Staying ahead of the game

Gotta stay sharp… get a jump on the day

Learning lessons as I go… it’s no good for me to start early-early at work, where there are people around who want to talk about this, that, and the other thing. It’s better if I start my workday at home, and prepare for the day here. If I have to make early morning calls with people, it’s best that I do it from home, rather than the office. That way I’m not distracted, and I can think.

It’s hard to think at the office.

And that really threw me off on Monday, which made it a terrible day I had to recover from. I also had a blowup with my spouse on Monday night, which could have turned out badly. When I’m in a bad space, they love to goad me and push me and keep firing questions at me and demand that I pay attention to them. It’s like they can sense when I’m vulnerable and struggling, and they want to see how far they can stretch me. They just push and push and push, needling and goading and provoking me, because something in them just craves that intensity at the end of the day.

It wakes them up. It’s familiar to them, because of their childhood family history. No evening is complete without a heated argument, when they’re feeling dull and out of it. I know they love the fight for the fight’s sake, because the minute I stop dealing with them and just walk away, they stop what they’re doing. They stop the provocation, they stop the needling, they stop the questions, the pushing, the prodding. And they start bargaining to get me to come back and sit down, have some nice dinner, etc.

It’s almost like my spouse is not even there, when that happens. Something in their brain switches on, and the person they are switches off. It’s become worse, in the past years, and now (thanks to help I’m getting from a counselor and my neuropsych), I can see it for what it is — just some weird-ass neurochemical/biological impulse they have to FIGHT. If I step away or just stop the progression, it’s like magic. They turn into someone completely different.

It really does a number on me. In the aftermath of my meltdowns, my spouse is so calm. They almost seem like they just had a cigarette or a beer — they’re very relaxed. Meanwhile, I’m a friggin’ mess, I feel like crap, and I have to build back my self-confidence again. They get the upper hand. They get to recreate the dynamics of the past. And the old cycle is in place. I don’t even think they realize what they’re doing, so it’s up to me to stop it, myself.

And I stopped myself on Monday night before I got too bent out of shape. I could tell I was getting to the point where I wanted to throw something or hit something (or someone). So, I backed off. I just slammed on the brakes and walked away from the situation. When I walk away, my spouse starts to behave properly again.

So, I’ll have to start doing that, anytime I feel that “rise” starting to come up with me. I’m just walking away to let them calm down and stop provoking me.

Yesterday was better. I took my early calls at home, I got into the office after rush hour traffic, and I had a pretty productive day. It was like pulling teeth at the end of the day, but I got things done, exhaustion and all.

One thing that’s throwing me off is a new coworker who has really been annoying the crap out of me. I’m supposed to be their “buddy” and train them and bring them along in the organization, and they’re not making my job any easier. This individual has a ton of qualifications, certifications, and degrees. They were a teacher in the past, and they like to show off how much they know about ancient history and roleplaying games. They also like to get into a lot of heady discussions about intellectual things, but they don’t have a ton of depth, and some of the things I know a lot about, they’ve never even heard of.

Their overall affect is a little bit arrogant, and while they do know a lot about some things, they don’t know nearly enough to act like they own the place. Actually, their personality would be best suited to teaching middle school or high school, where they will always be ahead of their students. It’s the adults around them, they can’t keep up with.

I feel sorry for them, a little. The rest of the group is not exactly welcoming, which is what I came up against when I first started. But this individual is getting increasingly insecure and posing like they’re an expert, which is causing them to become increasingly annoying. They’re trying like crazy to show that they already know how to do everything, but they’ve only been on the job two weeks. Meanwhile, the rest of the group, who are not at all intellectuals (or don’t fancy themselves to be), are getting irritated at the apparent arrogance.

All that training, all those certifications. All the degrees… And this new person can’t deal with people. Adults, anyway.

On the other hand, seeing them in action has been a learning experience. It’s reinforced a few ideas with me.

First, that I am so glad I did not go into an academic line of work. It’s so annoying to have to deal with people who are impressed with how smart they think they are. And all the pitter-patter about academic subjects that have nothing to do with anything current or applicable in everyday life… that’s annoying, too.

Second, despite my lack of certifications and qualifications, I can hold my own professionally. No problem. I’m the real deal, and I can get along with just about anybody, I can figure things out, make them right, and I can get the job done. And if I don’t know something, I come to it with beginner’s mind and start from the bottom-up. I tend to overstep and screw up — of course I do. That’s how I learn.

Third, if you want to succeed in life and work, you’ve got to be teachable. For the long run. In every conceivable situation. Not just in the classes you take, but in real life. Each and every day. Ask questions. Stay curious. Don’t get arrogant and think you have it all figured out, because every situation is different, and the people around you won’t appreciate your attitude.

Fourth, resilience matters. All the time. Under any and every circumstance. You’ve got to be able to bounce back — and that’s something I’ve learned how to do, time and time again. You always have another chance, if you give it to yourself.

So, those are the four lessons I’ve learned from dealing with this new person. It’s reinforced things I know about myself, and it’s actually making me feel better about my own abilities and skills. Even if they are a bit like a rock tied ’round my neck, and they’re slowing me down… and they may not last in the job, because our boss is getting irritated with them… at least I’m getting something out of it.

Let this be a lesson to me. Let it all be a lesson to me.

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There is no shame in asking for help

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s how it should be.