Managing, instead of controlling

September 15, 2012

Long day yesterday, that’s for sure. It was a good day, though, and while I have some complaints, I have no regrets. Well, maybe a few, but not enough to wreck the memory of the day for me.

The friends who were coming out for a few days were delayed by about three hours. Locked the keys in the truck. Couldn’t get the door open. Had to break off a piece of the trim to jimmy the door. Got to us about half an hour before we were supposed to close up shop and clear out from the beach. Overstayed our allotted time. Had an interesting conversation with a park ranger. Got back to the condo and crashed.

All in a day’s work.

These friends of mine, I have to say, are a bit of a bad influence on me. They go from one drama to the next, creating havoc around them with bad decisions and knee-jerk reactions, and never really planning anything ahead of time or thinking things through in a rational way. They “go with the flow” and the flow usually takes them around the barn and back again… and never gets them where they want to go. And then they blame “the universe” for their misfortunes. They believe that the deck is stacked against them, that the hard things they experienced in their past were put there to keep them down and keep them in their place. They believe that life is intentionally unkind towards them, and the interpret the misfortunes of their lives as something “God” puts on them, either as a test or as proof that they’re really not good people, after all. Life, for them, is a constant challenge, a perpetual dance of punishment and reward that confirms in their mind, over and over again, that they are somehow not good enough, somehow broken, somehow not worth bothering with.

They’re the kind of people I used to really relate to. They’re the kind of person I used to be.

And at this point – with another 24-48 hours until they leave, my main challenge is to keep from letting them pull me down into their drama, their perpetual fight-flight, their poor planning and lousy decisions and depressiveness. They really can be depressing. And depressive. And the hardest thing for me, when they’re around, is to not end up lecturing them about how they need to get their act in gear and actually get on with living their lives – not just bouncing from one drama to the next.

Life is an all-or-nothing thing with them. Either everything is great, or it’s shit. They are either doing great, or they’re locked in some sort of struggle to make everything 100% great. It’s totally unrealistic, but it drives them. It keeps them going.

And I think a lot about how I used to be, when I look at them. I used to be very much oriented that way – life was rigged against me, it was set up for me to lose. I couldn’t do anything right, and hoping for any real progress was a lost cause. I was very all-or-nothing, myself, and I was constantly struggling and fighting to make it come out right, no matter what it took.

The same was true of me managing my TBI issues. I felt like I HAD to get them all in line – the forgetfulness, the distractability, the moodiness, the attentional problems. I had to constantly fight to overcome them all, and keep them all in check. I thought I could do it. Each and every day – even though I wasn’t consciously aware of it – was a struggle to make sure that my TBI symptoms were tamped down and under strict control. I thought if I did not control them, they would get the better of me, and I would be screwed.

That all-of-nothing attitude really messed with my head. Because TBI is a chronic condition, and it’s not the sort of thing that goes away. Ever. It’s a personal “constellation” of individual symptoms that vary from person to person, and that makes it a challenge to understand and “treat” with a cookie-cutter approach. But when you understand it as a chronic condition that fluctuates and varies, then that gives you something to work with. Like any chronic illness, it comes and goes, flares up and dies back, gets easier – then harder – then easier – then harder, and it keeps you on your toes.

The thing it doesn’t do, is go away completely. It just doesn’t. It stays around, sometimes dormant, sometimes very obvious. It’s your companion for life, like it or not.

Like any companion, it can be difficult (or sometimes easy) to live with. And like a human companion, it doesn’t take well to you trying to control it. It has a life of its own, an “intelligence” of its own, and it will do what it damn’ well pleases, no matter what you may think or wish or feel. Controlling the symptoms may work to some extent, but unless you actively manage the whole condition, you can find yourself locked in a constant battle of wills with the way things are, winning some, losing some, and always on edge about why things aren’t working or why they’re not turning out like you want.

Of course, in life, a whole lot of people are geared towards trying to control things, rather than managing the root causes. They’d rather just go along and do… whatever… and not have to bother with taking responsibility for their health, their decisions, their actions. They don’t bother getting things together ahead of time, because, well, it’s not much fun. And they want to “go with the flow”. Maybe their parents were really geared towards managing situations. Maybe they came from a family where the people who did all the managing were a source of pain and suffering. And those experiences made them not want to be like them.

Whatever the reason, whatever the cause, they don’t want to bother with the business of managing their lives. And they are convinced that because things didn’t work out, they are doomed for all time.

It’s really a shame that this happens. And it’s also totally understandable. I used to be like that, till I started getting more information about how things worked, and I started trying to do things differently. When I got the information I needed to make some significant changes in my life, things started to turn around. It was a lot work, sure – it still is, each and every day – but it’s worth it. I’m no longer in a constant state of confusion and dread about every social interaction I have, and every serious undertaking I pursue. I have learned a lot – mostly by trial and error – and things are improving. Still, it’s a lot of work. And it’s a totally different orientation than I used to have in my life.

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