Ready for Monday – Looking back, looking ahead

Who can say what lies ahead?
Who can say what lies ahead?

I had a pretty good weekend. Restful. Downtime. I did some things on Saturday, then took Sunday off, pretty much. Just hung around the house, organized some things, did some reading, caught up with my email, and gave some family members a call.

One of my siblings is in the hospital, and I may need to travel to help them out. But it may turn out to be nothing. They’ve had physical disability issues for many years, and this is one more in a long series of troubles they’ve had. I’m not making light of it. They’re having all sorts of tests done. But it may turn out to be just a speed bump, rather than a sinkhole, in the road of their life. They’ve been through this kind of thing many times before, and we all know it’s a wait-and-see type of situation.

If I have to go, I’ll go. They may need me. But for today, I’m taking it easy.

I’ve got a late night tonight, so I need to get an early start on the day. I’m seeing my new neuropsych again. I’m bringing them up to speed on my childhood. They’ve worked with a lot of kids, in the past, and this will help them better understand where I’m coming from.

This is important for both of us. With my history of mild TBI as a kid, it can shed important insights on what shaped me into the person I am today. And it also highlights the differences between the world I grew up in, all those decades ago, and the world we live in now. I was telling my neuropsych about the time when I ended up on the bottom of a pile of kids during recess in 5th grade got my neck/head hurt. I knew I’d gotten hurt and after I crawled out from under the pile, I walked away in a daze, just walking across the field where we were playing, trying to put as much distance as possible between myself and everyone else, because I didn’t want to get hurt again.

After that, I didn’t want to play rough. I was confused. I was out of it. My grades dropped like a stone tossed into a pond. And the former A-student nearly flunked 5th grade. My teacher had to come to my house and talk to my parents about me not completing my work. They made me stick with it and complete my homework assignments, but it was a real battle for them, for many months. And I’m not sure I ever recovered from that experience. All of a sudden, I was stupid. I couldn’t think. Something was wrong with me. I wasn’t smart, after all. I was stupid. I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t do it.

My  neuropsych asked me if I’d told anyone about getting hurt. I said, no, that’s not how we did things back then. You just picked yourself up and went back into the fray. Another thing that I didn’t add, was that I was so confused, I didn’t realize there was a reason for me to say anything. I’d gotten hurt similar to that many times, while playing. It wasn’t new — that time was much more extreme, however. All those other times I got clunked on the head and was a little woozy, I recovered. But for some reason, that time was different.

And that just highlights the differences between how and when I grew up, and how things are now. Even if I’d told my parents or teachers, what could they have done? What indeed? Nobody knew sh*t about concussion or mild TBI or neck/spine injuries back then. If anything, I would have just been a hardship to everyone, because my parents didn’t have the money or the time (they were both working) to really tend to me.

Nobody had the time for me. And when they did try to help me, they did such a bad job of it, I thought I would have been  better off just going it alone.

And it makes me a little ill, to think about how blind and bound by ignorance everyone was, back then. Living in the country, in a place where you were never allowed to admit any hurt or any weakness, but you sucked it up and got back in there. Because that’s what was done. No cry-babies allowed. No weaklings. No quitters.

So, I’m meeting with my neuropsych again today, and we’ll talk more about my childhood. I’ve got my box of favorite things I kept over the years. My parents cleaned out their attic years ago, and I got my childhood box from them. That and a bunch of photos of when I was a kid.  School pictures, from first grade on. Other photos used to be in the collection, but I took them out, and I don’t know what happened to them. I think I put them in another photo album somewhere, but I don’t know where it is. I would like to find that. It’s classic, and it’s full of pictures that are worth more than 1,000 words.

Thinking about being a kid dealing with mild TBIs all on my own… it was pretty rough. And I got tired of being punished for things I didn’t do on purpose. That’s probably part of why I have trouble with authority figures. I’ve been punished and disciplined and pulled back into line by force, by people in power so often, for no reason that I could tell — till after the event was over. They probably thought I was being difficult on purpose, but I just didn’t know. I didn’t remember things they told me. I misinterpreted what they told me. And then they came down on me like a ton of bricks. Because all I knew how to do was put on a brave face and act like I was in total control of everything.

I wasn’t. But if I let on that I wasn’t, then I’d be vulnerable. And other kids or adults would beat up on me.  Because they could.

It was terrible, when it was happening. But that’s just how everything was. That’s just what happened. And I dealt with it.

Now things are so much different. I still have residual resentment and distrust towards authority figures, but I’m dealing with it. I’m not nearly as bitter and angry as I ws in the past. And I have this amazing life that really keeps getting better. Standing at my desk, looking down at the bird feeder in my back yard, a young deer just appeared from the trees nearby and is looking for something tasty to eat. Beautiful. Just beautiful. This is all possible for me now, regardless of what has happened to me in the past. Maybe it’s possible because a lot of that happened.

I know for damn’ sure, I’m a heck of a lot more resilient than other people I know who never had awful things happen to them on a regular basis. I figure, my childhood was like the price of admission to this life I have now. And it’s paid off.

Being roughed up when I was a kid and being left to sort things out on my own… it wasn’t the most fun, but I learned a lot of lessons. And all of those lessons are helping me today.

Monday’s here! I’m ready. Let’s do this.

Onward.

Post 1978 – the year things started to turn around

Remember this? If not, you didn’t miss much. But my friends and I used to pile into somebody’s parents’ Pacer and drive around, eventually ending up at Pizza Hut to eat thick crust pizza and play Pacman till we ran out of quarters.

In honor of the number of posts coinciding with the calendar years (I’m up to 1978), now and then I’ll be writing about what life was like in the years that correspond with the post number. I’ll do some retrospectives, as well, but where I can correlate the years with past TBIs I’ve had, I’ll be writing about my injuries then.

In 1978, I was 12… then 13 years old, in 7th and 8th grades. My family had settled into the house where my parents still life, after relocating twice in the space of a few years. I was pretty much out of my element, but still carrying on as though I had it all together. At the place we lived for two years prior to our last move, I had sustained a mild TBI while playing at recess one day, and after that, I stopped functioning well. I withdrew into a shell — everything around me was overwhelming and confusing. My grades plummeted. I cut myself off from people socially, and in every sense, I was having a hard time. The lights were too bright, the noises were too loud, I had trouble understanding what people were saying to me, and I was tired and anxious a lot.

It was all just too much for me.

Nobody realized what was going on with me. Nobody knew how many problems I was having, because I wasn’t allowed to have the kinds of problems I was having. My parents and everyone around me basically denied that there was more going on with me than “character issues”, and I wasn’t allowed to be anything other than “normal”. I was expected to continue to play, to be social, to interact with other kids whose normal physical contact during games hurt me like they were pounding on me, to go outside in the blinding sun, and to be involved in all the activities that others did.

And by all means, I was NOT supposed to “sit it out” — “it” being anything. I was supposed to be involved, connected, social. Good grief.

The idea that my brain wasn’t processing things as well as it might have, and that I needed time and patience to put things together, was as foreign to everyone then, as any idea could be. As long as I was breathing and conscious, I was expected to step up and perform. No excuses. No exceptions. And so I did. I dove in and played along, even though things were not clicking as well as they might have.

The problem was, I had a bit of an impulse control issue. I said and did things that I really shouldn’t have. Mean things. Unkind things. Cruel things, even. And when I said and did some pretty sh*tty things to one of the new neighbor kids in the summer before 12th grade, I paid for it in my 7th grade year.

Turns out, the neighbor kids had friends — as in, a gang. And they were all bigger than me. And they were pissed. I was very small for my age, up until the summer I turned 13, so I was easy to push around. And all the bigger kids — a year ahead of me in school — weren’t afraid to do just that.

So, I spent my 7th grade year (1977-1978) in hiding, disappearing into corners and ducking into bathroom stalls, when I saw that gang coming. Needless to say, I didn’t make a lot of friends that year. There were some kids who reached out to me, but that was an awkward school year anyway, and I wasn’t up to it. Still adjusting. Still figuring out how to live my life without getting my ass kicked.

I got a skateboard, then fell off it because my balance was terrible, and I ended up in my Dad’s workshop, learning how trucks are put together. I grew my hair long and spent a lot of time in the woods. I read some, but I didn’t really understand what I was reading, so I made up my own stories in my head and I acted them out in solo live-action role playing scenarios. I was alone, and I liked it that way.

The summer of 1978, things changed dramatically. I started to grow. Nobody else in my family did it quite like I did, but by the time I was in 8th grade, I was 5 inches taller. I got my hair cut, I became more coordinated, and I found peace in my own head — at the top of trees I climbed to get away from it all.

I found my places where I could go to get away from everything, and when I went back to school in the fall, the bullies were gone. They were a year ahead of me, and they had gone on to high school. So, I was free to come and go and move about as I pleased.

8th grade was the year I started getting friends. Everybody at my school was very social, very community minded. And even though I tried to keep to myself, people pulled me into their groups to talk to them, to interact with them. Everybody wanted everyone else to be part of one group or another. Loners were not allowed, which I suppose is sometimes for the best.

I tried getting involved in sports, but organized sports with coaches and drills and regular practices had no appeal for me. It was too structured. Too demanding. I wanted to just flow… and to be good at what I did. I wasn’t very good at the team sports that were offered, especially basketball, which was way too confusing for me. I just couldn’t figure that one out.

But otherwise, things started to loosen up. I don’t have a lot of memories of my 8th grade year, and I was still keeping to myself for the most part. I discovered I had a quick wit and was a bit of a smart aleck, and while the teachers weren’t fond of that, my classmates were. I also discovered that I got along with everyone — from jocks to “brains” to “(pot)heads” to regular everyday folks who didn’t do anything out of the ordinary, but had jobs outside of school or were working towards their dreams.

I also became more involved at the church my parents attended. I was in a strange situation at church, because there was a really active youth program, but I was in between two “bubbles” of age groups. Rather than hold me back with the younger kids, my parents asked if I could be included with the older kids. I was still in 8th grade, but I could hang out with the high school kids. It really brought me along — and in an environment that was safe and respectful and principled. The other kids really took me in and made me feel welcome, and I learned a lot about how to interact with “normal” people just by being around them.

As far as anyone could tell, I was just shy. To them, I wasn’t impaired, I wasn’t having trouble understanding what people were saying to me or keeping track of conversations, and I certainly didn’t have processing issues, as far as they were concerned. I did my best to keep up, and I learned to keep quiet when I wasn’t keeping up. People just thought I was shy, and that was fine with me.

Eventually, I learned how to keep up. We had a lot of structured activities in the church youth group, which made it much easier for me to interact. If I was given a “thing” to do, I was fine. I still felt marginal, and I had trouble keeping up. But I figured out how to present myself in ways that disguised my difficulties. I learned how to pace myself and “present” in ways that were socially useful. And that worked out in my favor quite a bit.

I think that my experiences with being small and vulnerable and bullied made it easier for me to relate to a wide variety of people. I knew what it was like to be on the outside, to be made to feel not-important and insignificant. My mTBI experiences also shaped my view. I knew how it felt to be treated badly for no reason you could understand, to have more expected of you than you could reasonably do, and to lose faith in yourself completely.

I knew how all that felt, from a very early age, and I never wanted to do that to anyone else. If anything, I wanted to help others rise above that and really live their lives as best they could. I knew how terrible it felt, to be so vulnerable and afraid, and I hated the thought that anyone else around me might feel it. For me to feel it was one thing, but watching others in such pain as well… that was just too much.

In any case, I got through 1978, and it ended on an up note, with me learning that basketball and other team sports requiring speed and coordination were not my forte. I was starting to get on my feet again, after being spared the bullying for the second half of the year, and I was beginning to find my way.

It was exciting… thrilling… It really felt like things were turning around for me.

A little back-to-school info for concussed kids

Just found A School Administrator’s Guide to Academic Concussion Management

Check it out. Information like this is very  important. Because kids who get concussed — who have TBIs — need to be understood, not “disciplined” or punished because “they’re not trying hard enough”.

Heaven knows. I’ve been there. It’s no fun – for anyone.

A little knowledge can go a long way to making things better. For everyone.

Rest day – sort of

Chill
My right shoulder has been giving me some trouble, lately, so I didn’t lift today. I stretched. Amazing how tight my shoulder is. It feels better now – I think I just haven’t been stretching it enough, and the muscles are pulling everything out of whack.

So, I stretched. And I need to do more of that during the course of my days. It doesn’t take much. I just need to remember to do it. Sitting in front of a computer all day tends to be hard on the body.

I’ve got an appointment with my neuropsych this afternoon. Today we’re going to talk more about my eventful childhood in hopes of better understanding some of the gut reactions that slow me down and make my life more difficult than it has to be. My history of pediatric TBI “loaded me up” with a bunch of experiences that have burdened me for many years, and my rigid thinking kind of cemented some self-perceptions in place.

Now I have a chance to turn that around. I don’t want pity, and I don’t want to get too overwrought over things. My NP tends to be good about not riling me up, and when I do get bent out of shape, they’re pretty good about backing off.

Except when they’re not.

But that’s another story.

Anyway, I am asking for help at work with some things I’ve fallen behind on, and that’s a sign of progress. I just realized that this morning — it’s progress, not a sign of failure. Everybody needs help now and then. What makes me so different?

Anyway, I’m trying to get to work at a decent time today. I don’t want to run late like I did yesterday — it gets my day off to a bad start. I’m off to a better start today, than yesterday. I got 5-1/2 hours of sleep last night – up from the 4-1/2 on Sunday night. The relatives coming to visit over the weekend really got me unbalanced, with regard to my schedule and my nervous system, and some things happened last night with my spouse that also got me riled. Not terrible things, just upsetting stories about what happened on their business trip.

So, I’m pretty tired today. And I see my NP this afternoon… and then I have a late meeting at 7:30 p.m. with some colleagues overseas. Fortunately there’s a “quiet room” at work where I can lie down and take a nap if I need one. I did that yesterday, and I woke up feeling 100% better. Well, 85% better… but that’s a hell of a lot better than when I decided I needed a nap.

More progress — I took myself to the quiet room and got 20 minutes of rest, instead of driving myself with caffeine and sugar.

Anyway, time to get going. More to come.

Onward.

There were 10 minutes left on Christmas Day…

Settling in

I’d watched the movies and the football games, eaten the food, and spent time with family. All the workaday folks were winding down and heading to bed, while the night-owls stayed up, surfing the channels, talking into the wee hours, and making up for time lost between visits.

It had been a good day, a morning melt-down notwithstanding.

And the next day promised to be a good one, as well. And it was.

Now the visit is winding down, we’re getting ready to pack up… last-minute cups of coffee and time to chat and just spend time in the same room with each other… It’s been a good visit, with far less drama and upheaval than other holidays. Part of it is that I’m managing better. Part of it is that we’re all a lot more willing to just let things go. We’ve all got a much clearer view of what’s important, and we’re sticking with that.

Here’s what I wrote on Christmas night…

These visits are never easy, to be completely honest. Seeing my family, seeing the next generation of nieces and nephews who have their whole lives ahead of them, I am taken back, time and time again, to a place in my prior experience where I was as convinced as any of them that I was bound to do something big and important… that I didn’t belong in that place with those people… that I was made for bigger things… that I had what it took to make my dreams come true, and all I really needed was time and freedom to move and build what I had in my head and heart.

I think all of us have that, when we’re young. And it’s a good and wonderful thing. Imagine how the world would be, if we didn’t. I’m not sure it’s a place I would want to be part of. And I’d have to take it upon myself to change it.

What I never imagined would be the case, was that the “passing” issues I had would not pass. That they would become bigger issues. That they would stick around and snowball and lead to other issues. And the relatively minor deals with my abbreviated attention span, my susceptibility to distraction, my spotty working memory, would ultimately morph into much bigger problems, simply because I didn’t understand the nature of them… and I would never take steps to substantively address them till many decades later, after much harm had been done – to myself and to those around me.

How could I have know how far from myself I would stray, and how many flawed perceptions of myself I would ultimately indulge and evolve over time, creating an essentially altered state for myself that kept me from doing and being all those things I dreamed of doing and being as a young kid.

Yes, it’s the end of the year. And now that we’re winding down, I think back to when I was much, much younger, when I was really struggling with memory issues in school, struggling with a spotty attention span, struggling with remembering to do things… thinking all the while that I was intentionally not doing things… thinking that my inability to keep things in my mind for long was a sign of individuality and rebellion, rather than the after-effects of concussion. I’m not sure I had a thorough enough understanding of my situation to get scared by it. All I knew was, something else was always turning out to be more interesting than what I was working on for extended periods of time. I had no way of knowing that it wasn’t my individuality asserting itself – it was an impaired working memory, constant restlessness from the concussions I’d had, and big problems with impulse control and thinking through my decisions.

And my teachers thought I was a loser. Lazy. Immature. Way too impulsive for my own good. They did not know or fully realize how I’d been concussed – not once, not twice, but at least five times by my senior year in high school. Heck, maybe many more times than that, because as a younger kid, I’d had balance problems and had been a real rough-houser – hitting my head and getting dizzy and groggy, and getting up and keeping on playing, was always just part of the game. It wasn’t a reason to stop playing, it was a reason to keep playing.

It sounds bizarre to think about it now, but all those times when I got dinged and felt like I was about to wobble off my axis, there was something about the experience that actually energized me and got me all jazzed up. I didn’t want to back off at all, when it happened. Oh, sure, I’d slow down for a little bit, but I was back in the thick of things soon enough, regardless of that sick feeling in my stomach, the woozy feeling in my head, and the feeling that I couldn’t find my feet. It was just part of the game for me, getting knocked around and such.

And you know, if someone had come to me and said, “Dude, you have to sit this one out, ’cause you’re dizzy and are sensitive to light,” I would have laughed them off. The times when I actually did get taken out of games were when I was so obviously punch-drunk that there was no sense in me being on the field anymore. Those were also games that had adult supervision, and I’m fortunate that I grew up in an area and a time where adults had a sense of serious responsibility for protecting kids – because they were kids – not pushing them on and on like we were miniature soldiers who just had to be goaded hard enough to act like grown-up soldiers. We were kids, and that was that, and nobody screwed around with making sure we didn’t feel badly about ourselves if we crossed a line. When a line was crossed, there were consequences, and tough luck if you didn’t like it. You were a kid. They were the adults. Everyone was clear about the chain of command.

But when the adults weren’t watching, there was all kinds of hell to pay. I dished it out. And I took it, too. I was a scrapper and a jock. I was one of those kids who was always out on the leading edge, pushing the envelope and pushing my body to win, win, win. Because it felt good. Not only because people cheered for me, though they did, but because that’s who I was and that’s what I did. The times when I got yanked out of games because of injuries were some of the worst times for me. Because the minute I left the field, “incapacitated” by my coach’es decision, I stopped being the “me” I understood and valued the most. The minute I was off the field, away from the team, not part of the action, was the minute I started being less of a person… and more of a loser.

It wasn’t just that I couldn’t be part of the team. It was that the part of me that I recognized the most, the part of me that gave me the greatest satisfaction, the part of me that had rules and guidelines to follow and was rewarded for something in my life – for once – instead of being constantly punished for crap I didn’t fully understand… that part was gone. And it wasn’t coming back till I could get back on the field.

I’m not sure that anyone who hasn’t played youth sports can understand the loss that comes from being yanked off the field because of a “bump on the head”. It can be devastating. Because it literally – to your reeling brain – makes no sense. You can’t understand on your own what is happening to you, and you can’t detect the things that may be obvious to the trainer or the coach or your other teammates. It just doesn’t make any sense.

In my own case, when I got that concussion during that chance pick-up tackle football game, even when I was down on the ground, dazed and wondering WTF… and then I got up and was unable to run in a straight line, hold the ball, or follow basic calls… it still hadn’t registered fully to me that something was wrong. I was ready and willing to keep playing, no matter what. Nothing could stop me, aside from my obedience to a coach who saw something was wrong with me and stopped the game completely, when I refused to sit out.

And thinking back to how it was, how it felt, how I experienced it, I think perhaps one of the most important things a person can do with a concussed kid, is to help them understand what the hell is going on with them. Even if every brain injury is different, even if we can’t always tell what’s going on with a particular individual, even if the symptoms can shift and change and evolve over time, still, it’s vitally important to get young athletes to comprehend what is going on with them. We may not have all the answers right off the bat, but it is certainly possible to at least work with the athlete and help them cultivate some measure of self-awareness about their condition and their capabilities, that lets them not only better assess their own symptoms and experience as they (hopefully) clear, but which may also help them avoid future situations that can put them in more danger.

It’s a tough one – a very, very tough one – this work with concussions among young athletes. It’s tough with athletes of any age, but especially with youth who have so much ahead of them, who stand to lose so much, and whose brains are more susceptible to long-term injury… there’s so much at stake, and so much less room for error.

God, when I think back… and I think about how things might have been, had I not been hurt so many times when I was a kid… But who can say, really, how things would have turned out? I might have become a good, dutiful citizen who makes all the “right” choices and has all the “right” answers in life, all the while racking up the social points and the kudos and the degrees and what-not.

But then again, I might have become the perfect tool for the perfect system, and just turned into another cog in the machine that turns the world ’round and ’round. And I’m not sure I would have wanted that. I might have gotten it all right, only to discover one day that getting it right wasn’t what I wanted at all.

Still, though, having those concussions made it a hell of a lot more difficult to decide what I wanted for myself – and to stick with it. I may have known briefly what I wanted, but I just didn’t have the resources to stick with it. Just didn’t. Those resources sorta kind evaporated over time… and I was left with a handful of strategies that I pieced together bit by bit, that worked now and then, but rarely consistently, and certainly not over the long term.

And here I sit, pushing 50, sitting in my in-laws’ spare bedroom, wishing to god that I didn’t have to get up and face my hyper-achieving relatives in the morning. But I do. So I guess I’ll call it a night and get some sleep. These things are easier to do, when I’m rested.

So, I’ll rest.

Good night.

Offline for about a week

Well, it looks like I’m going to be pretty limited for the next week or so. I’m traveling for the break between Christmas and New Years and I don’t have a lot of internet connectivity. I do ahve this smart phone to send messages with, but the keyboard is pretty small and hard to use. We’ll see how this goes.

I’m at my in-laws for the next few days, followed by lots of interstate driving. So far the trip has been good, my naqgging sense of professional limitations notwithstanding.

One of the things that always makes this time with relatives more challenging is the fact that my in-laws are pretty much at the top of the food chain – doctors and high-power execs and high society types.

And then there’s me, the chronic under-achiever who is barely scraping by. I try not to let it get to me, but it’s so obviois how wide the class and income divide is, I have to step away periodically to bolster my self-esteem.

Somehow, reminding myself that I can now get through the morning without eviscerating muself over being a clumsy lout doesn’t move me quite like being a world-class oncologist might. And glorying in the fact that I Have A Job and I am payong my bills seems so lame, compared with being on call at some big-ass medical facility that’s the gold standard for cutting-edge treatment.

I know it should not bother me and I should count my blessings, but as I watch my nieces and nephews get on with lives thay are full of achievement, I cannot help but think of my own screwed-up childhood – thanks you Traumatic Brain Injury… thank you, general public ignorance about tbi and concussion. And I cannot help but cringe inside when I hear my relatives talking about how I could do this or that, too.

I can practically hear them wondering why I haven’t.

But I’m hunkering down on that pity-pot again. And looking forward to the next year, I am thinking more and more about how I might use my own experience to assist others. I also think a lot about my childhood concussions and how they affected me.

When I think about how much they cost me, it’s enough to make me ill. And when the nausea fades, I cannot help but think how many others there are out there like me, who lose so much at such a young age, when their whole lives are ahead of them.

I’ve written before about wanting to talk about my early tbi problems, but I have not done as much as I would like. So, now I can.

Provided I have a real computer to work on, that is…

But enough about my angst. Have a Happy, anyway.