT the kind of impression I wanted to make! I still got the job, but jeez, how embarrassing!)

Going to work has its own share of hazards, as bright sunlight is hard for me to handle, and even with sunglasses on, the shifting contrasts of light and shadows play tricks on my eyes. And when I’m tired, there’s always the hazard of road rage… or misjudging a situation. One morning, not long ago, when I was tired and angry while driving to work, I almost ran in to someone who wasn’t obeying the right-of-way rules — just because I refused (on principle) to budge. They were driving right into my path, but I had the right of way, so I motored on like a bull-headed idiot, and I almost got hit — just because “I was in the right” and they weren’t following the rules. On principle, I was correct and I had every right to drive through. But principle won’t pay for car repairs, and I only have one car I can reliably drive to work, so “standing my ground” was a really dumb thing to do. Plus, thinking back, if they had hit me, considering the place that I was in, that morning, I probably would have gotten in a fist fight with them, and I might very well have been arrested.  I was in a really bad place, and I consider myself (and the other person) to have been literally spared by divine grace. If it were up to me, I would have landed in really hot water!

At work, depending on my state of mind and body, I can either have good days or bad days. But it often takes a lot of effort for me to function at a “normal” level. Nobody I work with knows I’ve had TBI’s, and I’m not about to tell them. I hold my own and I do my piece, but it’s a real chore sometimes, just to get going. I have massive issues with initiating, with concentrating, with following through. I have huge interpersonal issues that I do a pretty good job of keeping quiet about — things like rage and hostility and anger and mood swings. On the surface, I try to stay impassive, but under the surface, it’s often a seething swirl of confusion and mixed emotions that are as high as they are varied.

Heading home in the evening, after a long day, I just try to listen to the radio and keep chilled out. I have to work harder at paying attention to traffic when I’m headed home, so that keeps my mind off interpersonal aggressions and whatnot.

At home in the evenings, I’m just so wiped out, so often, I can’t even look at anything that needs to be handled. I’m so exhausted… it’s all I can do, to eat supper and flop down in front of a movie. Now and then, I’ll manage to do things I’m supposed to do, but they often get pushed off till the weekends.

I have to say, in th past, I tended to just push through and not give myself a break and just ignore the fact that I was exhausted all the time. I didn’t pay any attention to myself, and I didn’t take care of myself. I didn’t like the fact that I was tired all the time, so I refused to admit it, and I just pushed through with doing whatever I felt needed to be done.

That was fine for my productivity, but the net result was that I was an impossible person to live with. I was unresponsive, most of the time, moody and volatile to the people closest to me, non-communicative and prone to temper outbursts and meltdowns, and the kind of person whose intense volatility made everyone around me walk on eggshells all day. Yes, I appeared to be productive. Yes, I was getting things done. But I was just a machine — a shell of a person whose only solace was that I was making good money and keeping up appearances. Inside, though, I was wracked with pain and sorrow and exhaustion and hurt and anger and rage and confusion.

Now, I think know I’m much better off. I’m less “productive,” and it takes me forever to get things done or process ideas and conversation, but I’m now communicating with the people who live with me far more than I did in decades… I’m now sleeping more and taking care of myself better than I ever did… and I’m actually aware of what’s going on around me, which is more than I can say for the person I was, just three years ago.

Weekends… well, I won’t even go into them. Mine are very low-key, for the most part, and I do so poorly with crowds and frenetic activity, most popular activities (like the ones I mentioned above) do NOT appeal to me. I spend most of my time gearing up to do basic things – like take the trash to the dump or go food shopping or go to the library or clean something. I spend a lot of time spacing out and not doing much of anything. And by the time Sunday night comes around, I often feel pretty deficient about not having gotten much done.

Daily life for someone with a TBI is often far from simple, and it’s often anything but straightforward. Sometimes it takes a monumental effort, to just approximate “normal.” I accept that as part of my life… just something I need to deal with… and I try not to dwell on it too much, lest it demoralize me and hold me back.

Given all the “normal” things that tend to be so complicated and difficult for me, if there’s something relatively simple and straightforward I can do to participate and contribute to the common good — like pay taxes — I’ll gladly do it.

It’s a small price to pay to be part of something as amazing as the United States of America.

Advertisements

Impulse Control 101

In the past months, I’ve noticed a pattern of behavior that I never really thought about before –my tendency to check out library books en masse when I’m getting over-tired, fatigued, and overwhelmed.

I also tend to start projects, just because they seem interesting to me in the moment and they get my  mind off my troubles… not because I actually plan to follow through and complete them.

I first noticed this for real, in February of this year. From my self-assessment form I filled on on February 6, 2008, I wrote:

I’m drawn to library books, and impulsively check them out, loading up on lots of them. I also impulsively start on a lot of research projects and other projects.

The intensity of my desire to check out lots of library books or start projects was about 3/10 that day, and the impact of it was 7/10, because while the intensity wasn’t that great, it still was very disruptive to my regular life.

From my sheet:

I went to the library today, but I just looked through some of them, rather than checking them out. I returned a book I wasn’t reading. I also sat down and looked at what projects I can realistically complete, and which ones are just interesting/compelling to me at this time.

I managed to get rid of a book, rather than bringing in more.

Now, it might not seem like a huge deal, but this was a big revelation for me. Here, all this time, I had been thinking that I was studying and doing things that would ultimately bear fruit and enrich my life, but it was really just to distract myself and soothe my intense emotions that were coming up because I was fatigued, and I was too tired to realized that I was fatigued.

This is one of the issues of self-awareness that I often face — I won’t realize till later that what I’m doing is not really productive, and I’m actually doing it for a very different reason than what I tell myself.

Discovering this has, since last February, made it possible for me to not only identify the things that I am really interested in doing, because they are important, but also to pace myself and not drive myself so frantically, just because I’m fatigued, and I don’t know it.

Well, as long as no one is getting hurt, checking out library books isn’t the worst way to deal with my stress. But a long nap would be more constructive.

Speaking of which, I am tired. Time for my nap.

Temper, temper…

I’ve been checking my stats and seeing what search terms people are using to find this blog. “Temper” is a popular one. TBI and temper issues often go hand-in-hand… and for me, it’s been one of the biggest hurdles. I’ve lost jobs and burned bridges over temper outbursts. I’ve gotten into hot water all my life, because of my temper — starting with my parents, who really came down on me very hard for ‘not being able to control myself’.

If they had known that my falls and getting knocked out by that rock didn’t help matters, they might have been nicer to me. But they weren’t. And I was convinced all my life — till a year ago, when I realized that my multiple tbi’s had affected my cognition and behavior — that I was a BAD PERSON who wasn’t entirely fit to be around nice people.

You know what? I wasn’t BAD. I was INJURED.

That doesn’t excuse my behavior, of course, but it explains it. And knowing now that aggression, hostility, rage, temper outbursts, emotional volatility, and impulse control often go hand-in-hand with brain injury — be it mild or moderate or severe — helps me manage myself in ways that keep me and others safe from my outbursts.

So, what do I do about my temper (which has caused me to break many things, lash out, even physically assault people, to the point where I once had a restraining order against me)?

First, I remember that my tbi’s have affected my reasoning and the way my brain reacts to the world around me. I remember that there are mechanisms deep in my brain that react on a very primal level to perceived threats. There’s the amygdala, which is the fight-or-flight switch that seems to work in overdrive with me. And there’s the limbic system, which is about emotion. And then there’s the parts of the brain that control impulse, which are around the area where I got hit in the head (and knocked out briefly) with a rock, when I was eight. People used to believe that when kids’ brains were injured, they recovered better than adults, but now they’ve realized that if you injure a young brain, it affects how it develops for the rest of the child’s life.

So, I try to stay objective, and remember that my brain doesn’t work the way I really want it to.

Next, I try to stimulate my parasympathetic nervous system — the counterpart to the sympathetic nervous system — to chill everything out. The sympathetic nervous system, as I understand it, is the source of the fight-or-flight response that’s making me react so intensely and act out. So, to calm my system down, I need to trigger the parasympathetic system. I’ve been taught that deep breathing causes the lungs to expand, and when they press against the inside of the ribcage, it stimulates the parasympathetic system, so I try to breathe deeply and feel my lungs filling with air and pressing against my rib cage. Also, counting my breaths gets my mind off the turbulence and forces me to focus on something other than what’s pushing me over the edge.

I also rub my neck near the jugular vein — there’s a nerve in there called the vagus nerve that triggers the parasympathetic nervous system. It’s a huge nerve that runs through our whole body — look it up online for more info, as there’s more to it than I can come up with at this point — and one of the treatments for epilepsy to keep people chilled out and reduce danger of seizures, is actually to surgically implant a vagus nerve stimulator in their body. I’m not keen on the idea of having something implanted in me. I’d rather just massage my neck on the right side — but gently, as I’ve heard stories from doctors and nurses about people knocking themselves out by massaging it too hard.

Bottom line: I actively try to stimulate the part of my nervous system that’s built to chill me out. We all have it. We can all use it. And I do.

If this doesn’t work, I try to get my mind off things by doing something. I take a walk. Or I work in my workshop. Or I write something. Or I draw something. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it needs to be active, and I need to really concentrate while I’m doing it, so I redirect that wild, primal energy/rage/agitation into something productive. Sometimes, I’ll clean my study, which gets to be a total wreck, at times.

I try to get my mind off things that were making me crazy, and do something  positive with my energy.

If all else fails, I remove myself from the situation, if I can, and take a breather. I physically exit the area, and I pull myself together. If I cannot stop the rush of temper with people I do NOT want to hurt (and I really don’t want to hurt anyone), I just walk away and gather myself. I give myself a talking-to. I don’t drive when I’m in that kind of a space, but if I can go into another room and close the door and have some quiet time in a darkened room, I do. I try to stop the cascade before I do/say things I cannot undo or take back.

I try to protect the ones I care about by removing my malfunctioning brain from their presence.

Most of all, I try to not judge myself and be too hard on myself. I’m a long-term multiple mild traumatic brain injury survivor, and the fact that I’m still here means I’ve done something right. I try to learn from my experiences and keep an eye out for things that may cause problems later. I make amends, whenever I can and should. And I do what I can to atone for the things I’ve done that hurt others — without my intending to or wanting to.

I have to remember that I am a good person, but my brain does not work as well as I want it to, and if I had total choice in the matter, I would definitely not do the things that my brain is prompting me to. This is not an excuse for bad behavior. It’s a warning to myself of what I have to pay even more attention to, so I can live the best life possible and, wherever and whenever possible, do no harm to others, but help in any way I can.

Not all of these approaches work 100% all of the time. And I don’t always have the presence of mind to do them when I should. But these things have worked for me and my extreme and volatile temper.

They might work for you, too.

Good luck!

TBI Symptom of the Day – Such trouble sleeping!

I had another rough night, two nights ago. Probably had something to do with my visit to the doctor, but then again, I haven’t been sleeping all that well, lately, anyway.

I was up at 2:00 a.m., drenched in sweat — I’m having a hard time moderating my body temperature, these days, as the seasons change. I’m either too warm or too cold, and when I get too hot, I sweat like crazy, when then soaks my pajamas and then I get chilled.

It’s just not good.

I tried listening to my guided imagery CD that’s meant to help me sleep, but it wasn’t working. I considered taking a shower to get all the sweat off me (sometimes the odor of my perspiration keeps me awake).. but then I opted for just changing my t-shirt and changing bedrooms.

The guest bedroom in the back of the house is quieter and smaller, and it feels sheltered. It doesn’t have much furniture in it; it’s pretty bare-bones, in fact. And it’s where we keep our extra stuff, like dirty laundry, shelves I have not taken out of the box and hung, yet, odd luggage that we can’t fit anywhere else, and a half-working multi-function fax-scanner-printer that bought the farm many years ago, but doubles as our outgoing fax machine (which we need surprisingly often). But the room has a nice feel to it, and it’s like a sanctuary to me when I’m not feeling well. It’s also where I take afternoon naps on the weekends, sometimes. It’s a nice room, the humble features notwithstanding.

I pulled a nice heavy quilt out of the closet, spread it across the bed, got my pillow, and climbed in. There’s something about making a “cave” out of my covers that makes me feel safer and more comfortable. I think the difference in the temperature in the room — my usual bedroom tends to be hot, and I’ve had the humidifier running to help avoid sinus issues — and the quiet in the back of the house really helped. Plus, it was a change of pace for me. I usually only sleep in the back guest room if I’m sick and I need to keep away from everyone.

I guess that wee hour of the morning was one of those times. Because I was sick. Tired and overtaxed and worried about my health and wondering if/when this TBI business is ever going to let up on me, and give me a break.

It could be that it never does. It could be, I have to keep dealing with the fallout — emotional, social, interpersonal, logistical, professional — all my live-long days. That probably will be the case. But on days like today, when I’m just so tired and I’m so fed up with having to navigate the world with different and/or diminished resources, I start to lose faith in my ability to cope.

I can cope, of course. I always have and I always will. I wouldn’t have gotten this far in life, with all those head traumas and all those tough experiences with family and friends and jobs and just daily living, if I didn’t have it in me to cope. I’ve been coping since I was seven years old, which means I’ve been at this for 36 years. But on days like today, when I’m tired and feeling like I’m falling behind in everything and I don’t know how I’m going to keep up, I start to lose faith.

Until I find something really great to perk me up. Like the fact that the speed of my broadband connection has improved exponentially, far beyond what I ever dreamed possible from my ISP, and I’m on good terms with my co-workers who also enjoy my company (when I’m absorbed in thoughts that perk me up, of course).

I think that if anything has spared me, in the years after my various TBI’s, it’s my continued sense of … well, adventure. And my tenacity. There’s a joke that with Alzheimer’s you get to meet new people every day, which (even by my fringe standards) is twisted and callous. But in a way, that’s how I feel about my own neurological issues. There is literally never a boring moment. If I approach each new situation with a sense of curiosity, even wonder, and I don’t get too hung up on the fact that I tend to screw up royally the first couple of times I try things… and I keep my sense of humor… and I just hang in there and keep trying, till I get it right… well, then, nothing is too terribly big for me to tackle (within reason, of course — let’s not go hog wild and get our hearts set on space travel or paying off the mortgages of every duped homeowner in America).

Some days, of course, I despair. I mean, it just really sucks when your brain doesn’t function the way you’d like it to — and everybody expects it to. It really sucks, when your own doctor backs away from you in alarm because they’ve discovered their assumptions about how well you can cope in the world are dead wrong. It sucks when your loved ones cannot deal with your temper, your memory issues, your mood swings, your difficulties remembering where to look for the note that’s supposed to tell you what to do today… And it really sucks, when you’re not sure who your friends really are…. and you don’t know if you have it in you to try to find out for sure.

But on the whole, I’m just so stubborn and hard-headed and too in love with life, to just give up and quit the game. Or even sit on the bench. I’m a viable, lively human being with a big heart and a lot to offer and a whole lot of life experience that others might find useful. Why should I live any less of a life than other people who haven’t gotten hit on the head and knocked around? Why should my injuries disqualify me form living my life to the fullest? They shouldn’t!

So long as I get enough sleep. Having enough rest is of paramount importance to me. If I haven’t slept, I can go off the deep end really quickly and start to make life miserable for everyone arund me. It’s the short temper, the extreme (someetimes violent) mood swings, the yelling, the tears, the inability to concentrate, the lapses in my memory over things that should be so simple… It’s all of it… it’s the almost childlike dependency that makes people wonder who I am, really… the reluctance to go out and be social, for fear that my tiredness will wear on me and make me edgy and gruff and put people off, and make me say things I regret and don’t really want to say. It’s the anxiety about any sort of social interaction — even with friends — that isolates me and ties me up in knots, since I don’t really have anyone I can just shoot the breeze with and bounce ideas off of. It’s the anxiety about people I know finding out about my tbi, when they had no idea before, and treating me differnetly, even though they’ve known me even in my most troubled times when my symptoms were really playing havoc with my head and behavior.

When I haven’t slept, I have trouble doing the most basic things — like remembering to zipper my fly. Like remembering to turn on my headlights when I pull out of the driveway. Like remembering a very important task I have been meaning to do. Like being able to understand people when I talk to them on the phone.

It seems like such a basic thing. How could sleep deprivation cause these issues? How could something so simple make my life so hard?

I’m not sure. But it does.

So, this weekend, with the support of my family (who are growing tired of dealing with a tired version of me), I will rest. Sleep. Take it easy. Read a good book. Write a little Draw a little. Just chill out. Take long hours to listen to my guided imagery CDs that I’ve been meaning to listen to. Spend some time doing some self-assessment and looking back over my past week to see what the pain points were. Tomorrow I’m taking time for myself, which is a rare, rare thing. And I’m going to catch up on my sleep, if it’s the last thing I do.

Nothing else matters, at this point. My priorities are clear.


Share this post


Technorati tags:

I really am very tired…

I’ve been thinking, these past few days, about how many things I’ve blocked out over the years of living with a tbi… I’ve effectively blocked out the fact that I usually have a headache, that I have constant ringing in my ears, that I sometimes can’t make sense of what people say to me, until 10 minutes after they say it…  So many things I’ve succeeded at ignoring. Including being tired.

I don’t think I’ve had many full nights of restful sleep since my fall in 2004. I’ve had a lot of job stress and a lot of personal stress… and frankly, it’s worn on me. But I believe a lot of my sleep disturbances have been due to my injury, not just external stress, and I’ve just gotten used to being constantly tired.

Fatigue with TBI is a big problem, and I keep coming across discussions of it.

It’s a theme. For sure.

Of course, it doesn’t help that all of American culture seems hell-bent on adding sugar/aspartame/whatever sweetener to every single form of solid food and drinkable liquid. It doesn’t help that we’re all hopped up on caffeine and pushed to constantly go-go-go. It doesn’t help that our food is full of preservatives and God-knows-what-else. And it doesn’t help that the television and radio and internet are constantly pumping  us full of stimuli that offer us little in return for paying attention to them, other than their agreeing to go away and leave us alone.

This country is full of over-tired, over-taxed, under-served citizens, 2% of whom are walking around with TBI’s… a lot of whom (myself included) are having trouble sleeping.

About the last thing we need, on top of our already challenged sleep patterns, is a nationwide campaign to keep us awake long enough to spend whatever money is left in our wallets or on our over-taxed credit cards.

<sigh>

Technorati Tags: brain damage Brain Injury cognitive-behavioral issues Emotional Fallout Family Issues Head Trauma journal Mild Traumatic Brain Injury military Motivation and Inspiration mtbi Neurology Neuropsychological Effects of TBI neuropsychology Personal Experiences with TBI psychology psychotherapy rehabilitation Social Issues TBI Physiology TBI Rehab TBI Resources tbi survivor TBI Symptoms tbi traumatic brain injury