The worst thing about trauma

It hits at all levels

Just a tip — if you have a weak stomach, don’t Google “trauma” and look at the images. I just did, and I regret it.

Anyway… I’m writing this ahead of time and scheduling it to publish while I’m way. By the time you’re reading this, I’ll probably be on the road, off to collect the rest of the crap from the smashed vehicle my spouse was in. Again, I am so grateful things didn’t turn out worse.

Still, it’s a sh*tty way to spend my day off. Especially when I was in such need of downtime, having been really sick all last week.

So much for that.

To be quite honest, the hardest part about the whole thing was that everyone had to emotionally process everything. They had to call their friends, talk to everybody they met about it, recount the experience, get sympathy from people, have an “emotional release”… and do it all over again. And all the while, the friend’s smartphone kept going off and dinging with every text that would come in, setting off the most irritating set of ringtones I’ve ever heard, and not giving me a moment’s rest. Driving a long distance on very little sleep, having that smartphone go off every 15 seconds was nerve-wracking, to say the least. It was startling and jarring, and no sooner would they settle down from one emotional conversation with someone, than someone else would call them, and they’d launch into their hysterics all over again.

Oh. My. God.

I am so tired. I went to bed when I got home last night — about 6 p.m. And I slept till 4:30 this morning. It felt great to get 10-1/2 hours of sleep, and I have a massage later today, which will be fantastic. I also need to drive back out to the tow yard, halfway across the state, to pick up the rest of the equipment in the trashed vehicle, so it’s not a total loss. I just need to work today, to move and go about my business, work around the house, call the insurance company, and take action, without constant processing going on.

Please. I need a break.

Now, I know that I do a lot of talking, myself. And I have to consider my own approach to talking things through and processing everything. I like to think that I process and move on. That I speak my peace and then make necessary changes to ensure those things don’t happen out of my negligence or stupidity or lack of preparation. It’s one thing to go through difficult times. It’s another, to never shut up about it, and “get stuck” in the whole experience, because you want others to feel sorry for you.

If I ever sound like the friend who kept replaying that experience… somebody tell me to shut the hell up. I am truly sorry, if I ever put any of you through that.

Truly, I am.

The crux of it for me, really, is that when we experience trauma, our bodies are put into shock, and on a physical level, we get primed for startle and hyper-alertness. Our bodies are trying to protect us, and they think they have to keep being alert. But they don’t. Our minds pick up on our body’s hyper-alert state, and they get tricked into thinking that they need to be hyper-alert, too… rehashing the experience, so they can “learn” what the situation looked like, to avoid it in the future.

The thing is, for some situations — like a punk in a fast car being an asshole — you cannot predict and anticipate it, so all the “learning” you are doing is just sucking up your energy that could be spent on healing from the whole hellish experience. And rather than making you safer, you’re re-traumatizing yourself and making everything that much worse.

That’s my argument with people who insist on telling everyone about their awful childhood experiences with abusive parents/uncles/siblings/caretakers, etc. It doesn’t change anything, it doesn’t solve anything, it just keeps spreading the trauma around to everyone who had nothing to do with it, and who don’t deserve to be sucked into what was a truly horrific experience.

Trauma needs to be handled in other ways, not talking. It’s a physiological experience, and it needs to be dealt with on the physical level. The body takes over the mind — hijacks your executive functioning — and you have to get it all to settle down, before things in your mind can calm down.

That means resting and eating right and moving. You cannot heal without some sort of movement. You just can’t. You’ve got to get out of your head and get your ass up out of the chair/bed, and really move it. Because if you don’t, your body is going have a backlog of stress chemicals that convince it that it needs to be on HIGH ALERT, and you will keep reliving your shitty experience as though it were still true.

Okay, enough of my rant. It’s time for me to do something constructive with this energy. Time to move.

Time to go juggle. And get on with my day.

Onward.

 

So much for my weekend off

Where’s my damn’ car?

Well, it was a nice thought. I had three days to work on my projects and pretty much unwind, catch up with myself, and sleep… get healthy, etc.

That was the plan, anyway.

Then my spouse got into a really bad car accident on Saturday afternoon, and I had to drive out to a country hospital to meet them and the business associate they were traveling with. The hospital was really old-fashioned – like something out of the 1950s, and the ER physician was about as dynamic as a brick. I’m not sure that he did a thorough job checking out my spouse, who hit their head on the door frame. They said they just had a bump on their head, and they didn’t have a headache. My spouse kept trying to charm the doctor, while he was doing the examination, which can’t have made his job any easier. I didn’t know what to do, other than keep them from lying to the doctor outright. They’re terrified of doctors, and they were completely freaked out by the whole experience. So, there was only so much I could actually do.

My spouse and their friend had their doubts about driving — road conditions were not good, and visibility was poor. But they had committed to the trip, and their destination had good weather, so they thought it would be fine, once they got out there. None of us factored in the weather between our home and their destination. Ultimately, thought,the real problem was no so much the road conditions — rather, the poor judgment and behavior of the person who caused the wreck.

They were not hurt badly, but they had to go to the hospital to be evaluated, and then because of their states of mind and body, they couldn’t get back in a car and drive home. So, we spent Sunday hanging out at a chilly little country motel, wrapped in coats and blankets, trying to stay warm, eating Sunday brunch, finding the tow yard where the car was, collecting their personal items, trying to fit them all into my little hatchback (with three people in it), and getting everyone home safely … from quite a ways away.

They are both truly lucky to be as healthy as they are. They’re lucky to be alive. They both could have easily been killed, if they’d been in a smaller car, or there had been more traffic on the road they were on. For that I am truly grateful. There are a lot of things to be thankful for in this. The car may be totaled, but I kind of hated that car, anyway. It was too big for my spouse — or just about anyone — to handle safely. Especially in low visibility. Or where the space is tight. They felt safe in it, but that’s a grand illusion.

I have no idea where or how we’re going to replace the vehicle, but I’ll figure something out. I just got some money from an estate settlement from a relative who died within the past year, and I was going to use that money to fix the house. But it looks like it may go to either fixing this car or buying a new (to me) one.

My insurance company already hates me, because I’ve filed claims for damage to the house that was actually my fault, rather than an accident. I didn’t realize you can’t file a claim if it’s your fault, or if you didn’t call a repair person to look at it before. I thought you could file your claim and then have the repair person come. I guess it’s the other way around. And now I look like an insurance fraudster. Nice.

But this accident was not my spouse’s fault, and it’s a legitimate claim. Basically, a young kid driving a fast car got “adventurous” on a very narrow road and caused 13 cars to pile up. 7 of them had to be towed (including ours), and a whole bunch of people went to the hospital, including my spouse and their friend/business associate.

And I spent Saturday evening and all day Sunday dealing with the fallout.

I know I’m rambling here. I’m tired and still out of sorts. It’s going to be a few weeks, till this settles down, I’m sure. I just have to keep on — steady on — and take care of myself. Keep balanced. Just deal with it.

Well, anyway, it’s time to take a break. This whole thing has got me thinking a lot about trauma and how to deal with it. I’ve already written a whole long rant about it — I’m going to split it into another section and publish it later. For now, I’m going to focus on being grateful that things didn’t turn out worse.

Because they really could have.

The ghost and the machine

It’s all about your perspective – “Ghost in the Machine” by linnsetane

I had a pretty good weekend — no, I had a pretty phenomenal weekend. I had an exquisite balance between body, mind, heart, and spirit, that I haven’t felt in some time, and I actually felt like myself.

Again.

It’s been a long time, since I truly felt like myself. I was reading and studying again, doing some journaling. I did chores around the house and cleaned up outside. And I was out in the woods a whole lot, with naps in between.

I didn’t “accomplish” some of the goals I set out to do, but you know what? I don’t care. I feel really solid, and that matters more than any external goals I set for myself. On Fridays, my weekend goals seem so terribly important. But by Sunday morning, I’ve “rearranged the furniture of my interior life” and a whole new set of priorities come out, which are a lot more life-giving than the ones I identified on Friday last.

It has taken me a long, long time to get to this place. I have been “in the woods” in a not-so-good way for many years, and at last I’m at a really stable place, where I’m not all over the map for no good reason.

Now, in some ways, I still feel strange to myself. But that strangeness has actually become an integrated part of my life now. See, the thing is, I don’t just see myself as a person whose character is set in stone — and that’s it. I see myself now as more of a person whose character is constantly developing along certain lines that are “me” — it’s not the particular details of how I’m feeling and what I’m doing, that make “me” the person I am. It’s actually the process I go through to get where I’m going, that makes “me” the person I am.

For example, I am usually in pain of some kind or another. Either I have a pulled muscle or I have a headache or a backache or joint pain. I literally can’t remember the last time I did not have some kind of pain — and this goes back to my childhood, when I had a very rough-and-tumble kind of life and I was usually getting scuffed up or knocked around by someone or something or other. I was extremely sensitive as a kid, and a lot of times, if someone touched my arm or my back, it felt like I was being hit. It stung like fire ants or burned like fire or it felt like someone had me in a vice and was twisting. Being young, I couldn’t really explain it. That’s just how it was.

And when I was younger, because of that, I felt like I was always being punished. Because when you were really bad, you got hit or paddled or yanked around by an adult. And that hurt. But I wasn’t being constantly punished — I was just having that kind of experience without any connection with reality. My body didn’t realize it, and my mind couldn’t process that.

So, I’ve had this complex — pretty much my entire life — about being a bad person who needed to be punished.

Well, now that I know more about my situation, that’s not burdening me anymore. I know that my sensitivities are connected with how much tension I’m feeling — when I’m tired or stressed or upset — and they’re not about me being a bad person who should be punished. Pain is happening because I’m doing good things — not bad things. Pain is a sign that I am genuinely trying to do better and be better.

It’s like after a hard workout. Your body is absolutely wracked for days on end, while it recovers and gets used to the “new you”. It’s not a bad thing — it’s a by-product of a good thing, and it will totally be worth it in the long run.

So, I have a completely different view of my pain, these days. And I have a very different attitude towards my experience. Thinking of my pain as the result of me pushing harder to be better, makes the pain about me being driven to be better. That’s a far cry from the old way of thinking and feeling — which was all about me being bad and deserving to be punished.

It’s kind of a “no pain no gain” mentality — “pain is weakness leaving the body” and all that.

So, while I don’t feel physically peachy-keen, most of the time, which at times makes me feel really terrible about being in my own skin, the way I think about feeling crappy has actually restored some of my sense of self. Rather than the pain meaning that I’m deficient, it means that I’m genuinely trying to do better, that I’m motivated and really trying. Waking up today with a headache and fatigue means that yesterday I wanted to be better, and I did something about it.

It’s not about me being in an ideal state at any given point in time. It’s about me being in the middle of a process of improvement that is taking me towards a variety of ideals which I can experience at different points in time. Life isn’t always going to be perfect. Where would be the challenge in that? In fact, it seems to me that the more “yourself” you are, the most challenges you’re going to face, because life likes to keep us guessing — and so do we. I have seen so many people unconsciously create situations that get them in trouble, and I’ve seen so many “good” people dragged into complicated messes, that after close to 50 years of wondering “WHY?!” it’s all I can figure.

Being a good person doesn’t mean I’m going to have all good things happen in my life. It means I’m going to have plenty of opportunities to create more good in the lives of myself and everyone around me, no matter what the circumstances.

And that goes for TBI. Lemme tell you, it has been one tough motherf*cker, getting through this, and in a lot of ways, I feel like the “old me” is gone for good. But the “new me” — or maybe the “real me” that I never recognized before — is not so much about being a certain way in certain circumstances, thinking certain thoughts and having certain feelings about things. Maybe the “real me” is actually a dynamic personality who is constantly learning, constantly changing, constantly leaving the old behind.

I think that once upon a time, I knew this. I cleaned out my study, over the weekend and found some old journals from 20+ years ago. Back when I was still wet behind the ears, I had this amazing capacity for fluid adjustment. I think because everything around me was changing all the time, and the multiple TBIs messed with my head so much, I realized that it was pointless for me to try to hang onto anything for long. But then I “grew up” and got all adult-like and what-not, and for some reason, I had it in my head that “I” was a certain way, and that “I” wasn’t going to change.

How strange.

It got worse after my 2004 injury — my thinking just got so rigid and fixed and brittle. And now that I think about it, that “self” that I felt I had lost… that “self” may have never even existed, because my thinking was so one-dimensional and fixed. I had this vision of myself in my head that was distorted and confused, and for some reason, I thought that was “me”.

It was like going into a funhouse and looking at all the mirrors, and then deciding that one image of myself I saw was THE REAL ME, and I invested all kinds of energy in hanging onto that distorted image of myself. Even though it was as far from “me” as you can get.

So, this weekend, it was all about the process. All about loosening up, all about cleaning out dusty spaces and getting things in order. My study is still in some disarray, but that will change. Gradually, I’ll work my way through — one shelf at a time. And by this time next year, there’s no reason to think that it won’t be in decent shape.

Truly.

So, that’s the result of my great weekend. It felt so good to just let go of the Friday-fatigue-flavored expectations of last week and just let things flow. Letting things flow didn’t get me “off course” – if anything, it let me get some rest and more inspiration for the coming week. Now I’m coming back to my work week with a renewed energy and a better understanding — the machine of my life is just that: a machine. But it’s the ghost that does all the driving.

Can you tell Halloween is coming? 😉

Onward.

dealing with behavioral health issues from closed head injury

A usually mild-mannered driver, suddenly not.
  • tbi and road rage
  • tbi and adrenalin
  • dealing with behavioral health issues from closed head injury
  • mental disordes from brain injury
  • restoration of self after traumatic brain injury
  • overcome concussion
  • stress effecting performance
  • can avoidance emotinal numbing ptsd symptoms end a relationship?
  • self part of brain
  • tbi anger

So far today, 17 people have searched on these combinations of words — 5 of them about road rage. And it’s early, yet.

I wish I could see the time of day people are searching – I suspect it’s late at night, after everyone has gone to bed. They are thinking back on their day and the close call(s) they had while they were driving, wondering if their freak-outs had anything to do with their head injuries/concussions. Maybe they were going to work. Maybe they were coming back from work. All they know is, they flipped out and almost lost it behind the wheel of the car.

While it was happening, it felt so normal, it felt so right, it felt so justified.

But after the dust has settled, and they look back on the incident from a distance (and after a good meal), they realize that their reaction was wildly out of proportion to what actually happened. Somebody cut them off once too often. Somebody else wasn’t paying attention and did something bone-headed. And they could have killed them. Literally.

Is a stupid-ass move on the interstate worth pulling hard jail time?

You be the judge.

Anyway, yeah… behavioral health issues from closed head injury… When I think about it, the real problem factor is the “closed” aspect — in part, because a closed head injury isn’t obvious, like a broken leg dangling limply, or a ragged gash across the face. It’s hidden — from everyone — and it’s damned hard to manage. Believe me. Closed head injury is no piece of cake, especially for the survivor. Our brains can be pretty convinced they’re right, when they are anything but. And no one can tell us anything, because we’re so convinced that this right feeling is a right being. It’s not, but we often don’t realize it till much later.

And after the damage is done.

There’s another “closed” part of the troubled TBI dynamic that’s problematic, too — the closed minds of people all around us. The people who either make up their minds that you’re deficient and damaged and you’re not going to get any better… or the people who are closed to the idea that you need to do things differently in your life, like get to bed at a decent hour or have a conversation about what needs to be done, that’s more in-depth than a handful of instructions/commands/demands… or the people who are afraid of their own human frailty and marginalize you because you’re different and you remind them that they are not omnipotent.

The more I read and the more I look around and the more I think about things, the more I’m convinced that social isolation is one of the worst things you can do to a closed head injury survivor. Or any injury survivor, really. But especially TBI survivors. Because we need to be “in the mix” with other people. We need to be involved. We need to be able to watch other people and remember/re-learn how to act. We need to be able to interact with other people and take cues and close from them. We need to remember what is “normal” and practice at it. We’re not lost causes — unless everyone (including us) gives up on us.

Practice, practice, practice. With other people. Build up the connections in our bodies and minds that help us conduct ourselves as regular folks. Re-knit the synapses of our brains and re-establish connections that restore our sense of selves. Our sense of self is a funny thing — it’s often best defined in relation to others. So that we can only be truly unique and original when we are surrounded by other people who are like us, but yet very different.

But when we’ve got these behavioral problems — which are so very often triggered by physical issues that nobody can see — it’s tough to hold your own in the company of others. We get tired, because we have to work so hard at simple things, and we may have to work harder to keep our balance, deal with hyper-sensitive senses, or adjust for changes in our speed of processing. And when we get tired, we get irritable. And/or our attention wanders. And/or we get agitated. And we start to act out. We speak out of turn. We strike out at perceived threats. We snap at the ones we love, we chew out our co-workers. We think we’re standing up for ourselves, but we’re launching offensives against people and events that may pose no real threat to us at all. We just think they do. We get scared. We get confused. We’re all amped up on adrenaline, and we fly into a rage like a fighter pilot taking off from an aircraft carrier. We ride the anger roller-coaster. We jump on the temper train and take off for the frontier, six guns shooting all the way.

And because the people around us very rarely appreciate our situation — or if they do, they just forget — we end up looking like friggin’ idiots and imbeciles. Which doesn’t help our case, even if we have a justifiable right to be angry and upset.

So much for social integration.

Especially if you’re surrounded by people who have a lot invested in playing it cool. Who insist on everyone being smooth and chill and controlled. They need this veneer, this packaging, this mythic strength about them and everyone around them that instills confidence, even if there’s no justifiable reason for that confidence. They pour all of their energy into coming across a certain way, and expecting everyone around them to do the same. If there are any cracks in the armor, it spells trouble. They lose confidence. Quickly. And then all seems lost.

What’s amazing to me, is how un-real so many people in the world are… How they build their entire lives around playing roles of the cool folks, the most popular kids in high school, and even when they mess up, they never admit it — they either cover it up or deny it completely. They just won’t let their guard down for a moment. Because then the jig would be up, and they’d be found out for who they are — people just like everyone else. Pretty lonely, actually. And closed. Closed to the full range of human experience and emotion and evolution.

This is the “closed” part that hurts us the most — the smallness of the minds of so many. We may have had closed head injuries, but so many people willingly close their perfectly functional minds to the vast possibilities out there. And not only do they distance themselves from people around them and make it harder for all of us to just be who we are, but they also cheat themselves of the full range of life, imprisoned in their own definitions of what is and is not acceptable.

But when I think about it, it seems to me that these folks — the closed ones — are probably as hungry for acceptance and freedom as anyone else. They are that way for a reason. Perhaps because others have ridiculed them or made life difficult for them. Maybe they’re short. Maybe they’re not beautiful. Maybe their parents were cruel to them. Maybe they’re sensitive and have been hurt too many times by bullies. Maybe the only way they can really survive in the world, is to be that way — closed. Who am I to judge?

All I know is, being closed doesn’t help any of us. We have all been hurt. We’ve all been injured in some way or another. And we can all use some generosity of spirit and help, as we go about our lives.

dealing with behavioral health issues from closed head injury… it’s always a challenge. But it can get better. The main thing to remember is that anxiety and stress and pressure don’t help the situation. The first thing to do, with TBI, is reduce the stress, take the pressure off, ease off the adrenalin accelerator, and quit being so hard on yourself. Learn to laugh at the things you do, and they will no longer rule your life. We tend to take things so seriously, we TBI survivors, and we see such gravity in everything. Every event can seem momentous and earth-shaking, but it ain’t always so, and the sooner we learn to lighten up, the quicker we’ll find our wings.

If nothing else, remember – you are not alone. Plenty of other people feel the way you do, and they manage to make it through somehow. TBI isn’t the end of the world, and neither is a temporary overdose of gravity. Behavioral problems come and go, and our health is often relative. If we can just be grateful for the good we have in our lives and focus on that, it can help a great deal. And if we can get some extra rest to take the edge off our sleep-deprived agitation and ease our exhaustion-related behavioral issues, all the better.

I recently read a statement that the human condition with its ups and downs is a lot like the weather — seasons come and go, passions rise and fall like floods during summer storms. Weather comes and goes. That’s just what it does.

And yet we survive. Look around. We’re still here — and that’s pretty amazing.

Defining the mind

Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation

Click the link above to support this blog, or just get the book at Amazon or your local library

See more videos of Dr. Dan Siegel in the sidebar here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEdq04xbHAs

How you can change your brain

I recently discovered Dr. Daniel Siegel, who has plenty of research and information to back up what some of us have intuitively known: that the mind and the brain are distinct entities, and that you can use the mind to change the brain. Here’s an introduction to his ideas about how to change the brain.

I’ll be writing a lot more about this later. I’ve been viewing and digesting various videos of his, and it’s somewhat slow going, when I have to stop every 3 minutes to take notes. But it’s good work, and well worth the effort.

Watch, learn, and enjoy.

Change your mind, change your brain

I’ve found a new TBI survivor blog, The Best Brain Possible.

This post excerpt grabbed my attention from The ultimate do it yourself project

A thought can actually change neurons.  Interactions in the world or relationships with people and things shape the firing in the brain hence the synaptic connections.  Neurons that fire together wire together. There is your power to change your brain and change your life.  It is like having a secret weapon or a super power.  What you actually do in your life and how you think about what happens in your world shapes your brain and your reality.   This power is within us and it has been there the whole time.  It is up to us to put it to good use.  To actually do the do it yourself project and not put it on the shelf for some later date.

What you actually do in your life and how you think about what happens in your world shapes your brain and your reality…

With that in mind, I’m going to do my daily analysis and really think about how I can re-shape my brain, and my reality.

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.

What makes the mind?

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the concept of “mind,” since I started this blog. It’s true, my brain is a bit “broken” — from an assault ’round about 1972, when a couple of kids who didn’t like my looks heaved rocks at me and struck me on the forehead above my right eye, about an inch below my hairline… as well as a 2004 re-injury, when I slipped and fell down a flight of stairs, smashing the back of my head on the top 3-4 steps in the process.

The closer attention I pay to my brain, the clearer it becomes that it just doesn’t work the same way as other people’s — and it never has, since I was about 8 years old. Funny thing about TBI — the very piece of the puzzle that can put things together : the brain : is the very thing that’s damaged, so self-assessment about how things are really working, can be a tricky thing. And as you go along, other people may never realize that you’ve got “issues” because you’re merrily swimming right along, clueless about there being a real problem.

Until really big problems surface, which is more or less what happened to me.

Now, some might say that not having a fully functioning “normal” brain is the end of the world. The end of regular life as you know it. We’re so conditioned to think of the brain as being “command central” in our lives — the organ above our neck calling all the shots and being responsible for all the big decisions and control over vital aspects of our lives.

But I’m inclined to believe that our “mind” is even more powerful than our brain — “mind” being the collection of all the different faculties we have that make it possible to walk through life with grace and dignity and intelligence.

Howard Gardner’s “multiple intelligence theory” (check out his book, “Frames of Mind” for more info) explores the different ways in which people can be intelligent. And different traditions propose that true “mind” is more about one’s ability to connect with the Divine Spark within — through a religious or spiritual connection/experience — than it is about the human brain.

That’s the approach I tend to take — I consider my “mind” be a collection of my cerebral intellect, my physical intelligence, my emotional intelligence, as well as my spiritual connection with the Divine. Together, mind, body, heart, and spirit all work towards a higher “mind” than my brain alone can achieve.

This not only comforts and reassures me, but also impels me to draw on other resources that are not above my shoulders and between my ears. And the net result is a life lived in ways that are far more effective, more thorough, more deep, more meaningful, than I would probably be able to achieve if my brain worked “normally.”

What makes your mind?

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