Last week was a good one, I have to say. I took a break from social media for a while and read some books, for once. I also spent a fair amount of time taking care of business around the house. Cleaning up leftover mess from months gone by. Fixing up outside, taking care of my lawn, getting myself ready to tackle the garage and clean that out. I have a lot to do, and since it’s spring, it’s time to jump into action.
Or just get moving.
I also reconnected with some old childhood friends of mine, and it’s great to drift back into the sense I had when I was with them. When I was younger. When I didn’t fully understand my situation, what made me “tick”, etc. Relating to those people again with the perspectives I have about what I was dealing with, back then — a bunch of concussions that never got recognized or addressed, as well as the confusion and frustration and mixed-up state that came along with them — it’s much easier for me to relate to those people now, than it ever was, when I was a kid.
And that’s kind of cool. Because now I can cut myself a break, even forgive myself for being how I was. And I can cut those people a whole lot of slack for being “how they were”. Because in all honesty, I was so turned around, back then, I truly didn’t know how they were. I took a wild guess, and I guessed wrong.
But that’s all behind me. Because I understand. And I can forgive myself for a whole lot of things, now that I understand what was behind it. I can actually have compassion for myself and the person I was, back then, as well as others. And that’s the best thing of all.
Compassion makes a difference.
It’s important — and not only for the past, but for the present and future, as well. With my changed perceptions, my updated perspective, I can be free to move forward in life with a different way of thinking about things. I’m no longer “the loser who couldn’t figure anything out”. I’m “the resourceful, persistent person who never quit trying”. I’m not the former “waste of space”. I had as much right to exist as the next person, and I learned to contribute as best I could.
And I’ve been thinking a lot about contribution, lately. How important it is to really help make the world a better place by our choices, our words, our actions. I’m not talking about being some pie-in-the-sky lightweight who’s always spouting some sort of inspirational stuff. I’m talking about making the hard choices to keep positive, even in the face of adversity — to appreciate just how much everybody is dealing with, each and every day, and help them get through it all by staying positive and constructive.
We all have our struggles. That much is clear. And for me, staying stuck in my own difficulties is a sure recipe for misery. For myself, and for others. But when I get out of my own head and focus on others and look for ways to help, everything changes. For them, and for me.
That’s another thing that’s made this past week particularly good. I’ve been focusing on others, putting myself in others’ shoes, thinking about them and their situation, and doing my best to be supportive, even if I have no idea what’s causing someone to do the things they’re doing. That makes work so much easier — not because the job we’re doing is any less complicated, but because it gets the people stuff in order, and when you build from there, everything else finds a way to work itself out.
Oh, one other thing I found that’s helping — laughing, instead of cursing. Even if I don’t feel like laughing, I’ve been training myself to let out a little laugh, when I get frustrated or everything is completely messed up. Make no mistake… there’s a lot of stuff I’m dealing with that’s messed up. And it’s definitely curse-worthy. But if I make myself laugh just a little bit, that changes how things feel. And it lifts my mood considerably.
So, that’s good.
I plan to keep doing it — just embrace the absurdity of it all.
And now to get into this week. It’s spring vacation for a lot of my colleagues, this week, so it will be quiet. I’ve heard rumblings of political maneuverings that might swoop in and move me from one group to the next. Whatever happens, I’ll make the best of it. Whatever… I need a quiet week to just chill and get some work done. This should do the job.
The holidays can be tough for anyone who’s got extra difficulties, due to chronic illness. And with TBI / concussion, sometimes the worst thing is being around people who don’t understand what it’s like to have your life turned upside-down by a “mild” blow to the head.
As I’ve said many times, there’s nothing “mild” about a concussion or a traumatic brain injury. That momentary alteration of consciousness means that something “in there” got injured. And no amount of positive thinking or motivation or … consequences… is going to change the functional ability, unless you have adequate time to recover and rebuild your wiring.
You have to keep the stress down, to do that effectively. It takes time and practice and sometimes a bit of luck, to rebuild what you once had. And being pushed and prodded by people who don’t understand TBI or “get” why concussion can turn your life upside-down, doesn’t help with that.
The holidays can be stressful, to begin with. Then you add all the people, the expectations, the increased pace (a lot of us are racing to finish year-end goals at work, at the same time we’re shopping and figuring out holiday party logistics), and money pressures… and it just gets worse. Cognitive reserves that were already in short supply, get even less… and meanwhile, everybody expects you to KEEP UP! KEEP UP! WHAT’S THE HOLD-UP?!
Some of my own challenges have been:
Remembering what I’m supposed to do at work. I’ve forgotten a bunch of stuff I was supposed to do – and I even forget to write it down.
Dealing with depression. It comes and goes with me. This year, it seems to be coming more than it’s going.
Keeping cool with my spouse, when tensions get high.
Staying on my exercise routine.
Eating sensibly, and not “stuffing my face” with all kinds of candies and cookies. I’ve done well in terms of candy, because I can’t have chocolate (sets off migraines with me), but I’ve eaten more bread and cookies than I should.
Getting enough rest, and keeping on my regular sleep schedule. A tired brain is an irritable brain, and boy, do I get irritable when I get tired. I’ve had a hard time keeping on my sleep schedule, these past weeks, and I really have to concentrate on getting that sorted out when I’m off work next week.
Not pushing myself too hard. It’s easy for me to push. I know how to do that. But while it used to work okay when I was in my 30s, now that I’m past 50, it’s just not the same. I need to remember where I am… and act accordingly.
Basically, keeping myself together during the holidays is like an extra part-time job. It helps that I haven’t spent a lot of time socializing with friends and family. That takes the pressure off. But for many, many other people, they don’t have that option. And my heart goes out to them.
Still and all, it will be over soon enough. Just a few more days till Christmas, then another week till New Years (which isn’t much of a holiday for me, anyway). Then I can get back to my regular life.
I got the critical things done ahead of time, and then I spent all day yesterday with a buddy, going to see an exhibition of Japanese art and culture. It was pretty amazing – especially seeing things that real people made with their hands, instead of something that they made on a computer. The handiwork of some of the furniture was amazing.
I wish I had more energy to take it all in, but yesterday was a pure adrenaline day. I had to help my spouse the night before with a business activity (their back is out, so they need assistance), and not only was I pushed really hard to do a lot of things, but I was up past midnight on Saturday – and I rarely sleep in – so I did not get enough sleep for Sunday.
Yesterday was good. We checked out the art, the craftsmanship, the joinery, the materials… and then we got some lunch – late. My routine was completely blown away. We were near a neighborhood where I used to eat, and sure enough, the old taqueria was there, where I used to always get massive burritos for a very low price. The store burned down, during the years after I moved away, but I thought for sure they would rebuild, because they were so popular – and sure enough. Line was out the door. And the food was still amazing.
We ended up hanging out the entire day, and we had dinner at my home with my spouse, who is actually much better friends with this individual than I am. We’re all on good terms, so it was a good time.
I just had no time for myself, which is a problem on the weekends. I really need my downtime – space when I am only doing things that are in my head and my intentions. Or I pay the price.
I’m feeling it today. I started to get a migraine yesterday, but I got an hour-long nap, and that helped. Work, work, and more work. Not so great for my system, which needs balance.
This week I will balance. I don’t have a lot of appointments. Just two, compared to the past. I think I’m going to back off on my acupuncture and chiropractor, because I am really tired of not getting home till 8:00 p.m. and then having to make dinner, and not eating until 8:30 or 9:00. It’s too late for me. And I’ve been pushing myself for too long, trying to fit everything in.
I just want my routine back. I just want my regular schedule. I have to have it, or I am toast. And if others cannot accommodate me, too bad.
It’s actually good that I am getting to this point. I have been pushing myself very, very hard, for a long time, and it’s about time that I really focused on just taking care of myself in ways that are less rigorous — and are closer to home.
I’ve been really sick, this week. Not flu, but a really bad cold that has wiped me out. It’s been a few years, since I was this sick, which I suppose is good. But I am also out of practice with dealing with this crap, and that makes it even more annoying.
I got some OTC meds and the first batch I got had pseudoephedrine in it.
They really sent me for a loop — good-bye impulse control! I was running around, talking a mile a minute, ranting over every little thing, and I could hardly sit still. I was probably pretty interesting to watch at work, and I did have a LOT of energy, but My God, it was a little much.
Regular Sudafed makes me nuts, and I thought I could get away with the generic brand. But this had the stuff in it that makes me crazy, so I went back to the store and got myself something without pseudoephedrine, and all was well, yesterday.
I’ve been drinking a lot of that Airborn stuff — generic bargain brand, again, and that seems to make the biggest difference. Whatever they put in that stuff makes me instantly feel better. So, I need to use my noggin and drink plenty of it — also, preferably before I get sick in the first place.
Anyway, I have three days off work, and that will give me a chance to finish up a couple of projects — one for a friend I’ve been helping, one for my house, which needs more than an hour of TLC, and one for me, which has been hanging over my head for some time, now. I can finally get it done, and I’m pretty excited to see that one off my plate, so to speak.
Well, I’m glad I had a nap yesterday. I got a little less than 7 hours of sleep last night, but I got right up, a little after 6 a.m. I really wanted to get into the day — get my exercise, eat my breakfast, and get some writing done before I get into my full-time packing.
I started to get a headache when I was riding the exercise bike, and now my head hurts. I am supposed to get headache specialist info from my neuropsych, but they never got back to me, even though they promised. This isn’t the first time they’ve forgotten about me. Ah well, I may be better off taking care of things myself. I would like to see a neurologist or someone who can tell me if it’s a structural issue with my brain, or if it’s more about my neck and my stress level. I start to get a headache when my spouse is going on and on about some drama at work, so I’m guessing that it’s a stress thing — at least in part.
I guess I need to get back to my meditation exercises again — just training myself to keep calm in the face of whatever comes my way. Things at work have been intense, and that’s not helping. I need to improve my skills at handling what comes down the pike – no matter what that may be.
I did a little bit of writing and reading, this morning, and I’m about ready to start packing my bags for the trip. I need to collect my clothing, do some laundry, and get my pieces all squared away. I have a list of things to do and take care of.
I’ve got about 7 hours before I need to leave for the airport. I have to check in when I get there – I can’t check in online, unfortunately, which puts a real crimp in my plans today. I need to give myself an extra 30-45 minutes, so I’ll need to leave the house earlier than planned. I need to review my list of everything that needs to be done, so I don’t miss anything.
With any luck, this will be my last trip in a while. They are cutting down on travel at work, so that could relieve me of the constant pressure to get ready to go away, and then recover from coming back. What a waste of my precious — and very limited — energy.
I really just want to devote as much time as I can to my own projects and not have my job take over my life, as it has in the past. It’s bad enough that it already consumes so much of my time and renders many other hours pretty much useless to me — because I’m so tired.
I’m making the best of things, of course. I’ve given up fighting it, and now I’m just going to get into my day and live it as fully as possible, whatever comes down the pike. Whatever the day brings, I need to be fully involved in it – not just up in my head, and not standing at a distance. But in it.
This is really the thing that saves me in my TBI recovery — being involved in my life – up close and personal – and not letting setbacks keep me from making progress. There is so much that is a lot more difficult for me, than I’d like, and I really hate my life, some days. I think back on how things used to be, and everything now just feels so strange and foreign. Things used to feel like they flowed. I had what I thought was a very fulfilling life, with hobbies and pastimes that really gave me a sense of belonging. Then I got hurt, and everything changed, and getting back to some semblance of normalcy — at least feeling like there’s some semblance of normalcy — has been a daily challenge.
Now, though, it’s feeling more “normal” to me, and I’m finding my way back to things that used to be part of my everyday life. Reading. Writing. Being active in my community and having friendships to fall back on. TBI can be so very alienating, because of the personality changes — people who used to like you for who you were, no longer have that same person to like. So naturally a lot of them move on, because you’ve almost broken a promise to them about being the kind of person you are “supposed” to be.
Also, your tolerance for the way certain people are can change a great deal. I noticed that in my own life, a lot of the “endearing” characteristics of other people, which I could accept and gloss over, became glaring points of conflict with me. And I became a lot less tolerant of other people’s flaws and foibles, so I couldn’t bear to spend waste more time with them.
As an example, I used to hang out with a lot of people who had a real victim mentality — like all the world was against them, and they had to constantly struggle against the dominant paradigm to just break even in their lives. I used to hang out with a LOT of escape artists — devotees of role-playing games, computer games, renaissance faires, comic books, and other alternative culture types. That was my world — all full of arts and music and imagination. But it became pretty apparent to me, after I got deeper into my TBI recovery, that so much of that was a convenient way to avoid dealing with harsh truths about oneself, instead of taking action to make right the things that were all wrong.
And I realized, too, that so much of the world that my friends thought was out to get them or designed to make their lives miserable, was a result of how they were thinking about those circumstances. They kept telling themselves that “the mainstream world” was designed to destroy them, and they were in a constant state of conflict and antagonism. So, small wonder that they couldn’t get ahead in life. They came across as angry and aggressive with everyone who wasn’t just like them, and they boxed themselves into a version of life that only existed in their minds.
And because I realized more and more, just how much of what they believed was originating within them… and I saw how much that was costing them, in terms of time and energy and positive living… I just couldn’t spend a whole lot of time hanging out with them anymore. That, and the fact that I was so wiped out after working all week, and I just needed to have time to myself to regroup and recuperate. I just couldn’t stand their bitching and moaning and blatant assumptions about life, which only served to get in their way.
The world wasn’t the problem. THEY were the problem.
And so I dropped a lot of them and I’ve gone my own way.
It’s been kind of lonely, to tell the truth. It’s tough to connect with other people like you, when you all have so little energy to spare, beyond basic survival. And the people I’ve tried to stay friends with and tell about my TBI issues… well, they just weren’t having it. They were so convinced that “there’s nothing wrong” with me — and a lot of them still are. They can’t see the internal issues I have to deal with, each and every day. They can’t see the struggles, the pain, the frustration. There’s not much point in trotting them out for others to see, because they just get nervous if they don’t know what it’s like. And they don’t know what to say.
So, it’s complicated. And it’s challenging. But in reality, is sustaining a TBI and not being able to shake the symptoms really that different from any other kind of loss? Losing your home, or your marriage, or a child, or a loved one, or a job? Or any other things that make up part of your identity in the eyes of others? People fall out of your life, they move on, they don’t know what to say to you… and sometimes they are never replaced. I think it comes with life. And getting older. And realizing who you are and what you will — and will not — tolerate in your life.
So, while I have a lot fewer friends in my life, and my activities have really pared down to the most essential of activities, and I’m not nearly as social as I used to be, that’s all fine. Because I’m fine.
I’m fine with how my life is now. I’m fine with things being so much quieter, and having a lot more time for the things that matter most to me. I’m fine with not being surrounded by people who are convinced the world is out to get them. And I’m fine with what the day has to bring.
Because being in the midst of my daily life — all the little details, as confounding as they can be — and experiencing it all, fully alive and engaged in my own life, is what brings me back to myself.
For many years after my various TBIs, I held back and was off by myself in a world of my own inventing, like so many of my ex-friends. And I didn’t really let life in. It was safer, but it was no way to get myself in shape to live my life. I avoided a ton of experiences, because they were too overwhelming or too confusing for me. And I thought I could avoid all that and prevent the anxiety that came with it.
Now, I generally accept that I’m going to get confused and overwhelmed, and I can plan for it. I expect it. So, it’s not such a terrible thing. It’s just one more aspect of life I have to manage. And so I do.
All that the day brings — all it has to offer — it’s there for me.
Nothing says the holidays like the frenetic race to do-do-do, and go-go-go. For some reason, a whole lot of people think it’s important to DO MORE between Thanksgiving and Hanukkah and Christmas and New Years, than they’ve done in months — and will probably do in the months after. There’s the tree setup, the lights setup, the gift buying, the parties, and more.
This year is particularly tough for me, because I have very little money and I’m unable to travel to see anyone in my family — it’s a mixed blessing, actually, since family tends to make me crazy, and being up close and personal with their decisions and the things they’re choosing to do with their lives, is incredibly painful to watch.
But the fact of not getting to see them, is also an added stressor. Strange, how that works…
There’s not much I can do about the frantic pace the rest of the world is setting, aside from closing my eyes during those manic, brightly lit commercials with everyone dancing around and singing and rushing – and looking quite happy while they’re doing it. I can mute the t.v., and I can close my eyes. I can smile politely and nod as people are pouring out their hearts to me (for some reason they do), and tune them out until they’re done, so I can go back to handling problems in my life that haven’t been manufactured for the sake of drama. I can hunker down and make sure I eat well, don’t fill up on candy and pies and such, and drink enough water.
But there’s no escaping all the frantic activity for the next month or so.
The one recourse I do have is getting added rest. I lay down on the couch early last night — as in, before 11:00 p.m. — while my spouse was watching television, and I slept for a few hours. Then I woke up for about half an hour and watched the end of a show, before going to bed. Once in bed, my head was racing with all kinds of thoughts, so I “talked it through” — not exactly a prayer, more like a kind of conversation with God — and then I felt better and went to sleep.
And I slept till 8 a.m.. Which surprised me. I usually only sleep till 6:30 – if I’m lucky. So, between the 2-1/2 hours of sleep I got lying on the couch, and the 5 hours of sleep I got in bed, I got about 7-1/2 hours, which is a recent record for me. I’ve been operating on 5-1/2 – 6 hours per night, lately. Largely because I really don’t feel like going to bed at night. And I can’t seem to sleep past 5:30 or 6 in the morning. So, there we have it.
Anyway, I’m feeling a bit better than I did last night. I’ve been increasingly agitated over a lot of things — mostly having to do with having discussions with people in my life who are usually at a distance, but this year are closer by. The friends I had Thanksgiving dinner with… family members I usually don’t talk to… not to mention folks I’m connecting with through volunteer work. It’s like I can feel their pain, and it’s pretty tough — especially since I’ve got a bunch of pain, myself, both physically and emotionally. It’s just not easy, these days, and I feel like I’m getting a double-dose of it.
This even goes for my spouse and me. Thanks to the long weekend, we have been around each other more in the past week, than we have in months, and sparks have been flying. All spring and summer, my spouse was working regularly on the weekends, going on business trips, etc, so we didn’t see much of each other. And as it turns out, having the time apart actually helped our marriage. Being in close quarters now, tempers are flaring. We’re both very strong personalities, and we have our own ideas about how things should be, and when we don’t see eye to eye, things can get very … fiery. It’s a bit touch-and-go at times, but as long as we keep talking and we keep our sense of humor, that smooths things out.
I do need to set some new guidelines for the next year, however. Some things need to change, or we can’t continue the way we are. I’m not talking about divorce — I’m talking about a business venture that they’ve had going for many years, which they have never bothered to make really profitable. It’s been sucking $$$ out of our coffers for close to 20 years, and they keep promising to take steps to make it more profitable, but they never actually do anything they’re talking about. It’s time to put up or shut up. If things don’t turn around in the next year, we’re going to stop production on it, call it a day, and that’s that. I’m the one who’s been doing the bulk of the work, anyway, and I’m tired of it running my life. For nothing.
The other way I get past my own issues and pain, and also see things more clearly, is getting enough rest. When I am tired, my flashpoint gets pretty hot, and my temper becomes trigger-happy. It’s bad enough that my spouse has a whole lot of bad memories of parents freaking out during Christmas time. When I get tense and angry, it just brings all that up. And that sets me off, because I’ve been told so many times by so many people, that my temper makes me dangerous, and I should not be around other people when I get angry.
It’s like a perfect storm… and it can be pretty difficult to recover from the biochemical storms that tear through us both. For days, we’re both pretty on-edge around each other.
So, the thing to do is head it off at the pass, by getting enough rest and also being smart about how I spend my time. I took the last two days OFF (pretty much), only doing a few things that hadto be done. I was pretty wiped out by the time Thanksgiving came around, and I sorely needed a break. So, I chilled, read, hung around the house, did some repairs on my car, and didn’t live by my to-do list.
Today, with the past several days of rest behind me, I’m feeling more able to do the things that need to be done, and I can see more clearly what needs to be fixed in my day to day.
Sleep being the first thing. Resting. Digesting. And exercising enough that I really need to rest, by the time the day is done. Keeping moving, but at a pace that lets me get things done in an orderly manner — without exhausting myself. Intervals. Short bursts of activity, followed by intentional rest.
Speaking of short bursts of activity, I have a bunch of things I need to sort through today. So, I’ve broken them down into manageable pieces, and I’ll handle them one at a time as I proceed. And rest in between. So that I can keep going. At a decent pace that actually gets things done. The main thing is to not overwork myself, so I don’t go off the deep end over things that pass anyway.
That’s no way to spend the holidays.
Today’s a new day. Begin again. And get plenty of rest.
Thanksgiving was an amazing time — a real joy and a success in so many little ways. Here’s my Top 10 gratitude list for what the day had to offer yesterday:
I woke up in time to get the turkey completely thawed before I put it in the oven. This was not a given, because I have a tendency to oversleep when I have to get up at a certain time. The turkey was still a little icy, the night before, and I knew I was going to need at least three hours to thaw it in a cold water bath before I could stuff it and put it in the oven. (Yes, for the record, I walk on the wild side and stuff my turkeys whenever I make them – it just tastes better, and I allow for extra time to roast.) But I actually woke up 30 minutes before I had to get up, which allowed me time to get going and get my head on straight before launching into the cooking. And by the time the stuffing was ready, the bird was too.
I managed to time everything out, almost exactly right. This was another thing that was not-a-given. Last year at Christmas time, I screwed up roasting a turkey and ended up needing an extra four hours to cook it. Yesterday, I had no such leeway; I had to have everything timed out exactly right, because we had to get on the road by a certain time. And I managed. I checked the clock frequently, and unlike other times, I didn’t just assume things would get done quickly — like prepping the stuffing and the veggies that went around the bird. I took extra time, which as it turned out, was what I needed from the start.
The friend who said they might come to dinner with us, did show up. This individual was recently diagnosed with cancer, and they are going through radiation and a variety of treatments, and they’ll be having surgery a few days before Christmas. It actually felt good to be able to just hang out with this friend, help them get their mind off their troubles, and just enjoy — with good food, good company, and a relaxing evening when they didn’t need to do anything.
Another friend who was going to be alone on Thanksgiving didn’t show up. That friend has been a real pain in the ass, over the past year, and while we do enjoy their company at times, they’re pretty erratic, so you never know how they’re going to be. They didn’t show, so there was no need to deal with their volatility.
We had Thanksgiving dinner “off the grid”. Well, technically it wasn’t completely off the grid, because there was electricity. But there was no cell phone signal, and we had to drive back into the woods to get to the cabin where we had dinner. It was really relaxing to not have Facebook and email and phones going all night long. What a change.
The drive out was beautiful. The weather was clear, it wasn’t doing anything obnoxious, and the countryside was lovely in that almost-winter way.
We took our time. We spent a fair amount of time prepping food when we got there, and then we took our time serving everything up and going around the table sharing what we were thankful for. We didn’t stress over food getting cold — our hearts were warm, and that’s what mattered. We really lingered over the food, too, pacing ourselves. And I have to say, that was the best Thanksgiving meal I’ve ever had, because I didn’t feel over-full and wiped out afterwards. I ate a lot, but I didn’t have that sick feeling I often get afterwards.
We ate like royalty. Seriously. We had a lot of food, and it was good. We all felt like kings and queens in the process — just so much really good food, without a lot of junk. Everybody in the group was on some sort of restricted diet, so all our food was not only squeaky clean and free of a ton of additives and other modern poisons, but also extremely good for us and tasty too.
We just hung out afterwards. We went for a walk out under the stars in the evening, and it was just amazing. We hung out talking about this and that. We watched little videotape snippets from “past lives”, we played music and sang, and we lay around the living room, playing with the dog and just chillin’. There was none of the rush and pressure to be a certain way or do certain things or meet anyone’s needs. We were just there to enjoy each others’ company and share a good meal.
We got home at an okay hour, and got everything put away. This is another thing that’s not a given for my spouse and me. Often, when we’ve been out late, we’ll just leave things till the morning. But for some reason last night, we were both motivated to take care of things and put up the dirty dishes, tuck the leftovers into decent containers (instead of just throwing it in the fridge), and get things squared away before going to bed. This made things a lot easier to wake up to, this morning. And for that, I am very grateful.
All in all, it was a banner day. I’ll write more later, because a number of really important things happened. But for now, let the record show that yesterday was one of the best Thanksgivings, ever.
I’m heading out to join friends for Thanksgiving dinner in another couple of hours. I’ve roasted a turkey this year, and I’m making stuffing from scratch.
I hope it turns out okay.
The group that my spouse and I are joining are a rag-tag bunch of folks. One has been recently diagnosed with cancer and is going through all sorts of negotiations with doctors. Another is only recently off the streets and is settling into their new housing — with some issues with a drug-dealing landlord. Another is living below the poverty line, just trying to get a side business going to supplement their part-time income. None of us are anywhere near our kin-folk. We’re what we’ve got today.
There may be others joining us, but the bottom line is, my primary purpose today is to feed these folks and give them a reason to give thanks.
Not to me, but to life. For all that we have received and are given each day. Even in the midst of desolation and despair, there may be a reason to give thanks.
So, back to work. Just a quick check-in before I head out.
I was away this past weekend, visiting family and old friends from years gone by. It was quite a trip — 7 hours of driving on Friday night after work, all-day reunion activities with family and friends I knew from early school days, on Saturday, and then another 8 hours of driving and a visit to an old (once good) friend I have not seen for over 20 years.
I got home about midnight last night, and I’m pretty wiped out. But it was a good trip.
I held it together. And more. It actually turned out a lot better than I was expecting. It was challenging, but not only did I hold it together but I was also involved and engaged and I had a pretty good time.
The past few months have been extremely challenging with a lot of self-doubt rattlin’ ’round in my head, but going to visit family and friends was a good reminder that I am on the right track and even though I do have my issues, and I have been struggling with a lot, I’m still doing pretty well, all things considered.
There’s nothing like reconnecting with people whose lives are… well… complicated, to make me appreciate my own situation.
What a trip… I had more people asking me if I remembered such-and-such, than I’ve had in a long time. It was a little disheartening, at first, because there were things that they clearly remembered very well, but I had no recollection of them. A lot of those past years — elementary school, high school — are very sketchy and patchy for me. There are huge holes in what I can remember, possibly because I had a number of mild TBIs throughout my childhood, and also because I had a lot of environmental sensitivities, so if there was a lot of noise and commotion and activity going on around me, I was usually in self-protect mode. I was more focused on keeping myself from freaking out, than really experiencing and remembering what was going on around me.
I know I was involved in a lot of things when I was in high school, especially. I just can’t remember a lot that other people were reminiscing about.
Memory is a funny thing. People seem to think that’s what makes us who and what we are. Like, if you can’t remember things, you don’t have a personality or a way to relate to the world around you. My parents tend to treat me like a retard, when they ask me if I can remember such-and-such, and I can’t (that happens a lot). It doesn’t mean I’m developmentally delayed. It just means I can’t remember sh*t.
Oh, well. The thing is — and I now have a theory about this — the people who seem to remember most from the past, are the ones who seem least happy and most worn by time. It’s like all those memories make them who they are, the weight of them just pulls them down. All those memories seem to put miles on them — I think it’s also because they get “locked” into a certain recollection about what happened, and what it meant, and those things aren’t always good. So, they have all those old burdens of bad (or just unpleasant) memories that hold them down.
I, on the other hand, do not have that problem. Sometimes I can’t even remember where I am, which freaks some people out. But I’m always confident that if I just keep going, I will eventually remember what the deal is, where I am, and what I’m supposed to be doing. And I do. I just keep going, and it works for me.
Of course, it all gets more difficult if I am tired — which is fairly often — but I manage to get through somehow.
This all brings up an interesting question — do our memories make us who we are? Are the events of our lives the primary building blocks of our identities, or might there be something more? I know that because of my sensory issues, I have to stay pretty “present” in order to function – I need to track my light and noise sensitivities, and I have to work harder than some, in order to keep my attention on what’s in front of me. So things that are not right in front of me or not part of my immediate world don’t always have any meaning or reality for me — right here, right now… that’s what matters and affects me.
As for memories — mine are so “Swiss-cheesey” that if memories are the primary part of who and what we are, then there’s not much to me. At least, not reliably.
But that can’t possibly be, because I’m a complete person, able to live fully in this world, relate to others, relate to my world, do and contribute useful things… I’m a whole person, even with a fragmented memory.
So, the apparent assumption by my family and friends that memories are a big part of who you are and what you’re all about… well, that can’t be 100% true.
I do get that memories are important “social glue” that joins people in common understandings of the world. But at the same time, there’s plenty of other things that join us together. I ended up having dinner with a bunch of people I almost never interacted with when I was younger, and it was perfectly fine. It took a bit of work for us to find common ground we could talk about, but we found it, and that was that.
On the other hand, some of the folks I shared the most history with, didn’t actually have much to contribute to our present conversations. That was disappointing, because I was hoping that we could reconnect and still have good conversations. But they’ve moved on, as have I, and our lives are so very different now, there’s almost no point in keeping in touch. We will, of course, because people I have nothing in common with are a regular part of my life, but still… it’s something to think about.
All in all, I have to say the weekend was a pretty awesome success. It was exhausting and a little disappointing and painful at times, but the bottom line is, I didn’t wreck my car, I did everything I said I would, and although I got lost on the last leg of my journey and tacked another hour onto my drive time, it only happened once, so all in all it was a good time. And anyway, that extra hour gave me the chance to look at more great scenery, so it wasn’t all bad.
Now I’m back home, getting back to my routine, checking in with my spouse, and getting some rest. Work is annoying, and I haven’t heard back from the recruiters I’ve been talking to, and who knows when I’ll be able to line up another job. But for today, I’m healthy and happy — and that’s good enough for me.
The only time you should ever look back,
is to see how far you’ve come
An old college friend messaged me this morning to catch up. It was good to hear from them, and we had a good — but brief — chat. They were one of my closest friends in college, and they saw me go through an awful lot, thanks to my heavy drinking. They tried to reach out to me to help, a number of times, but I was pretty much of a goner, in those days.
It would be easy to say it was just the drinking, but it was so much more. I really believe that the multiple concussions I had in high school had a lot to do with my attitude problems and inability to keep focused and clear about my priorities. I was not accustomed to making good decisions about the people I hung around with — in high school, I faded to the background, when the after-effects of several concussions and a whole lot of rough-housing and heavy partying took over my life.
So, by the time I got to college and I was away from the structures and restrictions of my youth, I was ready to just “let go” — and that’s exactly what I did. It only took me a year to get into real trouble, and this college friend of mine has been saying repeatedly over the past year or so that we’ve been back in touch, that they wish they had been a better friend to me. I am assuming that means they thought they could somehow save me from myself and my inner demons. Or maybe at least advocate for me better, when the police got involved, and a nasty-ass judge who favored local townspeople over ne’er-do-well college kids started making life difficult for me.
Looking back, I don’t think that there’s much of anything they could have done for me. I had too much I needed to work through, and I transferred out of that school after two years there. The next stop I made was a better solution, academically, but again I got into trouble — drinking too much, falling down drunk a lot, doing more of the same as I was before, but this time, much worse. And I isolated like crazy, which didn’t help me any.
I wonder sometimes… if I had been able to reach out for help earlier, if I had allowed others to help me (instead of pushing them away like I did), would things have turned out differently for me? It is really hard to say. Even if they had been able to be a friend to me, I doubt I could have let it all in. I was too much at odds with myself and everyone/everything around me, to really allow much to penetrate this hard head of mine. Combining a succession of mild traumatic brain injuries with drinking, was a really bad idea, but — like so many others — I did it. And it did me no good. At. All.
In any case, it’s all water under the bridge, and the experiences I have had, have made me who I am. The best reason to look back on all of it, is to see how far I have truly come, to look back on the flood waters and rapids I have navigated in my past and to be genuinely grateful that I am alive today. It didn’t have to turn out that way. I have found myself in the midst of human traffickers, drug dealers, violent criminals, and all manner of thieves, cheats, and liars, over the course of my life. The fact that I am living a good life today, with a marriage of 20+ years and a home and a favorable employment situation, is really something to celebrate, rather than regret because it’s not something else.
I’ve been grappling with that a lot, lately — regret over my past, and things not turning out better than they did. So many of my professional peers, including folks 10-15 years younger than me — are farther along and doing more with their lives. They have much better prospects than I, or so it seems. Job-wise, I do feel like I’ve been held back by my situation… until I really think about it and realize how other people with the same type of history as I are living.
I have friends who have been through similar circumstances to my own, and none of them are even close to the quality of life I have. They came from similar circumstances, but they made different choices, and now — as far as I can tell — they are in decline, while I am on the ascent. I don’t want to get caught up in making anyone better or worse than anyone else, because who can tell what is in the mind and heart of another. And yet I can’t help comparing my situation to others’.
I guess that means I’m human.
Anyway, it’s fall, and that means it’s a time of reflection and recapping the past year. I always feel like this is the end of the year, with Halloween being a sort of turning point leading into the new year. It’s a cellular thing, I guess. Growing up in farm country, Halloween was the time when everything was ready to be cut down and turned over, and the nights were obviously longer than ever, so it really felt like The End. Thanksgiving, to me, feels like the start of the year, with a kickoff celebration of what’s to come. This time of year, with the falling leaves and shortening days, prompts me to look back on the past months to do a kind of inventory of where I’ve been and how far I’ve progressed.
I have to say, for all the challenges of the past 12 months, I have made significant progress. I’ve managed to extricate my mind from the hold of my current employer, and I have managed to stick it out long enough to not look like a flake, by leaving my employer in two years’ time. I have made some real progress in my work, achieving some pretty impressive feats – even if the cost was high. I’ve also had some real revelations about myself and where I want to fit in the world, and I’ve made some real strides with regard to my eating and exercising. I’ve become more active — all across the board — and that’s a really good thing.
With regard to the part I want to play in the world, after re-connecting with some old friends and co-workers, I’ve realized that I really did get sidetracked by the whole career thing. For the past three years, I’ve been living under the belief that by applying myself and working hard and showing real results and good progress and transforming the way my job is done, I can be a valued team player who has real career prospects. The first year in my job, that was pretty much true. The thing that held me back, was me. I didn’t put myself forward enough and I didn’t leverage the connections I had, to move forward. For the past two years, my prospects have shrunk and shriveled, and now it’s pretty clear that no matter how well I do my job, if I don’t say the right things to the right people at the right time, I’ll be perpetually marginalized and relegated to the “average 80%” pool of employees at this mega-corporation. Just a number.
Looking back, there’s part of me that regrets not pushing harder for the career advancement thing. But with a week’s vacation behind me, I realize now that it would not have worked, because that’s just not how I want to organize my life. I don’t wantto be a high-flying hot-shot at work, to the point where it takes over my life and is my identity. I don’t wantto give myself 100% to that path, because there is so much else I want to do with myself, and there is so much else I need to experience, beyond the realm of that whole career business.
If I had wanted to push for promotions and move up in the corporate world, I would have done it. If I had wanted to advance professionally and take it all to the next level, I would have gotten it done. But the fact of the matter is, I am deeply distrustful of that whole world, and more than anything, I want freedom and balance and the ability to move at will about the world. I’m more interested in questions, than answers, and I want to be free from any licensing agency or professional association that could impose its standards on me and shut down my voice. I would much rather hold down a day job for the structure and society, and then be free to do my own thing in my own hours.
And given that for the past three years, I’ve been in a job that has required me to be available pretty much anytime, any day, moving back to a 9-to-5 job will probably feel like a breeze. It will give me time to research TBI and to write. It will give me time to build out the library of resources I’m compiling for mild TBI understanding and recovery. It will give me time to do what I really want to do — freely read and write and think and talk the way I see fit and am drawn to do, without the intrusion of those who crave power and influence in the world.
And that, to me, is progress. Realizing and remembering – yet again – where I am going, and why… that’s the best sign of growth and strength that I could ever get.
Looking back, there are many things that could have gone differently and could have been “better”. There’s also a lot of stuff that could have turned out a whole lot worse. All in all, it’s been a wild ride — and here I am, on down the road, with a whole lot of experience under my belt, that makes it all worth it.
So, onward we go. Looking back to see how very far I’ve come. And yes, it is very, very far.