The slow return to normal – and beyond

Kind of what it feels like

So, the upheaval over the accident a week ago has begun to settle down. I truly cannot imagine a worse time for life to be disrupted. It’s been a roller coaster of tears and anger and frustration and confusion, with some pretty intense extremes.

I really don’t have time for this sh*t.

I’m not being selfish and insensitive. I really feel for my spouse and all they are going through. It was a really traumatic experience, and I totally understand the reasons for the tears and the anger and all the emotional upheaval. I truly do understand. And I’m there for them to support them as they heal. And I have to deal with my own emotional stuff, too.

The thing is, life goes on, and I have a lot going on with me, just to keep the ship sailing in the right direction. I have to keep functional at work. And I have to finish my own personal projects which are a way for me to A) earn some extra money now, and B) set me up for future income in the years to come, when I cannot do this 9-5 work thing anymore.

I’m feeling less and less capable of dealing with the workaday world, each day, and I know I need a change. I’m not happy with how my brain functions at work – I’m forgetful and distracted and I am not functioning at the level I want to be at. I feel so marginal. I think it’s a combination of brain injury stuff and motivation and the general environment. When you’re dealing with TBI, you have to put in a lot of extra effort and find the “special sauce” that keeps you actively engaged in your life. Then things can go relatively smoothly (on a good day).

But if you take away the motivation and the joy, the sense of purpose and connection, everything gets harder. A lot harder. People at work are very nice, and I’ve had worse jobs, but they’re cliquish and petty and we have very, very little in common.

It becomes more obvious to me, every day, that I cannot continue to make a living, doing what I do the way I do it now. I am wearing so thin, it’s a challenge just to keep my head in the game and show up 100% each day. I really friggin’ hate the 9-5 scene, with the cubicles, the pettiness, being stuck inside all the time, and being in an artificial environment. It also makes me nuts that the people running the show don’t seem to be interested in actually running the business for profit, so when they come up short, people get cut, and it leaves me feeling quite vulnerable and exposed.

That will never do. Someone else who can’t run their business is going to dictate how my life develops? Oh, I don’t think so. It’s really wearing thin with me, and I need to get out. I’ve started counting down to when I can leave — not sure when that is, but I’ve got this countdown going in my head.

So I’ve been putting a lot of my time and energy into developing concepts and projects that can get me out of that environment. I continue to get up each day and go through the process of living my life and building the pieces I need in place for myself in the future. I’m very clear about my ongoing direction — there’s a lot of writing and publishing and “information marketing” in the cards for me — and I’m very clear about how to get there. Plus, there are a lot of resources online to help me get where I am going. So, I’m fairly confident these ideas will take flight.

It just takes a lot of work and a lot of focus. Every extra hour I have, when I’m not eating or sleeping or trying to relax for just a few hours, gets funnelled into my Great Escape. And having this car accident intrude on my focus and having to process all the drama around this event has really been sucking the life out of my activities.

I’m not feeling like I have the wherewithal to go through this whole post-traumatic process with my spouse, and deal with it along with the rest of my life. It was traumatic for me, too, because whatever happens to my spouse, happens to me, and it was pretty intense, being at the hospital and not knowing what the hell was going on. And the car being wrecked… that’s not so great, either. Working through it all… it takes time, and time is something I just don’t have much of.

The thing is, in the back of my mind, I am absolutely certain that things are going to turn around for us. My personal projects are solid and valuable, and I know a number of businesses which have a real need for them. It’s only a matter of time, till I can break free of where I’m at.

It’s the getting there that takes so much time and energy. So, I’m just keeping steady… slowly returning to normal… sitting through the tears and anger and fear and anxiety… looking for every opportunity to change and improve, picking and choosing how I spend my time.

I’m also continuing to grow and expand and develop. Getting new ideas. Following through on them. Testing and seeing what works and what doesn’t, and just staying steady. There’s none of that old haphazard approach, where I would just throw something out there and hope for the best. I’ve got plans in place, and it makes all the difference in the world.

And so it goes. I have to keep current with my sleep, as well as my nutrition. I need to keep on with the everyday, as well as reach beyond to what’s yet to come. I’m feeling really positive about the direction I’m taking.

I just need to get through the fallout from this accident in one piece.

Onward.

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Calling the insurance company

Not looking forward to this. I am very tired, and my speech is slurred, my face is numb and twitching, I’ve been sleeping on my arms wrong, and the fingers on both hands are stiff with pins and needles, and I’m having difficulty putting ideas together coherently.

I’ll give it a try and go ahead and make the call. I tend to get better, once I get warmed up, anyway. I’ve got my notebook where I’ll keep my notes and keep everything organized. I have some slips of paper I wrote notes on, and I’ll transfer them to my notebook, so I keep organized. I’m really out of it and disoriented. Things always get worse in the days after. When you’re in the thick of things, everything is a blur. Later, when things calm down, is when the extended problems start.

Fortunately, I got some great tips from someone I met yesterday who told me to go to www.nada.com and get the “Clean Retail” value of my car, then call the insurance company and definitely do not settle for their offer, if they total the vehicle. They told me about different tricks the insurance company tries, like telling me they’ll pick up the vehicle and taking it to their lot, and then just sitting on it, while I wait for my settlement. I also need to find out if I have rental coverage.

I’m not sure how this will turn out. I don’t know if the car is worth saving, or if we should just get a new(er) one. I really don’t know. I don’t have enough information yet.

The airbags went off, so apparently insurance companies tend to total vehicles when that happened. Also, when I went to the tow yard and cleaned it out, there were pieces of interior that were twisted and bent, that shouldn’t have been, so that looks to me like frame damage. If you hit the front of your vehicle, and one side of the back bumper is pushed out and back, I’m guessing there’s more going on than front-end damage.

Anyway, I have a huge day ahead of me. I have some critical meetings happening, and I also need to make some important calls. It’s not a small thing, this day, and I’m not really feeling up to it. But I’ll do it anyway, as best I can.

Off I go, to talk to the insurance folks.

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.

Some of my best friends have had TBIs – but don’t know it

The most interesting things can happen to our brains

A funny thing happened, the other day… I was online, checking in with friends, and one of my old school buddies from college years told me that when they were young, they were in a car accident that messed up their neck. They said they had had a lot of pain throughout their life, and that that pain had given them a greater capacity for compassion and patience for others. They didn’t talk at all about concussion or TBI – for them, the real problem was their neck.

And a funny thing happened, the other month… I was at work, talking to two colleagues about this and that, when they started talking about accidents they’d had when they were younger. Now, keep in mind that I haven’t told anyone in “real life” about my TBIs, aside from a few select folks (who I thought at the time would appreciate my situation – but as it turns out, didn’t want to hear about it), and I’m not one to run around in the offline world, telling people my woes.

Anyway, these two colleagues of mine proceeded to tell me how they had both been in motor vehicle accidents when they were younger. One of them had been thrown from a motorbike when they were 16. They landed on their chin, and they broke “everything that could be broken”. They were in a coma for a week, and they had amnesia for a while and were “retarded” (in their own words) for some time after that. The other had been hit by a truck, was knocked out for a while, and nearly lost their leg.

Pretty wild. I never would have guessed, from interacting with them. All three of them, in fact. Yet, when I look back on my interactions with them over the years, I can see behaviors and patterns that correspond pretty well with TBI.

My friend from college, so they told me, had been reserved and insecure and unsure of themself when they were younger. Meeting me, they actually said they found much more confidence in themself and found that they could follow their own dreams in ways they never thought possible. They even dedicated a performance they did to me, thanking me (in absentia) for having that impact in their life.

I found out about this effect I’d had on them, just a year ago, when we reconnected after many years of going our own ways. It really hit me, when they told me, and I was choked up for days. I’m not a really emotional person, but this was a kind of redemption that I never thought I’d find. It gave me an incredible sense of amazement that they had been influenced this way. Here, I’d thought I was just some dumb galoot who was making a mess of everything at that time in my life — I got into a lot of trouble, and I never finished college — but as it turns out, I actually helped someone just by being who I was.

As for my friend, I remembered them being a real fan of the theater. They performed in a lot of productions in school, and they loved to go to Rocky Horror and go through the esoteric motions of participating in the movie. I could never figure out what the attraction was, but now that I think about it, theater gave them a great outlet to safely explore the human experience according to a script that they could memorize and follow. And Rocky Horror provides a great outlet for those who feel chronically different, who need a way to witness other people being even more bizarre than they feel. I went to Rocky Horror once (not with them), and I left the movie feeling so very… normal. For someone struggling with TBI issues, and confused and afraid on the inside and not fully understanding what is going on with them, the experience is a great leveler — a kind of created reminder that there are many, many different textures to the human experience, which may seem bizarre on the outside, but are just ‘part of it all’.

When I think back on my college friend, I do recall them being a bit tentative. With plenty of reasons for playing it safe. They used to talk about their dad leaving their mom, and how that messed up the family — and them, especially. And I have to wonder if maybe they were interpreting some of their TBI stuff (the emotional upsets, the volatility, the restlessness of the brain that translates into uneasiness with yourself), as psychological. It wouldn’t be the first time someone laid TBI issues at the feet of emotional or psychological upset.

I also have to wonder if the childhood accident they had might have put a strain on the relationship of their parents. I know my own childhood injuries put tremendous strain on my own family. I was a real challenge a lot of times, and my parents had no idea how to handle me, other than disciplining me (which didn’t work). I wonder if things happened after that which caused their father to be less interested in being a husband and father… We’ll never know, but the thought crosses my mind.

As for the other two folks, my colleagues, I can now see definite connections between their behaviors and habits and their past TBIs. Knowing what I know about symptoms, as well as the cognitive behavioral effects that can happen, I can now better understand why they are they way they are.

My colleague who was thrown from the motorbike is a pistol. They’re always on the go, and they are probably one of the least organized persons I’ve ever met. They love to use gadgets to do things – like use their GPS and smartphone to go about their life. But they are incredibly inefficient in just about everything. When they set their GPS to go somewhere, they will only listen to the GPS, even if it’s sending them “around the barn” and making their trip twice as long and twice as complicated as it needs to be. But you can’t argue with them – they’ve got this literal, black and white thinking that seemingly forces them to ONLY do what the gadgets tell them. And then when I point out a different way of doing things, they get really upset and start saying how “retarded” they feel. They say they want to find someone, settle down, and start a family, but they always have at least 2-3 love interests in their life, and they weave this constant web of intrigue, suspicion, seduction, attraction, repulsion — you name it, if it’s on the emotional spectrum, they experience it… x100. They just can’t seem to get off the drama roller coaster, and they will spend hours talking about these situations they’ve gotten themself into — totally by their own doing.

It’s so exasperating, and they can’t seem to get free of their own web.

Colleague #2, the one who was hit by a truck and nearly lost their leg, is a completely different sort of person. They are deliberate and cautious and take their time working through anything and everything. They, too, are something of an extreme case, while their extremes fall on the other end of the spectrum — they are the polar opposite of the person who was thrown from the motorbike, and they are as settled and as domestic, as Colleague #1 is wild and uninhibited.

Between the two of them (they work very closely together on the same team), you can see the varieties of effects that TBI can have on a person. Reckless abandon and emotional variety on one hand. Over-caution and strict control of emotions on the other. They compliment each other very well, actually, and it’s interesting to watch their dynamics.

When I get in the “mix”, it’s interesting, too. I seem to relate to both of them very well, and we work effectively together. It’s wild how, of all the people I work with, these two individuals are the easiest for me to interact with. Or maybe that makes perfect sense. Because we recognize something common between us – I just never knew till recently, what that might be about. I’m not saying that’s the only reason we are sympatico. But I’m not ruling it out.

I’m not sure that any of them have any idea that TBI could be affecting them the way it does, even after all these years. It can, but I’m not sure they are aware. It’s not for me to tell them all about it (unless they would ask, of course), but it’s interesting informatin for me.

As for my college friend, we’ve been emailing back and forth, to see if we can catch up. We live several hours apart, but it’s within easy striking distance. Should be interesting when we actually do cross paths again.

Anyway, I’m feeling a little under the weather today. Time to get some rest… It’s Sunday, and I only have a few things to do today. So, that’s what I’ll do — a few things — and catch up on my rest.