Well, then, get some exercise. Move.

Bangkok traffic jam with cars and trucks and motorcycles all backed up below tram lines
Feeling a bit backed up, lately

I’ve been feeling a bit down, lately. Dragging. Drab. In pain. I’ve been having some tightness around my ribcage that really hurts when I laugh. I can’t remember doing anything to myself – – no recent injury. Just maybe sleeping on it wrong.

I’ve been feeling down, too. Just a low-level depression. The Catch-22 situation with my neuropsych — if I really go into great detail about how much help I need, then I get bumped down in the proverbial pecking order and end up stigmatized (and potentially looking at higher insurance rates, on down the line, if the current health coverage changes go through). But if I don’t enumerate all the different ways I need support, I can’t ask for it. Literally, it’s Catch-22.

I think I’ll read that book again. I think I read it years ago, and I need to read it again.

I really have to take matters into my own hand, in this regard. I’m not disabled enough to require outside help to function at a basic level. That can be arranged. I have the means to do that, and I have books and information at my disposal to expand my understanding about what’s going on. I need to just do that. Take matters into my own hands, and reach out to others for help with clarification.

I’ve signed up for some free online courses about the brain. I need to stagger then, so I’m only taking one at a time. I think I’m going to use those online courses — and access to the instructors — as a professional reference point. I’m not actually getting the kind of assistance I want from the NP I’m working with now, so I’ll branch out and cover myself in other ways.

As for my day-to-day, I need to get myself back on track. I haven’t been exercising as much as I should. I’ve been locked on target with some projects I’m working on — as frustrating as it is, my work situation is keeping me busy — and I’ve been sitting too much, moving too little. I have all-day workshops today and tomorrow, which I can easily do, just sitting down all day.

That’s no good. I need to get up and move on a regular basis. I have a lot of energy, and if I don’t move, that energy tends to “back up” like a lot of traffic trying to cram its way through a narrow space.

That can be fixed, though. I exercised more today than I have been, lately, and now I actually feel better. It’s amazing, how much a bit of movement will do — especially lifting weights. Even if they’re not very heavy, still, the motion and the resistance is good for me.

I’m also working from home today, so I can walk around the house while I’m on the phone. That’s the magic of a mobile phone — it’s mobile. Tomorrow, I can walk around, too. I just need to listen in, so I can walk around the building while I’m listening. It’s not hard. I just need to do it.

And so I will.

I’m feeling better better today about my future prospects than I have been, lately. I got plenty of sleep, last night (almost 9 hours), I did a full set of exercises, I had a good breakfast, and I’ve got a path forward charted for moving forward.

I believe I can trust myself, and that I have the ability to see where I’m falling short. I trust that I can research and reach out for ideas to address issues that arise. The main thing is really to keep on top of things. Take responsibility for myself. Do what I  know I need to do. And just keep moving on.

The world’s a big place with a lot of different options. I just need to make the most of the opportunities I have, keep focused on my end goals, look for opportunities, and keep moving forward.

Will the world step up and help me with my problems? Not if I don’t ask.

Do I need other people to help me at every turn? Sometimes yes. Sometimes no. The main thing is that I help myself, using what assistance I’ve gotten from others and the resources I have on hand.

I’m in a very fortunate situation, where I have the ability and the available resources (time, energy, attention, interest — even if money’s missing) to take care of myself. So, I’ll do that.

A new chapter is on the way, and I’m actually looking forward to what’s to come.

Getting Off Coffee — Whom do you believe?

Would you trust this man with your love life?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how I want to live my life, lately. I want to be free. I want to be healthy. I don’t want to kill myself through neglect and laziness. I want to eat well, live well, recover well, and have the best life I can have under the circumstances.

I’ve been changing up my diet — adding a whole lot of fresh fruit and cooked (and raw) vegetables to the mix. I feel great. My spouse feels great. It makes a difference. I can’t say I’m that keen on getting really orthodox about what I eat and don’t eat.

For about the past year, I’ve been trying to eat more “Paleo” with lots of meat and vegetables, but not a lot of carbs. Lots of healthy fats and oils. The Paleo diet is big, just like all the other diets that have come along over the years. It makes logical sense to me, and it has emotional appeal.

But does my body like it?

Not so much. It sounded like a good idea at the time, but it’s not panning out over the long term. It feels foreign. Our ancestors may have eaten this way, but they weren’t living under current conditions. They didn’t have constant energy demands. They didn’t go-go-go from morning till night. They had a completely different lifestyle, which bears no resemblance at all to the lives we live now. I would think that would disqualify the Paleo diet from being even remotely considered, but there’s that emotional appeal of “getting back to basics” and ditching all the unhealthy modern habits that have gotten us into the messes we see around us. Countless religious movements have produced lots of different denominations precisely from this mindset. Now health and fitness seem to have taken the place of religion.

For me, if I were living on the savannah, hanging out around the fire, collecting berries whenever I felt like it, and going on occasional huts, yeah — I’d be total Paleo. But my energy demands are many hundreds of times greater than that lifestyle requires, so Paleo makes no sense at all, in my book. That’s not to keep folks from making plenty of money off the illusion that we can ever go back — or that we should, to the extent we can with things we can control… like our diet.

Now, I’m no doctor or nutritionist. I’m just an everyday person who thinks for themself. And I’m thinking that carb restriction and calorie restriction over the long term is just not healthy. If you do it for short periods, it can be very beneficial. But as a continued way of life? No way. Under-carbed people are unhappy people. They are aggressive and combative, in my experience, and arguments with people who are hypoglycemic generally don’t go well.

The other thing is, since I started supplementing my diet with healthy fats and oils, I’ve gained weight. And while I do get a lot of energy off the grass-fed butter and coconut oil, and it keeps me going through the morning, my metabolism doesn’t seem to want to let go of the fat. And it’s storing it up. Supposedly, you can reach a state of ketosis where you’re burning fat instead of sugar in your body, but you have to be so strict with it, and so completely cut out carbs as an energy source, it can take you years to get to that point. And you’ve got a lot of interim pain and suffering to get through.

Plus, if you know about physiology, you know that glucose is a critical energy source for every cell in your body, so if you avoid sugar and carbs like the plague some folks say they are, you’re literally starving your body. And when you starve your body, it turns around and produces more of the glucose it needs from inside — the liver. So you’re stressing your system. That sucks, all around.

And all sorts of interesting things happen to your insulin resistance, etc. You have folks like Dave Asprey (the “Bulletproof Exec”) on medication for Diabetes 2 — an acquired condition that’s often directly related to diet and exercise habits — or the lack thereof.

So, I’m going to take nutrition advice from a guy who’s given himself Diabetes 2 and who says that fruit is like candy — a shot of pure sugar — and should be avoided like the plague?

He’s not the only one out there coming up with all sorts of ideas about how we should eat. There are tons of experts who are infopreneurs making good money off their educational-slash-marketing efforts. And we just eat it up. Literally and figuratively.

Whom do you believe? Whom do you trust?

Personally, I am getting more and more impatient with people who study things in a lab and then turn around and insist they can be applied to real life.That, and folks who insist that correlation implies causation — because two things occur together, then one must be the cause of the other.

It’s patently untrue. Studies are done all the time with too small a selection of people, and the only things that they’re looking at are what’s on their radar. They pick out 5 overweight adults and 5 normal weight adults and give them food choices. They look at who chooses what, and then they say that certain foods will make you fat. Or that certain foods will keep you slim. There’s no gathering of data about the states of mind of the test subjects, there’s no information on who’s been overweight their entire life and who lost the weight or who gained it. The foods they put in front of the participants may or may not have been selected according to broad criteria, and they may or may not have good quality foods, or even foods that taste good and are appealing. There are a million different variables that come into play, including time of day, the current physical/mental health status of the participants, and what happened with them over the long term before they ever participated in the study.

And yet, we’re expected to trust those results, and we’re supposed to believe the folks who are quoting their interpretation of the results — usually for a price.

Yeah, I’m not really feeling that.

Anyway, I digress. I guess my point is, a lot of people get really alarmist about nutrition and fitness. For good reason — there’s an obesity and Diabetes 2 epidemic going on in the western world, and it’s spreading to other countries. Like Japan — check out the article. And when you’ve been unhealthy for a while, your reactions are going to be skewed to the extreme. Especially if you’ve had physical injury or mental health issues that either came from trauma or traumatized you (usually works in a vicious cycle – cause and effect feed the trauma imbalance), you’re going to react more precipitously — FREAK OUT — a lot more quickly.

Plus, you’ve got a lot of people haggling and arguing and jockeying for position in the health and fitness field, so you’ve got a higher pitch overall to the conversations — especially with folks who are fundamentally unhealthy (overweight, with terrible bloodwork numbers, and very de-conditioned) who are trying to keep up with the rigors of an active infopreneurial lifestyle.

So, the tone of the discussion is more like a heated argument.

All. The. Time.

Which just clouds the issue for those of us “on the ground” — or as the marketers say, those of us in the target audience.

So, what about this “fast” business (as in quick, not fasting). Make changes fast. See results fast. Expecting things to change for you right away is unrealistic and unsustainable. It takes years and years to see substantive health and fitness changes, and it takes ongoing commitment and discipline to make those changes stick to where you don’t have to deliberately think about it and focus on it.

It takes time and effort to get things to improve. It takes time and effort to heal injuries and get to a point where you are fully functional. Especially with mild traumatic brain injury (concussion, if you will), where the brain — which is constantly working for us — committing to a program of recovery and sticking with it, day in and day out, over the course of weeks, months, years… That’s something our fast-oriented culture just doesn’t know what to do with.

It really doesn’t.

But all the voices in the marketplace are screaming at the tops of their lungs about how damn’ URGENT everything is. Yeah, okay, it is. No doubt about that. But all too often, the ones pushing us to change our ways are only in it for the short-term. They’re with us long enough to make their case and collect our money, then they move on to the next target audience member who hasn’t yet signed up for their life-changing program.

I have friends who are devotees of some famous health gurus. The experts have them jumping through hoops to mix up specific types of smoothies and avoid sugar in all its forms.Their trusted leaders have them so freaked out about the dangers of certain foods, that they’re willing to completely rebuild their lives around this new program — which is expensive and is coming to them later in life, when they are heading into retirement and will not — I repeat NOT — have significant sources of income within a few years.

It kind of freaks me out. Their orthodoxy and strict adherence to this “life-changing program” is well nigh complete… except for when they “slip” and end up bingeing on crap that their bodies would have no interest in eating, were they adequately nourished, to begin with.

All this, because they feel the need to make change FAST, and stave off the demons of their impending demise.

On top of it, these folks look miserable. Every time they post a new picture to Facebook, they look more haggard and drawn… puffy and stressed. It’s just not good.

But they did get their 10 days at “the institute” in Florida, and now they have their special powders and potions to mix up and tell themselves they’re seeing transformational results more quickly than they’d realize them on their own.

As for me, I’ve been a devotee of plenty of independent researchers and health/fitness educators. I sign up for their newsletters. I read their blogs. I watch the videos, and I’m usually impressed by their passion and the way they communicate. But there’s a whole lot they don’t say, and if you look behind the scenes, you see that there’s even more that goes unsaid. Like the Diabetes 2 diagnosis. Like the lousy bloodwork. Like the failed relationships and the weight gain.

It doesn’t take long for a lot of these folks to fall out of favor.

Which brings me back, time and again, to myself. How does my body feel? How does my head feel? How does my life feel? When I use that as a guide and check in on a regular basis, that tells me everything I need.

Like I need to cut back on sweets.

Like I need to cut back on coffee.

Like I really need to eat some red meat.

Like I need to eat chicken or fish or not have any meat for one day.

Like I need more fruits and vegetables.

Like I need to not eat that cake and ice cream.

Basically, I’ve found that following the advice of gurus works best when I do it intermittently, but not constantly. Destabilizing myself with bad science and treating it like gospel is no way to go. I need balance, and I need exercise, and there is usually much behind the scenes of what gurus teach, that we’ll never learn and never know.

So, when I follow my own path and get more information and apply it sparingly, so much the better. Some things work for some people, based on their chemistry and a host of other factors. Some things don’t. Ultimately, it’s up to me, and the proof is in the pudding.

And now it’s time for a walk.

Onward.

Town and Country – Where (and how) we live should determine the treatment approach for TBI / Concussion

Not everyone lives in a city – or thinks and talks like it

Since I’ve been down with the flu this week, I’ve had a lot of time to think about how different sorts of people get — and respond to — different sorts of treatment. This can be for flu… or it can be for traumatic brain injury / concussion. The basic paradigm is the same, across the board, I believe. And it’s something I think we really need to consider, when it comes to treating TBI / concussion.

One thing I have noticed, over the course of my life, is how I am often at odds with my doctors over being self-sufficient… to the point of being considered a “risk taker” with regards to my health. This includes doctors, dentists, neuropsychologists, therapists, nurses, etc. The thing they don’t seem to understand, is that this is how my whole family is – has always been.

See, here’s the deal – even though I have spent half my life in cities and half in very rural settings, I come from a rural family. I mean, frontier-rural — prairie rural. My great-great-great grandparents (on both sides of the family) were some of the “sod-busters” who moved out into the newly opened prairie (my apologies to the Native folks who were driven off — I am really deeply sorry for what was done, and it’s a little horrifying to me that my ancestors benefited from your terrible losses).

Before them, too, my ancestors were adventurers and explorers who traveled far and wide throughout the European world, and lived on the margins of “mainstream” society. They were self-sufficient. Because they had to be. Same with my great-great-great grandparents. They lived miles from the nearest doctor. He was usually a day’s wagon ride away. If you fell or got sick, you had to make do, until he got there, or for as long as you could.

Sometimes you couldn’t even get a doctor.

Given this fact of life, my family — both sides of them — had to develop a self-reliant quality that would keep them alive and keep them from depending too greatly on professional help for their daily needs.

Contrast this with folks in cities or other developed areas, where you can get to professional help within hours, if not minutes. In a city, or in a developed community, the challenge is not keeping yourself alive, it is learning to communicate the details of your ailment/need to the professional who can help you.

Now, let’s fast-forward through time to today — when I am still as independent as anyone in my family, and I look for solutions of my own to issues I face.  My doctors/providers approach me at times as though I am “hostile” to their help, when all I’m doing is having the same orientation of independence that folks in the middle of nowhere have to have. I also live at some distance from the nearest hospital I trust implicitly, so I have to choose carefully when and where I get my medical care.

It’s not that I am uncooperative or hostile. I am rural at heart. Self-sufficient by nature. I am my great-great-great grandparents’ offspring (aside from the Native antagonism), and that’s how I stay alive. It’s how I always have, and it’s how I really feel I have to be, to get by in the world. But when I try to communicate with my doctor, they seem to think that I am being intentionally difficult, simply by needing to stand on my own when I can. I have to be able to function without leaning on everyone around me — which is the way that you can be when you’re in an urban environment; social interaction and interdependency is built into your dna. I’m not knocking leaning on others. If you can do it reliably, then fine. But with me, depending on others can very well shorten my life needlessly, if I disregard my own judgment an the signs I see about my own situation.

The other piece of this, which I think needs to be factored into adequate TBI / concussion care, is class. I’m not talking about taste and money, but the way in which you work and live your life. Working class folks have different ways of interacting with authority figures, than professional class folks do. I think Malcom Gladwell made a really going point of it in his book “Outliers” which is about people who do exceptionally well in life. He points out that people in professional classes are taught (sometimes from a very young age, if they’re born into it) to interact with “authority” as peers, rather than subordinates, while working class folks expect authorities to offer them guidance and direction and clear instructions on what to do.

When you “occupy” a certain class, it’s like you occupy a certain “geography” – and I would wager to say that being part of the professional class is like being urban/suburban in nature. You have more money, you have more access to other professionals (by social association as well as perks and benefits with work, etc), and you are more interdependent with others, from service providers who care for your house and your property and your money and your health (in all its manifestations).

When you’re working class, however, your world is different. The scenery is different. You have different types of friends and acquaintances, and different levels of access to different aspects of life. And you have to be a lot more self-sufficient, just as you do when you’re rural. You don’t have the same amount of money that gives you instant access to certain services and assistance, so you either have to do without, improvise, or find alternatives. That applies to every aspect of life, including health care.

And here is the big disconnect I see between the kind of help that’s offered to TBI / concussion survivors and the providers who seek to help us. At least, this has been my experience… The doctors I know and have worked with over the years have often come from urban or suburban backgrounds. And they obviously are members of the professional class. As such, even if they grew up in urban surroundings, they are now part of a class that is by its nature geared towards interacting with other professional class members as peers, rather than as superiors/subordinates. So, when folks come to them asking for help, and those folks are from working class or rural backgrounds, the docs don’t always ‘get’ what’s expected of them in that relationship. Either that, or the docs aren’t willing to meet their patients half-way with language and communication that bridges the gaps in class and background.

A prime example is my own experience with my PCP – I have a great doc, who it took years for me to find. They have my best interests at heart, and they are very personable towards me. They clearly want me to be well, and we have had some great exchanges. But they just don’t get my need for self-sufficiency. And they seem to think that my wish to be independent and self-sufficient is a sign of distrust of them and/or our relationship. They see my reluctance to get flu shots as being stubborn, when my real rationale is that it’s just plain unhealthy for a human body to not build up its own resistance to heavy-duty infection (as unpleasant as the building up process may be). They interpret my need to call the shots in my own life and make my own health decisions, as disrespectful of their expertise, when it’s just me exercising the very essential mental muscles, so that I can have some say in my own destiny. It’s a little problematic for our relationship, and I need to do some clearing up, when I get a chance.

I may get this chance on Friday. Or not. But whether I do or not, it’s always going to be a factor with them. On Friday, I hope to ask them if they were raised in a city or in the countryside. That should shed a lot of light on the dynamics. We’ll see how that turns out.

In any case, I think especially when it comes to post-TBI care (be it medical or ongoing rehab), the socio-economic background of the individuals involved needs to be factored in and adapted to. This is something that every medical school should teach, in my opinion, because teaching young doctors to realize the differences between individuals based on class and where they live, could truly transform the doctor-patient relationship – especially with regard to such gray areas as concussion / TBI.

Specifically with regard to concussion / TBI, I think it would make sense if there were different ways of instructing Emergency Room visitors to handle TBI recovery. Instructions should be phrased differently, based on the person — not over-simplified “d’oh” language for hayseeds, but plain English for those who need that, versus more technical explanations for those who need that. The English language offers many different options. We should use them all, in explaining proper TBI care to patients who desperately need it.

Beyond immediate medical response and care, I’m sure there are elements of rehab that could also be modified to accommodate different classes and geographies, but I don’t know enough about them to speak to them. All I really know about is dealing with my own doc who seems to think they know enough about TBI and don’t need to factor that into my overall healthcare, let alone discuss the impact it might have in individual circumstances. TBI and the issues that arise from it touch on every single aspect of my life, yet my doctor just seems to dismiss it. And when I bring it up, they just get nervous — perhaps because it’s not something they can fix with a pill or a prescription. And it’s also not necessarily something they can bill insurance for. If they can’t bill for something, they’re not going to spend the time. It’s not that they’re negligent — they are under pressure from their practice to log truly billable hours. I’ve seen that first-hand, and it’s not pretty.

I think, in the end, there are significant aspects of our lives which are not getting due respect, because they’re concealed beneath the layers of socio-economic bias that separate so many of us. And nowhere is it more visible, than in healthcare — particularly in care for those who have sustained TBI / concussion. People who do rough, dangerous jobs stand a greater chance of sustaining a traumatic brain injury, than those who sit behind a desk all day. And those who do rough, dangerous jobs, tend to not have Ph.D. after their names.

What’s more, out in the country where you’re living a bit closer to Mother Nature than when you’re in town, you’re more exposed to the kinds of events that will get you hit on the head. Farming accidents. Building accidents. Hunting accidents. ATV accidents. Falls. Tornadoes. Storms. Floods. Sinkholes.  The list goes on. And if ever there were a need, it’s for people with the power and influence to provide advanced medical care, to make it more accessible to those without the letters after their names and the zeroes a the end of their salaries.

I’m not asking for hand-outs or charity. I’m just asking for common sense. In the end, access to quality care isn’t just about proximity and availability, it’s also about interpretation and understanding.

Sometimes, understanding is what we need the most.

A do-over makes the difference

I had a dream about my diagnostic neuropsych last night. It was a really cool dream. We were trying — as usual — to find time on our calendars to schedule our next session, and we kept getting our wires crossed and missing each other when were trying to connect… and running into each other, when one or both of us didn’t have our schedule on hand. It was actually a really nice dream, because they were very kind to me during all of it, and the weather during the dream was sunny and bright and mild (quite unlike what it’s been like in real life for the past six weeks). And even when we were getting our wires crossed, there was still an element of humanity and civility to our interactions that was, well, civilized. It was breath of fresh air, in the midst of my dreamworld confusion. I woke up feeling a bit frustrated, but also very soothed.

I think I’m surprising both my neuropsychologists with my uncanny ability to not only get by in the world, but to also thrive. My diagnostic neuropsych says my ability to adapt and improve is “phenomenal” and they’re openly amazed at my ability to turn around wretched circumstances and come out on top. My therapeutic neuropsych is still handling me with proverbial kid gloves, taking it slow and trying (often in vain) to temper my eagerness to push my limits in life. Slowly but surely, they’re getting a clearer and clearer view of how capable I am of taking care of myself in some respects, while in others I’m wandering around in the dark. This post (however anonymous it may be… they may never read it) is dedicated to both of them.

I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about the impact that TBI has had on my life over the years. I’ve also been thinking a lot about the ways in which it has not had an impact, or in some cases actually led to experiences and successes I might have never pursued, were I not neurologically compromised.

For example:

  • If I had been better able to interact with others and communicate — and understand what was being said to me — I might  not have pissed off and alienated the editors I worked with… and I’d be a published author by now. I might not have had to learn how to build web pages to put my writing online.
  • If I had been better able to handle heavy-duty job responsibilities, I might still be in middle-management (or even upper management), making okay money and having no life. I probably never would have learned to code (and might have resisted learning to use a computer till late in the game), and I may never have thought of going into the high-paying software business, where work-life balance is more precarious, but also more “customizable”.
  • If I had been better at risk assessment, I might never have traveled and moved around as much as I have. I probably would have “known better” and played it safe, never seeing the outside of my home state, let alone the USA. I probably never would have considered living abroad, if I’d been able to make it just fine, here at home.

Funny, how that works. A lot of what I’ve done over the years, no “sane” person would do — I’ve taken big risks, personally and professionally, and I’ve probably been luckier than I’ve been smart, over the years. But long story short, it’s all turned out pretty damn’ well, and this morning, I’m sitting in my own study… in my own house… overlooking my own back yard in a gorgeous and very affluent part of the United States. I’ve got (somewhat dependable) cars that are paid for in the garage, I’ve got a kicker job, and I’ve got a spouse who loves me with all their heart sleeping in the master bedroom. I’ve got family who love me (as inscrutable and problematic as I may be at times), and I have friends who love, appreciate and support me. I’m not the richest (or even the most solvent) person on the planet, but I’m getting there. Even without the money thing all hammered out, I’m one of the richest people I know.

It’s Independence Day, so I suppose today would be a great time to talk about how I’ve managed to do so well for myself, even though I’m most definitely neurologically compromised. Despite no less than nine mild traumatic brain injuries (one assault, three falls, three car accidents, two sports concussions, and probably more injuries that I’ve completely forgotten and just took in stride — gotta get back in the game!), I’ve managed to really thrive in the world, taking things as they came and learning a lot as I went. I’ve had more near-disasters than I care to think about, I’ve had a number of brushes with mortal danger, and I’ve had to rebuild my life over again, more than once.

But in spite of all that, I’m happy, healthy, more or less whole, hale, and hearty. And I have been for years. I have issues. Of course I have issues – who doesn’t? I have experienced tremendous difficulty in navigating things that other people take for granted, and there have been plenty of times when I was flying blind. But for all that trouble, I’ve still managed to do well. When life gave me lemons, I made lemonade. And lemon meringue pie. And lemon drops. And I seasoned my cooking with lemon zest. Figuratively speaking, I’ve eaten and drunk a helluva lot of lemon-flavored stuff over the course of my life. Sometimes it was sweetened, more often, it wasn’t. But I took the bad with the good and did my best with it.

I’m not going to say my TBIs were “the best things that ever happened to me,” as I’ve heard others proclaim. That would be a lie, for they have made my life more complex and painfully awkward than I ever wished it would be. But I will say that my injuries have been a lot less logistically debilitating to me than a lot of people (including trained professionals) seem to think they’ve been — or should have been. And I believe the reason I have done increasingly well over the years, is, I never gave up. A whole lot of times that I messed up, I got a do-over… and I took another shot at what I screwed up the first time.

It’s true. A do-over makes the difference. All those times I mucked up what I was trying to do… I can’t even count them. I’ve messed up relationships, good jobs, simple Saturday chores, volunteer activities, money management, health concerns… you name it, I’ve probably made a huge mess of it, at some point or another. But as long as I got a second chance, it wasn’t the catastrophy it might or “should” have been.

Second chances are like my lifeblood. They’re the stuff that keep me going. People who know me say I’m too hard on myself, when I think that I’m going to mess something up when I first try it. But they haven’t walked in my shoes, and they haven’t seen what a terrible mess I’ve made of so many simple things.

Like the time I was jump-starting my car for the first time on my own. I’d seen it done lots of times by plenty of other people. I knew how you put the clamps on the battery terminals and let your car charge off the other running car. I’d even helped other people jump their cars lots and lots of times. But the first time I tried to jump-start my own car, I got the terminals mixed up, and sparks started to fly and the plastic around the handles started to melt, as the wires heated up to a bright glowing red. I grabbed a stick and managed to pull the cable handles off my battery before both batteries blew up, so no animals were harmed in the making of that movie. But things could have turned out worse, and we could have ended up with two busted-down cars, instead of one.

And like the time when I was putting together numbers for work, collecting all these performance stats to show upper management how well we were doing. This was, needless to say, a very important report. Well, I found a set of numbers that fit the criteria we were looking for, and I compiled this great-looking spreadsheet with graphs and everything that showed our performance over such-and-such a time. Everyone was pleased as punch with my work… until they saw that I’d pulled the wrong numbers from the wrong timeframe and the wrong servers. My end-product was fabulous, but it applied to an alternate universe. And my hours of work were for naught.

And like the time when I was making great progress on this website I was building. I did an awesome job at coding it up quickly and timing everything out so it would be ready to launch on schedule. The only problem was, I forgot to test it in this one browser that everybody knew was problematic. It had completely slipped my mind. And by the time I looked at the website in it and realized that stuff needed to change, I was starting to fall behind schedule. For someone in the web development business, this is just basic, fundamental stuff — you test in all browsers before you launch. But I’d forgotten. And I blew my deadline. And pissed off the project manager who had been so happy with my work — and had told everyone what a great job I was doing.

I can assure you, screwing up the first time around is not a foreign experience to me. But each of the times I’ve screwed up, I’ve learned a great deal. And frankly, I’ve learned more from my failures than from my successes. I just needed the chance to try again.

All I’ve really ever asked for, was a second chance. Seriously. I know I’m prone to make a mess of things on my “maiden voyages”. It’s just in my nature. I’m not being hard on myself. It’s objectively true. Ask anyone who has known me long enough to see me go down in flames… and they’ll confirm it. But they’ll also confirm that I have an uncanny ability to rise from the ashes of my own catastrophes, take my medicine, take my lumps, and climb back into the ring for another round. And when I get my head about me again and figure out what I did wrong, the first time through, I can adjust my performance to do the exact opposite… and come out shining far more brightly than many a person who gets it right the first time around.

When I look back on my life, I have to say the worst experiences and relationships and jobs and activities I’ve had, have been made that way by lack of a second chance. Sadly, my father is one of those people who has to have things done 100% correctly, the first time through — or else. And my mother has not always had the most patience with my flawed interpretations of her instructions. They got it honest — all my relatives and neighbors and other people in the area where I grew up were geared towards getting it right the first time, or else. They had no tolerance for messing up terribly, the first time through — especially by someone as ostensibly smart as I was. They just couldn’t see why I was so prone to screw-ups. Certainly, I must not have been paying close enough attention. Or I was lazy. Or I was weak. Or whatever.

What they just couldn’t see was that I was trying like crazy to get it right, the first time through. I was — I really was. But I didn’t have enough information about how to do it 100% right. Spoken instruction only went so far. Being shown things only went so far. I had to try my hand at things and find out what not to do, in order to find out what to avoid, the next time around. The times when I got a dry run to practice, I was more likely to succeed. But when I was tossed into the deep end, the first time through, I sank like a rock, as often as not. And there were far too many failures to list — and far too many occasions of people not thinking to give me another chance. If I screwed it up the first time through, what made me think I could get it right, the next time?

Thing of it was, I could get it right, the next time. In fact, the worse mess I made of my endeavor, the first time through, the greater the likelihood of me hitting a home run, the next time around.  My very low tolerance for imperfection would never allow me to make the same mistakes twice. I just couldn’t do it. Unfortunately, too many people are not built that way, and they don’t realize that some of us are. They think that true achievers get one chance and one chance only to make their mark, and if you have to keep trying, it means you’re just a wanna-be poser whose prone to biting off more than they can chew.

Well, maybe I am a bit of a wanna-be, and maybe I do tend to bite off more than I can chew. But you know what? I’m driven. And I don’t give up. And if I keep trying, and if I keep learning from my screw-ups (which are so, so many), and I don’t give in to the criticisms of others (and myself), I can really make a difference in my own life and in the world. I can actually attain at least some of what I set out to achieve. And even if I manage to meet only 75% of my set goals, if I set my goals at 200% of what others expect me to be “reasonably” able to do, then I have a chance of achieving 150% of what others expect of me. So there.

And that to me is what true Independence is all about —  knowing both your limits and your strengths and using them both to complement each other. I know I make a mess of things. I know I have a hard time with some pretty basic stuff, at times. I know I tend to overstep my bounds and over-reach. But I also know I’ve got this taproot of faith in cause-and-effect… this logical conviction that if I just keep going, feeling my way through, keeping an open mind and actively learning and putting what I learn into action… I will eventually get far beyond what anyone ever expected of me. And I will achieve nearly everything I have my heart set on. No matter what my brain may be capable of, I also have heart. And my mind — the sum total of my spirit and my brain-power and my instincts — will always keep striving for what is better, what is best, what is highest, what is … progress.

Yes, when it comes to getting things right, a do-over makes the difference. I may mess up the first time through, but a second chance makes everything better. It lets me redeem myself by getting it right the next time. It gives me the opportunity to salvage my experience by using the lessons I’ve learned to make right what I’ve done wrong. It lets me prove to myself that I’m not a total loser. It lets me prove to others that they can — ultimately — depend on me, if they just cut me a little slack and give me another chance. They simply need to resist the temptation to give up on me… understanding that I’ve got my limitations, and that I may need another shot, in order to get the task they’ve given me absolutely right, but I will not quit until I get some satisfactory results.

I can get it… I will get it. I just need to be given more chances to get it right.