Whew – that was close!

Last Friday I had probably one of the worst days at my job. I got lectured by my boss about having done something that got them in trouble with their boss, and it threw me for a loop. So, I wrote this angry, rambling post about what a jerk they are, telling the world that I realized that many of the issues I’ve been having at work with them may be less about my problems, than theirs.

At the time, it felt really good to vent. I felt 100% justified, and I felt like I was coming to my own defense against injustice. It felt good to announce to the world that my boss is a jerk (I used much harsher terms, actually) and vindicate myself in the face of their (seemingly unwarranted) criticisms.

Fortunately, it turns out, I never published the post. It’s in draft status in my blog. And I plan to keep it that way. The thought occurred to me to delete it, but it’s a good reminder of how I can get really carried away when I’m tired and feeling pressured.

See, here’s the thing — the whole rage and temper and meltdown business is one of the particularly problematic things about TBI. At the time, when all the fight-flight chemicals are rushing through my veins, it makes perfect sense to my brain to fly off the handle. Impulse control goes right out the window, and the idea of NOT doing something rash is the farthest thing from my mind. It feels right and good and justified — it feels so right, how can it be wrong?

Well, it CAN be wrong. If only because feeding into it is going to cause even more trouble, on down the line. It’s bad enough that I had a bad day. But if I’d managed to publish that post, I would have not only spread the badness to everyone who was reading it, but I would have also had egg all over my face. Because in retrospect, they were a little right about what they were lecturing me about. They just did it in a way that I found humiliating, disrespectful, condescending, patronizing, and all the other attitudes that are hot-buttons for my temper.

And that will never do.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this list of questions people have been typing into search engines that get them to this blog. Rage and anger, temper and road rage, are frequent items. I think I’ll step on over to the post Quick responses to loaded questions and continue adding…

One Potato, Two Potato… A Tale of a Temper Flare

It was such a small thing. It was no big deal. So, I dropped the potato on the floor. So it slipped out of my hand and got away from me. I didn’t really need to flip out and slam the potato peelings into the trash can and curse a blue streak. I didn’t need to startle my partner and frighten them with the intensity of my reaction.

But from the way I lashed out after I dropped the potato, you’d think it was a huge deal. My temper flare was totally out of proportion to what happened, and I was totally unable to stop it. And that’s what drives me crazy.

Once again, I have overreacted extremely to a seemingly minor annoyance, turning a proverbial molehill into a mountain — no, a volcano. My partner is steering clear of me for a while, till I simmer down. My blood is pounding in my ears, I’m sweating like I’ve just run a hundred yard dash, and my head is spinning with the sudden crash of waves of unexpected emotion on my once-staid interior. Dinner might turn out okay, but the evening is pretty much ruined.

And I am humiliated.

It started out so simply. I had a long day at work, and I was looking forward to just chilling out, making my signature dish for supper — meatloaf with mashed potatoes and green peas. I don’t have the biggest cooking repertoire, and my partner usually does the cooking, but for some reason I make a killer meatloaf. After the long day I’ve had — no, a long week — tonight I need some serious comfort food.

I had intended to take off early and get home at a decent hour, but I got tied up at work with some last-minute things I needed to take care of. Running later than expected, I called my partner to say I was running behind, then did some shopping on my way. I picked up the 93% lean ground beef, egs and milk, and some extra celery, then waded through late-rush-hour traffic, and finally got home. Not bothering to change out of my work clothes, I rolled up my sleeves, chopped and mixed and patted together a pink loaf of beefy joy that would soon enough brown to perfection. I was running behind where I had hoped I’d be, but in another hour and a half, all would be well.

While the meatloaf was cooking, I turned my attention to the potatoes, and I suddenly remembered I’d intended to pick up some fresh spuds at the grocery store. A sudden flare of irritation rose in me, but as I picked through the potatoes we did have on hand, I found enough that were still in good enough shape to eat. As I rinsed them under cold water and shaved off their skins, I was having trouble hanging onto them. I could tell I was pretty tired from the day. The oblong shapes were slippery in my hands and I had to really concentrate at keeping hold of them, when I didn’t have rough potato skin to grip for traction. The peeling knife was slippery in my hands, too, and I struggled a bit with carving out the eyes and removing skin from tight crevices and wrinkles in the flesh.

As I turned away from the sink with one of the skinless tubers in my hand, suddenly it jumped from my grip. I tried to catch it as I felt it slide from between my fingers, but it escaped and landed with a thud on the linoleum and skittered away from me, as though it had a will of its own.

In an instant, my whole system was flooded with a sudden cascade of intense emotion. I could feel the blood rise in me, an adrenaline cocktail of volatile biochemicals boiling up at a moment’s notice, and I saw red for a split second. I felt something vicious in me coil and uncork like a thunderclap, and all I wanted to do was stab that fucking potato with the peeler I was wielding. In my mind’s eye, I saw myself stab it viciously, without hesitation or remorse, till it lay in shredded fragments before me.

“FUCK!” I fumed. “GODDAMN IT TO FUCKING HELL. MOTHERFUCKING PIECE OF SHIT! FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU!” I cursed the tuber. The unnamed thing that had coiled and unsprung inside me started to thrash, like a wild animal caged and prodded with an electrical probe. My gut churned with fierce lust for vengeance, and my head suddenly cleared of everything but a cold, cold drive to annihilate. Reaching for the nearest thing, I snatched up a handful of potato peelings from the sink and slammed them into the nearby trash can. Some of the peels slipped from between my fingers, and I pounced on them like a ravenous predator. I dropped to my knees — work clothes and all — and with tightly closed fist, I pounded them on the floor, as the inside of my head roared with rage. “STAY THERE, YOU GODDAMNED COCKSUCKING PIECE OF SHIT,” I hissed at the inert piece of vegetable peel. “DON’T FUCKING MOVE.

The potato peel obliged me and lay still on the floor in front of me. The inside of my head howled with frustration and rage, and I snatched up the offending object and threw it violently in the trash atop the rest of the peelings. My breath was heavy and ragged, and my torso was tracked with rivulets of sweat that descended from my chest and armpits to my belt. The whole kitchen seemed to shift and sway before me, and the overhead light became unbearably bright.

Behind me, I heard a sound, and my partner appeared in the doorway.

“Are you alright?” they asked, as I picked myself up off the floor and crossed the room to pick up the potato that had slipped from my grasp.

“I’m fine,” I muttered, as I snatched up the maverick spud and turned back to the sink to rinse it off. The rage that had torn through me just moments before suddenly receded with the presence of another person in the room. The part of me that knew that losing my grip on this slippery vegetable didn’t warrant the firestorm I’d unleashed perked up and pulled me back from the brimstone brink of my outrage.

I felt my partner’s eyes on me, but I couldn’t make eye contact. Their gaze followed me back to the sink, with an all-too-familiar sense of apprehension and defensiveness. This was not the first time I’d blown up after a long day at work, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to be the last. I could feel the recrimination in their eyes — What are you getting so upset about? Why did you freak out over just dropping the potato? What’s wrong with you? Why are you so … violent? I knew all the questions, but I didn’t know the answer. All I knew was, I had been overcome by a wave of emotional overreaction that — once again — had blindsided me and reduced me to a big baby — pitching a fit over some stupid little thing and making me look like a raving maniac. For nothing.

As I ran water over the potato and I nearly lost my grip again, another smaller wave of anger welled up in me, but I held it back. I could feel my partner’s eyes still on me, watching to make sure I wasn’t going to get out of hand and break something. I’ve broken things in the past, slammed things, thrown things – the cracked dustpan that we keep in plain view in the kitchen is a constant reminder of how intensely my temper can flare, and how violently I can become as a result.They needed to make sure I wasn’t going to wreck anything in the kitchen.

Again.

I willed myself to act as though I were once more calm, and as I systematically went through the motions of cutting the last remaining potato into quarters, my partner’s wary curiosity was satisfied, and they disappeared again into the living room. Quiet… they were quiet in that way they get when they’re afraid of me and unsure about how the rest of the evening is going to go. I was quiet, too, willing my system to chill and not radiate the white heat of unprovoked rage that my partner can instinctively sense.

But though I seemed fine on the outside, inside part of me was still writhing. Still smarting. The crash of the rage felt like it had cracked something in me… as though a heavy anvil had fallen onto my foot, cracking and breaking bones… bones I needed so I could walk the rest of the way through my day. Something in me felt bruised and battered, but the hurt had come from inside my system, not outside me. And I had been defenseless against it. If the attack had come from someone or something beyond my own skin, I might have been able to defend myself. But this attack came from the inside, and it hurt as much as if I’d been jumped in an alley and beaten by thugs.

Yes, this attack had come from inside. From the depths of my being, the core of my character. At least that’s how it felt. I felt damaged and inept. Useless and beyond help. My insides felt sick and worried. All this drama over a little potato… All this rage over some stupid couple of minutes of me losing my grip… in more ways than one. “What’s wrong with me?” I wondered “Why can’t I deal with something that simple? My partner doesn’t seem to have this problem. Why do I?

Keeping quiet, keeping to myself, I adjusted the setting of the burner beneath the boiling potatoes and headed upstairs to change my clothes. The best I could hope for, was that my meatloaf would redeem me, and that the food I was preparing would be more comfort for the one I loved, than my own self was, that night.

My second neuro visit OR If only they could walk in my shoes…

Here are details from my most recent neuro visit, I believe back in August. As you can see, it was a less than stellar experience, and I’m still recovering a bit from it. It’s hard to believe that someone who specializes in neurological disorders can be so callous, but here we have it…

I had a 9:30 appointment scheduled with Dr. X to discuss headaches I’ve been having. I had been to see another neurologist about my series of mTBI’s some time back, but the results had not been conclusive, and I felt I’d just been shoved off. I didn’t mention this past visit to this new neuro — In retrospect, that was probably a tactical error, but I wasn’t sure how to explain what had happened, so I decided it was better to say nothing. When in doubt, I tend to do/say nothing, rather than initiating and seeing things blow up in my face. Plus, I wanted to start with a clean slate and get this doctor’s opinion without input from anyone else.

I had been to see this neuro on other occasions with a friend of mine who has some issues of their own. I thought it would be a good idea to work with someone who already knew me in a different capacity. I thought it would be easier for me to work with someone with whom I was already familiar. So, I had high hopes for this meeting. Hopes that didn’t pan out.

Here’s what I recall happening:

I arrived early at 9:20 and finished filling out my paperwork.

The receptionist was unpacking boxes at the time. I settled up with her for the co-pay and gave her my license and insurance card. I thought that the co-pay was $15, and when she corrected me that it was $25, I felt as though she thought I was trying to “get one over on them” and get out of paying the $10. I felt as though she was treating me like I was hostile. It was an innocent mistake on my part, and not intentional.

Around 9:30, the receptionist  had me go in to Dr. X’s office. I wasn’t sure about which door to go in, and she said “You know which one it is.” I honestly didn’t. I couldn’t remember which one was his, but when she pointed me to the door, I walked in and took a seat.

Dr. X greeted me cordially, shook my hand, and we chatted a little while.

He asked me why I was there, and I said I’d been having constant headaches.

He looked over my papers and told me that I had forgotten to fill in my employer and my occupation. He seemed miffed that I’d forgotten. It wasn’t intentional on my part. I gave him the information then, and he filled it in. We chatted a little about my work.

He asked me how old I was, and I hesitated when I answered. I don’t tend to think of myself as any certain age, and I will usually have to calculate how old I am, based in the year it is, less 1965, and then figuring out where in the calendar year I am. Dr. X commented that it took me a while to answer, as though there were something wrong with that, and I told him I usually have to do math to figure that out.

He then started to look over my information sheet, which I’d taken great pains to complete as thoroughly as possible. He flipped through the pages, and then started to work his way down through.

I pulled out my notebook with my family medical history, my history of injuries, my symptoms, and other information I’d collected which I thought might be important to know. I also had many pages of a headache journal I’d been keeping for a number of months, which showed exactly where and with what intensity I’d been having headaches. I had compiled this information over a period of more than 6 months, and it contained my most complete understanding of my cognitive situation. I also brought the notes with me to consult, so I could be accurate in my accounts. I tend to get turned around and unintentionally confabulate when I try to recount things (more when I’m under stress, but even under regular conditions, I have had a lifelong issue with unintentional confabulation), and I had hoped that I could rely on my notes to help me be as accurate as possible.

Dr. X told me to put away the notes. He didn’t want to see them. He also didn’t allow me to refer to them.

He proceeded to ask me questions about my headaches, the intensity, the frequency, the nature, the duration, and when I took a while to answer him, he became very impatient and told me I was over-thinking things.

He told me not to over-think my answers, but just to answer off the top of my head, which is very difficult for me to do.

I had to pause a lot to think, and my answers were not instantaneous. I could not verbalize my answers as quickly as he wanted me to, apparently, because he kept telling me to just answer with averages.

It’s very difficult for me to answer that simply, because nothing is that simple to me. I do not think in terms of a “bottom line” and I have a very precise and logical thinking process that sometimes takes longer than “normal” to complete. Being accurate and truthful is very important to me, and when I cannot be accurate, I become anxious. He really pressed me for quicker answers. “Just off the top of your head,” he said. “Just on average.”

It felt as though he were intentionally trying to trip me up and make me contradict myself, or find some “hole” in my “alibi”. I felt like I was being grilled, and I had done something wrong.

I had to stop and think a lot — I could see the answers to his questoins right in front of me — when he asked me about timeframes and durations of my headaches, I saaw images of calendars with days marked, and the severity of my headaches marked on the calendar (some were in colors). I could also see the pages of the calendars flipping by, and I tried to see what information was where. It was very hard for me, though, because he was moving faster than I could go, and I kept losing my place with the images. I had to close my eyes a lot to think, and I had to look down at the ground. I couldn’t look him in the eye AND figure things out, because looking at him distracted me from my thinking — and I started trying to “clue in” to him, instead of the answers to my questions.

At one point, he appeared to be very frustrated and said I needed to speed things up, or “We would be here till next Tuesday” before we got all the answers to the questions. I agreed with him, but I told him that I had to translate my visuals into words, and I am not a primarily verbal person. I tried to explain that I see the answers as images, and then I need to translate them into words, but I’m not sure it sank in with him. I was getting very frustrated, and I was tearing up, which seemed to annoy him.

He also asked me about any addiction background, and I told him I had quit drinking in 1989. It had been 19 years since my last drink, and I had not touched a single drop since. He asked if I’d taken drugs, and I told him a little bit — speed in high school, but only a few times a week, as it made me too speedy and upset my stomach. I told him had smoked marijuana while I was drinking during high school and college.

I may have left the addiction piece of information off my form, but it was not intentional. It was an oversight. He didn’t seem to see it that way.

He asked about any medication I was on, and I told him that I didn’t take any, and I was not a big medication person. I told him that I took Advil, now and then, and I had once taken it for headaches, but it had since stopped working at all.

We talked about my head injury experiences, and I gave him details from what I knew and could remember. It was very difficult for me to think on my feet, and I was becoming increasingly anxious. He was moving very fast, so I’m not sure I answered everything completely. I had my notes, but he would not allow me to consult them. When I tried to pull them out, he told me to put them away.

Dr. X seemed to become increasingly impatient with me, and he said we were just going to focus on my headaches.

He asked about the nature of them, if anything helped, if I exercised regularly, if I was under stress.

I told him that I’ve had a lot of stress, and that my headaches have gotten worse over the past 6 months. He asked if I’d been under more stress, and I told him I’d been in a very stressful job for 3 months.

He said he’s not a big “pill person”, and I said I was not, either. I prefer to deal with my aches and pains in other ways, and sometimes I’d rather just live with pain, instead of taking medications that gave me side effects.

He asked about the vertigo, and I told him it was worse when I had allergies. I told him that it was very intense and I had to hold onto things to keep from falling over at times.

He asked about my history with other injuries or conditions, and I told him about a diagnosis of lupus diagnosis in the late 1980’s, early 1990’s. He asked if it was discoid or systemic, and I believed it was systemic, but when I told him about the skin rash, he said that sounded like discoid, not systemic, and I became confused and said it may have been discoid, but not tests were ever conclusive. Also, the medications I’d been on had not helped.

After a while, we went into the examination room, and he conducted a physical neurological exam. It was standard, and he seemed to go very quickly — more quickly than I’d seen him go with a friend of mine. He seemed to be in a rush, and it was painful when he checked the reflexes on the bottoms of my feet. It was hard for me to answer quickly, when he pricked me with the pin, and sometimes it took a little while for me to verbalize I’d had the sensation. He seemed to think that I was “fixing” my answer to fit what he wanted to hear. I was getting confused and felt like the room was pulling away from me, and my reaction time was slowing.

During the exam, he asked me again if I had taken drugs recently. I told him no, I had not taken any drugs since stopping drinking in 1989. I believe he repeated the question, and I answered him again in the negative. I couldn’t figure out why he was asking me if I’d taken any drugs. It didn’t seem like the kind of thing he’d be asking me while he was checking my reflexes.

He told me that my exam was normal, and everything looked good.

We went back into his office, and he said that my exam looks clear – no indication of a tumor or vascular issues. He said he believed my headaches are tension headaches and he wrote some notes on a piece of paper. He gave it to me, and he said that my headaches are probably muscular in nature, related to stress. He also said that he thinks the vertigo is probably BPPV (Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo) or Meniere’s Syndrome, and I could check with an Ear-Nose-Throat (ENT) specialist if I chose to. He didn’t seem to think I needed to see someone, but my ears have been hurting me a lot, and I said I would like to talk to an ENT specialist. He referred me to a doctor he knew and believed was good. He wrote that down on a piece of paper (his prescription pad?), as well, and gave me that.

He said that he didn’t think that medication would necessarily help, as it may cause side effects, and I agreed with him. He also said he didn’t think an MRI or EEG would show anything, which was really disappointing. I mean, I have a whole lot of issues, and I have trouble sorting them out, and the one way I can think of reducing some of the mystery, is to have an MRI or an EEG or something like that. I really didn’t know what to say at that point. All I could manage, was to agree with him, which irritated me when I did it, but I was helpless to do anything else. My thinking process had slowed considerably by that time, and I was feeling very overwhelmed and confused by everything. I wasn’t sure if he was being congenial or if he was upset with me. He seemed distant. But I couldn’t really tell for sure how he was being with me.

He asked if I exercise, and I didn’t know what to say. I lead a pretty active life, and I move a lot through the course of each day. I could see myself walking and moving a lot at work, walking across parking lots, and making extra effort to incorporate exercise into my daily life, but I couldn’t just come up with a simple “yes” or “no”. I had to think about whether or not I was going for walks. I eventually answered “Not regularly,” and he said, “No” and wrote that down. He said he wanted to see me exercising on a regular basis, nothing really heavy, just maybe going for a brisk walk with a friend several times a week. I saw a friend of mine and me walking along a road near my home, but I didn’t know when that would or could happen, as I work such long hours during the week. Dr. X appeared a little exasperated with me, as though he thought I wasn’t being fully cooperative.

He asked me if there was anything I do that relaxes me, but I was having a hard time processing at that point. I couldn’t think of anything — I was drawing a blank. I told him I draw and I write, and he recommended I draw 15 minutes a day. I couldn’t figure out how to explain that when I draw, I get very absorbed in my work, and I lose track of time, but there was no time for me to figure out how to say that. He also recommended that I exercise regularly, go for a brisk walk with a friend on a regular basis. Again, there was no time for me to respond in a way I felt was adequate.

I told him I was going to see another doctor for a neuropsychological exam, and he said he would like to know the results of that. I told him I would keep him apprised.

He said he wanted to see me again in 7 weeks, to see how I was doing.

I made an appointment with his receptionist. I had a hard time thinking through my schedule at the end of August, beginning of September, and she was not very patient with me. She acted like I was pretending to be “slow”.

Basically, I felt completely humiliated and treated like I was a liar who was seeing him under false pretenses — as though I had been an addict showing drug-seeking behavior. I left in a daze, and I went to the nearest bathroom, locked the door tightly, crouched down in a fetal position, and cried… and cried again in the car before I drove to run an errand. And felt like crap for the rest of the day. I did collect myself and manage to get on with my day, but the flow of my day was completely disrupted, as was my weekend. It was too disruptive for words, and I in retrospect, I really resent the implications that I think were in play.

Sometimes, it just sucks when nobody can tell you’ve got issues… and they treat you like a criminal, just because you’re trying to get some answers (and they apparently can’t help you, but don’t want to say so).

It also sucks to have processing difficulties that might be making things look worse — or better — than they are, and that keep you from being able to ask for help.

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