Great list of #concussion resources

Right Relevance has a great list of concussion / tbi resources at http://www.rightrelevance.com/search/influencers?query=concussion&taccount=concussionsrr&time=1451316933.24 – you need to login to see the whole “batch”, but it’s well worth it!

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Learning with all your senses

I just got a tip from headinjurytalk.com about a new study that’s out about how movement and images can help with learning a new language – read about it here: http://neurosciencenews.com/vocabulary-learning-sensory-perception-1742/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+neuroscience-rss-feeds-neuroscience-news+%28Neuroscience+News+Updates%29

What interests me is not so much the foreign language thing (thought I wouldn’t mind brushing up on some of my high school skills), but the overall learning implications.

As I’ve said before, TBI recovery is all about learning. You need to re-train your brain to do things differently. You need to re-train your mind and your body to handle things better. TBI recovery is very much a learning-oriented phenomenon, so anything that helps you learn, is a good thing.

I think that the foreign language orientation of this study is also interesting, because after TBI, you can literally feel like you’re living in a foreign country. And sometimes you can’t make sense of what people are saying to you. That happened to me after a couple of TBIs I had in the past. Suddenly, nothing that anyone was saying, was making any sense.

At all.

It was like I was watching a movie with missing frames, or listening to a radio station with poor reception, or watching a video that had to keep buffering. Nothing was flowing well, and I couldn’t understand what people were saying to me.

So, movement and sensory input helps people learn and translate a foreign language. And movement and sensory input have been really important for my own recovery, though perhaps for different reasons. I use the same principles in my TBI recovery that parents use with their small kids, trying to have as rich an environment as possible, with cognitive challenges punctuating my day… along with rest… I try to get plenty of rest.

I want to give my brain plenty to play with, including music and interesting videos to watch and interesting papers and books to read. I got myself a tablet, and I read books on it — I’ve heard that the lighted screen actually helps the brain to process information better, and that seems to be the case with me. And of course, I need my exercise. Whether or not it’s related to what I’m learning, exercise is still vital to my recovery. You need oxygen to feed your cells and your brain. Balanced breathing. Stretching. (Which, by the way, has resolved my recent crazy balance issues that were making my daily life unsafe.)

It’s all connected, and it’s always nice to see new research coming out that confirms that for the scientific community.

Picking up the pieces – and loving it

Sometimes it all comes apart – so we have to put it back together again

I’m having a pretty excellent time off. It’s absolutely luxurious, to have “off” from Christmas till the Monday after New Year’s. I don’t have to go anywhere, I have no external obligations, and I can just be at home, living life the way I want to, not having to answer to anyone except my best judgment.

Not that I’ve been idle. I’ve had time to take care of a lot of things that have been languishing in the background for some time. I’ve had the chance to really think things through more deeply than ever, and get my priorities in order. I realize that I’ve spent a whole lot of time churning and being busy for its own sake, rather than being strategic and focusing my efforts on the things that would really produce something useful.

Case in point: Research projects.

I have had a number of research projects in the works over the years, and I’ve always approached them as “one-off” endeavors. I would research something, write something up about it, and then move on to the next thing. Sometimes it was a completely different field  — like the time I researched and wrote up something about the mythology of OId England, then started researching archaeological digs of the Russian steppes and wrote something up about that. I researched language and thought… then moved on to quantum mechanics… then transferred my attention to personal training and physiology.

I’ve written different things along the way, and while some of them had some good in them, none of them is anything I’d really want to put out there. The thought processes are disjointed and disconnected, and none of it is rigorous enough to be taken seriously.

All these projects were geared towards different audiences — sometimes at the other end of the spectrum. And none of them were really deep enough to deserve anyone’s attention.

I’ve been flitting from one interest to another for a long, long time, building on my knowledge in new and interesting ways, but never treating anything like it had real substance.

And small wonder. Because all those years, I was dealing with a number of issues with attention and memory, that I never knew were there. I had no idea how much fatigue affected me, and I had no idea how crappy my short-term working memory was. I mis-remembered things all the time, and I had no idea I was doing so. Even when I wrote it down and looked at it later, I didn’t realize just how off-base I was.

Having that neuropsychological assessment to give me feedback and measurements of what my real skills were, was life-changing. It transformed everything, and I’ve been piecing back together my hopes and dreams, once shred at a time. Seriously, I had all but given up hope, years ago. But there was still something in me that pushed me forward, that urged me to keep going, to keep trying, to keep on with everything. I just couldn’t quit. Just couldn’t.

I had to keep trying. Keep looking. Keep searching. Till I found the missing pieces I needed.

Now I have those missing pieces — the most important being the knowledge that I’ve sustained a number of TBIs over the course of my life, and they can and do have an impact on my thought process and how well (or poorly) my body works. When I’m having trouble with my temper because of fatigue, or I’m anxious because of light and sound sensitivity and being in pain, or I am having trouble understanding what people are saying to me, I am much more keenly aware of the reasons for all the blocks and hurdles that crop up — which means I’m much better able to deal with them.

And I do deal with them. In ways I never could before.

After all, you can’t fix things if you don’t know they’re broken. And there was a lot of broken stuff about me that needed fixing.

That broken-ness was more about process and systems, than it was about me and my essential self. It was about how I did things, not who I was. And fixing the broken stuff has made all the difference in the world.

Some people say that finding out what’s wrong, can be defeating and debilitating. I find it very freeing. Because it gives me something to work towards. I am always confident that I can find a way, one way or another. Why not? Plenty of other people do, and they’re not that much smarter than I am.

So, bit by bit, I am pulling things together, and it feels great. Spending more time thinking and strategizing, and less time on busy-work, is just the ticket for me. It’s a great way to finish up the year and start fresh with the new one.

Onward.

It really does matter how you look at things — and yes, you can choose

Your brain is more powerful than you think!

So, after posting about working on my perspective, I took a quick look at my Twitter feed, and I found a mention of a new study that’s been published:

Neurophysiological correlates of various mental perspectives.

From the Abstract:
A common view of consciousness is that our mind presents emotions, experiences, and images in an internal mental (re-)presentation space which in a state of wakefulness is triggered by the world outside. Consciousness can be defined as the observation of this inner mental space. We propose a new model, in which the state of the conscious observer is defined by the observer’s mental position and focus of attention. The mental position of the observer can either be within the mental self (intrapersonal space), in the mental outer world (extrapersonal space) or in an empathic connection, i.e., within the intrapersonal space of another person (perspective taking). The focus of attention can be directed toward the self or toward the outside world. This mental space model can help us to understand the patterns of relationships and interactions with other persons as they occur in social life. To investigate the neurophysiological correlates and discriminability of the different mental states, we conducted an EEG experiment measuring the brain activity of 16 subjects via 64 electrodes while they engaged in different mental positions (intrapersonal, extrapersonal, perspective taking) with different attentional foci (self, object). Compared to external mental locations, internal ones showed significantly increased alpha2 power, especially when the observer was focusing on an object. Alpha2 and beta2 were increased in the empathic condition compared to the extrapersonal perspective. Delta power was significantly higher when the attentional focus was directed toward an object in comparison to the participant’s own self. This exploratory study demonstrates highly significant differences between various mental locations and foci, suggesting that the proposed categories of mental location and intra- and interpersonal attentional foci are not only helpful theoretical concepts but are also physiologically relevant and therefore may relate to basic brain processing mechanisms.

I downloaded the paper – you can get it here http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fnhum.2014.00637/pdf – but I haven’t had a chance to read it, yet. There are some pictures with color, which are probably going to be cool to look at, once I get my head on straight today. I’m still a bit foggy from this past week. But I’ll have some free time this afternoon to chill and relax and rest, and hopefully read this paper.

Basically, it sounds like they’re saying that your state – your experiences, emotions, and images in life – can be determined by internal focus, rather than external circumstances. That focus can be on others, or on yourself. But the important part is — it’s your focus, it’s your choice. And different parts of the brain “light up”, depending which choices you make about what to focus on.

Where you put your focus determines how your brain "lights up"
Where you put your focus determines how your brain “lights up” – downloaded the paper here http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fnhum.2014.00637/pdf

Or, more simply put – we don’t have to be victims of circumstance and pushed around at the mercy of the rest of the world. We can choose how we want to feel and think and experience our lives, regardless of external circumstances.

Of course, this is assuming that you have the energy to focus your attention on what you want to think and feel. If you’re in poor health and you feel like crap and you have no energy, it can be pretty tough to keep a positive outlook.

But it can be done.

Who am I today?

Summary / Bottom Line

I don’t feel like myself, these days. I haven’t felt “like myself” in a long time. And all the hopes and dreams I once had as a kid, seem so far from me. But maybe, just maybe, I am truly living my hopes and dreams… I just don’t feel like I am. And that changed sense of myself is keeping me from realizing how much my life really does resemble my onetime hopes and dreams. Restoring a sense of self can be a huge challenge with traumatic brain injury, and adjusting to how things truly are, versus how they appear to be, or feel, is one of my biggest challenges.


I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about my identity… who I was when I was a kid, who I am now, and who I’ve been along the way. I recently had a birthday, and while I don’t feel like I’m having a mid-life crisis, I still have been thinking a whole lot about whether I am where I expected / hoped / planned to be, when I was younger.

I know that “life happens” and we can end up very far from where we wanted to be when we were younger. And to be honest, I’m not even sure if I had specific plans about the trajectory of my life, when I was younger.

I do know that what I wanted more than anything, was to become a scientific researcher. I wanted to go to school to get a bunch of degrees, and then focus on research. I’m not sure what kind of researcher I wanted to become — I just wanted to study, collect information, synthesize it, and publish it.

I also wanted to be a writer. Maybe more than being a researcher. Being a writer is what I always wanted to BE. Research is what I wanted to DO. In a way, being a writer is like being a researcher – it’s not the same type of science, but there’s a sort of science to it — observing, drawing conclusions, testing your hypotheses, etc.

Over the course of my life… well, life happened. I got hurt. A bunch of times. I fell and hit my head a bunch of times. I got in car accidents a bunch of times. I was attacked. I did stupid things. And I got hurt. I also had a lot of chronic pain that knocked me out of the running when I was in my early 20s. And I got in trouble with the law and some rough characters, and I had to go on the lam when I was in my late teens, which limited my future prospects.

Now, looking back, I see how so-so-so many opportunities have been out of reach for me, because of everything that happened back then. I have done my best to patch things up over the course of my life, and relatively speaking, I’ve done extremely well for myself.

But am I really where I want to be today?

I’m not sure. This life I’m leading doesn’t look and feel like I hoped it would. It feels strange and foreign to me. Hell, I feel strange and foreign to me. I feel like a stranger to myself, half the time. I don’t have that feeling of being “comfortable in my skin” that people talk about.

Now, I used to have that feeling. I used to have a clear sense of who I was and what I stood for. And I didn’t let anyone hold me back. Even when I was getting in trouble with the law and then went underground, living overseas till things quieted down here, I had a clear sense of who I was, and what I stood for. I had to change my life for a while, and I couldn’t do a lot of the things I had once enjoyed doing — like going anywhere I wanted, whenever I wanted. But it didn’t feel like I’d lost a part of myself. I’d screwed up for sure, but I was determined to fix things.

When I was in all that crippling pain, 25 years ago, I had to let go of a lot of activities that had once meant a lot to me. I had to stop exercising and spending time outside in the sun. The diagnosis that the doctors came up with was probably wrong (I never had tests that confirmed or denied it 100% — they didn’t have good tests, back then). But I had to take steps in any case. As it turned out, the things that I was told not to do — exercise a lot, move a lot, test myself physically — were exactly the kinds of things that I needed to do to alleviate my pain. Movement and staying active was NOT going to hurt me. Being sedentary was.

In those years when I was dealing with the pain, I lost of lot of things that meant a lot to me. I couldn’t eat and drink the same things anymore, and I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do. But I didn’t have a sense of having lost myself. I was still who I was, and I was clear about that.

Now things feel so strange and foreign to me. It’s hard for me to describe. Even though I know I’m doing better, and I have numbers and feedback from friends and family that indicate I’m improving, I still don’t feel like myself. It’s hard to describe — just that someone else seems to have taken up residence in my life.

I know my personality has changed a good deal, since my fall in 2004. And it kind of freaks me out, because that wasn’t the first mild TBI I’d ever had. I’ve had a bunch — probably about 9. I’ve been assaulted once, had at least 4-5 falls, got hurt a couple of times playing soccer, got majorly dinged while playing football, I’ve had a couple of car accidents, and so forth. But not until I fell in 2004, did it totally screw up my life.

Not until the past years, have I felt like a stranger to myself.

It’s kind of getting me down, too. At least, it has been. I try not to think about it, but it’s still always there… Who am I today? What am I going to do today that doesn’t seem “like me”? What am I going to feel and think and say and do that doesn’t seem consistent with the person I know myself to be?

That feeling of observing yourself going through life… it’s weird. Disorienting. I resolve over and over again, to hang in there and just keep plugging, until I see some glimmer of who I am. And sometimes it works. I’ve been feeling more like “myself” lately, which is nice. But at the same time, I don’t quite trust it. Like in Flowers For Algernon, when the main character stops taking the medicine that made him think and act like a normal person… and he drifts back into his old state. Whenever things are going well for me, I feel like I’m looking over my shoulder for signs that I’m slipping back into not recognizing myself.

I would like to stop this. It’s not fun, and it’s not productive. It serves no one, and being on high alert over it just kills my quality of life.

So, over the weekend, when I had time to think about it, I realized that maybe it would be better if I just acclimated to this feeling and let it be. It could be that I actually am getting back to my old self — I just don’t have the sense that I am. It could be that I’m even better than my old self. There’s a good chance of that, because my old self was majorly concussed and had all sorts of issues that I didn’t even realize. It could be that I’m in better shape than ever before… but I don’t have the sense of it being so, and therefore I don’t trust it.

I don’t feel like I’m myself, most of the time. Maybe all of the time. But maybe I actually am. Maybe the missing piece is NOT my personality and my identity, but the sense of my personality and identity. Just because the sense of being who I am isn’t there, doesn’t mean I can’t BE there myself.

Rather than getting all caught up in recreating that sense of myself, maybe I need to just get on with living, regardless of the sense of myself. Maybe I just need to trust it… not place such high demands on what qualifies me as me, or not-me.

And maybe — just maybe — the life I have now is exactly what I was hoping /expecting / planning / dreaming I’d have, back when I was a kid. Looking around at my study and thinking about how I live my life, I realize that I am doing exactly what I always wanted to do, when I was younger — reading and researching and writing and publishing. I write and publish this blog. I read and research TBI-related materials (especially concussion and mild TBI) and I spend a lot of time thinking about them.

I also read and research other subjects and write about them, though I haven’t published much of that … yet. I am getting to a place where I soon will, and then I will have that to my credit, as well. This is all done independently, according to my own standards. I’m not doing it professionally, but I have managed to help some people, here and there along the way. That much is clear from the comments on my blog.

So, even though it may feel like I’m one person, the objective facts reveal something quite different. And for me, it seems the challenge is to not let feelings of weirdness and alienation and failure stop me from just getting on with my life.

At some point, I just need to trust. I’m working on it.

Onward.
 

Three days of freedom. Absolute freedom.

Time to just chill with the reading list

I’m OFF this weekend. That is to say, I have an extra day off work, which I will value and use to the best of my ability:

  • I’ll read whatever I like, wandering the internet (especially the free text sites — the Internet Archive, and Project Gutenberg)
  • I’ll write whatever I like, typing up the handwritten notes and thoughts I’ve collected over the past week
  • I’ll sleep whenever I want, taking plenty of naps and resting up from the past week
  • I’ll eat whatever I want, whenever I want — and I’ll fast, too. For the record, eating whatever I want means I’ll make healthy choices of the foods I have in my refrigerator and cupboards. At work they have a good salad bar, but that’s about all I can really eat in their establishment. Everything else is “standard fare” that doesn’t do me (or the other overweight people around me) much good.
  • I’ll exercise however I want. I had extra time this morning to lift heavier weights and get my blood pumping. It feels really good, right now, after that workout. And I know I’m on the right path.

The great thing about having an extra day off — especially with it being the holiday — is that all my noisy neighbors are gone. They’ve all gone off to their families’ lake or beach cottages to gather with their own friends and family. That means the neighborhood is

.  .  .  q   u   i   e   t  .  .  .

Deliciously, restoratively quiet.

There isn’t all sorts of random racket from my over-achieving Type-A uber-adult peers who can’t seem to leave the power tools alone on the weekends. There isn’t all sorts of activity, with cars and pickups and minivans pulling in and out of their driveways. And there isn’t a lot of yelling and screaming and banging and clunking coming from kids who are just doing what kids do, and have every right to do it… but who drive me nuts with all their noisy activity.

It’s good for everyone. Everybody else gets to do what they want to do, and I get to do what I need to do — rest, relax, take plenty of time to unwind and let my mind off its leash… And nobody has to be held back or put down by what anyone else is doing.

That’s all I really want — the ability to be free to be myself and pursue my own interests without having to waste time on interacting with other people who seem mainly interested in proving what fine citizens they are. I don’t need to prove that. Before I fell and hit my head in 2004, I needed to do that more than anything. I was in competition with the rest of the world to show that I was worth something, that I could do anything I set my mind to, that I was worth noticing and taking seriously.

After I fell — and my world fell apart — I learned the hard way, how important it is to not let that drive me. Now my life and my priorities are very, very different.

One thing about TBI, is that it teaches you to stand on your own, regardless of what others think. It teaches you to stand up for yourself and not take things for granted. It teaches you to keep a level head and just be who you are and how you are, regardless.  And it teaches you to value the simple things in life — a quiet long weekend, when the neighbors are all gone, the area is quiet, and you don’t have a million people clamoring for your attention and energy.

Now… what shall I look up on line…?

Not giving in

Ha – just try me 😉

I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about my processing speed. I’ve been feeling dull and stupid — probably because of my new job that has me sitting on the sidelines and training, before I dive in — and I’m not putting 2 and 2 together quite as well as I’d like.

At least, not yet.

I know I’ve only been on the job three weeks, but I feel like I should be more coherent. I’m having a lot of trouble expressing myself, and I have to really think about what I’m going to say before I say it. I’ve been looking around online to find sites that can teach me how to organize my thoughts. This is getting on my nerves, and I’m starting to get a complex about it. I want to be in the flow, getting live experience… but they have me sidelined, just watching, as though that’s going to help anything.

I know I’m not the only one who’s feeling this. The other two folks who joined when I did are also feeling sidelined and underutilized. We all want to get going and make things happen, and we don’t have that opportunity just yet. We have to learn by doing, but everyone is so afraid of making a mistake, we can’t move forward.

Argh!

My processing speed, as I mentioned, is really troubling me. I know I have a lot of new information I need to integrate and learn to use. So, I need to cut myself a break, relax and recuperate, and give myself time to breathe and settle in. I’m doing that this weekend, occupying my attention with things other than work, relaxing, taking it easy, getting some exercise (which really helps), and checking in with myself about what matters most to me in my life.

I just need to trust the whole process and know that in time I will learn, things will make sense to me, and I’ll have sufficient experience to draw on to make the right decisions about the right things. I need to keep my spirits up, not let on how dejected I get, and keep positive, no matter what. The people around me at work are typical Americans — they need me to be positive and up-beat and can-do, use all the catch-phrases and industry jargon. There’s no room for realism and acknowledging human limits as just part of everyday life. That’s just depressing! And it’s not how Americans are supposed to believe and behave!  At least, not the overachieving top performers that they all aspire to be.

One of the things that makes this job more challenging than need be, is that everyone there is convinced that their company is special and unique and totally unlike anything else on the planet. Silly. They remind me of plenty of other companies I’ve worked for — and they start to squirm when I say so.

I suppose having that sense that they’re unlike any other company helps with fostering a sense of community and “tribe”. Us against them. All that. The thing is, they’re not really that essentially different from other companies. They have their way of doing things, which is just a learned thing. And they have their specific “pain points” that they need to deal with. They design and produce technology. They’re very successful at it, but really, they’re in the same business as countless other technology companies, and they can simply get over themselves, as far as I’m concerned.

Well, fortunately I’ve got two more days before I go back to work AND I only have to work 8 hours a day, this coming week, instead of 10-11. So there. I’m expecting to work longer hours a couple more times in the next month, but then again, maybe I don’t need to work ALL those extra hours. Doing the 10-hr thing gets old. I did it before – for years – and it’s a relief to not have to do it.

Plus, what a huge deal, to get to have an hour or two in the morning to work on my own projects, before going into the office. And getting home at a decent hour… Truly awesome.

So, maybe I put in an extra hour or two, when I have to take time off. Maybe I don’t. Either way, I need to just do what I need to do, to keep my system balanced out. Just relax. And not give in to the anxiety and neurosis. Just let myself be. And be done with it.

I was getting a little peeved at a coworker who’s supposed to be training me. Rather than training me, they’re avoiding me, and they have not been inclusive at all. It’s a little annoying. They think they’re just supposed to be my “buddy” and answer questions when I have them. But our boss says I’m supposed to shadow them. I’m not keen on making a nuisance of myself, but I do need to get trained, and I do need to shadow them. They’re not inviting me to the meetings they should be. They’re actually cutting me out. So, I need our boss to clarify and make sure everyone is clear about what needs to happen.

It’s almost like they just want me to go away, which doesn’t make any sense, because they’re overworked and they need the help. I’m not going to be any use, if they don’t make the effort to train me.

But I can’t give in to paranoia. They don’t even know me yet, and a lot of people don’t think much of me when they meet me the first time. They just don’t realize what I can do, what I’m capable of achieving — and how it benefits them. I’ve got to give it time. Most people I work closely with develop issues with me until they get to know me, so I’ll just need to keep steady and let them sort out their own personal problems.

They’re not my problems.

So, that being said, I’ve had enough of thinking about that person and the situation. The weather is clearing, and I’m going to the beach later today. I’ve got some excellent reading and writing slated for this morning — I’ve gotten some great ideas from a book I’m reading… and I’m writing something to go along with it, to help me understand my own viewpoint on the subject.

It’s all in the spirit of kick-starting my brain and getting myself back into the groove of critical thinking and organizing my thoughts more clearly. Much of what I’m writing these days — aside from this blog — is personal and private and I’m not sharing much of it with anyone. I do share some of it with my spouse, and if they understand it then I know I’m on the right track, because they don’t get caught up in all the mental gymnastics that go along with intellectualizing and what-not.

So, it’s all good. I’m getting good rest and taking care of myself and easing off on the anxiety about my performance at work. For the first time in probably ever, I feel like I’m really at the right place in my life at this time — and I’m right where I always dreamed I would be, at this point in my life.

I just realized that the other day — I’m actually right where I wanted to find myself, on down the line. I’m at a place that I envisioned for myself, when I was a kid mixing up home-grown chemistry experiments in my basement, and recording the results in a composition book (note to self: I really need to find that old chemistry experiment notebook – it’s in storage somewhere). I’ve got a study of my own, with books I love and can turn to. I have a desk with a great view of my back yard, and I have the time in the day and week to really dig in and tease out the things that fascinate me. I have room to move and explore, and I’m not tied down by any licensing body or regulatory commission that’s going to stop me from pushing the limits of my understanding.

It’s all good. I was lost for a long time, dealing with life and all the challenges that came with health issues, money issues, family issues, relationship dramas, and so forth. I’ve been through a ton of sh*t that a lot of people never encounter till later. And while I might not have it all figured out, I have sufficient experience to know how to begin approaching the Big Problems of my life.

It’s all good. It truly is.

Now, onward….

The only good reason to look back

The only time you should ever look back,
is to see how far you’ve come

An old college friend messaged me this morning to catch up. It was good to hear from them, and we had a good — but brief — chat. They were one of my closest friends in college, and they saw me go through an awful lot, thanks to my heavy drinking. They tried to reach out to me to help, a number of times, but I was pretty much of a goner, in those days.

It would be easy to say it was just the drinking, but it was so much more. I really believe that the multiple concussions I had in high school had a lot to do with my attitude problems and inability to keep focused and clear about my priorities. I was not accustomed to making good decisions about the people I hung around with — in high school, I faded to the background, when the after-effects of several concussions and a whole lot of rough-housing and heavy partying took over my life.

So, by the time I got to college and I was away from the structures and restrictions of my youth, I was ready to just “let go” — and that’s exactly what I did. It only took me a year to get into real trouble, and this college friend of mine has been saying repeatedly over the past year or so that we’ve been back in touch, that they wish they had been a better friend to me. I am assuming that means they thought they could somehow save me from myself and my inner demons. Or maybe at least advocate for me better, when the police got involved, and a nasty-ass judge who favored local townspeople over ne’er-do-well college kids started making life difficult for me.

Looking back, I don’t think that there’s much of anything they could have done for me. I had too much I needed to work through, and I transferred out of that school after two years there. The next stop I made was a better solution, academically, but again I got into trouble — drinking too much, falling down drunk a lot, doing more of the same as I was before, but this time, much worse. And I isolated like crazy, which didn’t help me any.

I wonder sometimes… if I had been able to reach out for help earlier, if I had allowed others to help me (instead of pushing them away like I did), would things have turned out differently for me? It is really hard to say. Even if they had been able to be a friend to me, I doubt I could have let it all in. I was too much at odds with myself and everyone/everything around me, to really allow much to penetrate this hard head of mine. Combining a succession of mild traumatic brain injuries with drinking, was a really bad idea, but — like so many others — I did it. And it did me no good. At. All.

In any case, it’s all water under the bridge, and the experiences I have had, have made me who I am. The best reason to look back on all of it, is to see how far I have truly come, to look back on the flood waters and rapids I have navigated in my past and to be genuinely grateful that I am alive today. It didn’t have to turn out that way. I have found myself in the midst of human traffickers, drug dealers, violent criminals, and all manner of thieves, cheats, and liars, over the course of my life. The fact that I am living a good life today, with a marriage of 20+ years and a home and a favorable employment situation, is really something to celebrate, rather than regret because it’s not something else.

I’ve been grappling with that a lot, lately — regret over my past, and things not turning out better than they did. So many of my professional peers, including folks 10-15 years younger than me — are farther along and doing more with their lives. They have much better prospects than I, or so it seems. Job-wise, I do feel like I’ve been held back by my situation… until I really think about it and realize how other people with the same type of history as I are living.

I have friends who have been through similar circumstances to my own, and none of them are even close to the quality of life I have. They came from similar circumstances, but they made different choices, and now — as far as I can tell — they are in decline, while I am on the ascent. I don’t want to get caught up in making anyone better or worse than anyone else, because who can tell what is in the mind and heart of another. And yet I can’t help comparing my situation to others’.

I guess that means I’m human.

Anyway, it’s fall, and that means it’s a time of reflection and recapping the past year. I always feel like this is the end of the year, with Halloween being a sort of turning point leading into the new year. It’s a cellular thing, I guess. Growing up in farm country, Halloween was the time when everything was ready to be cut down and turned over, and the nights were obviously longer than ever, so it really felt like The End. Thanksgiving, to me, feels like the start of the year, with a kickoff celebration of what’s to come.  This time of year, with the falling leaves and shortening days, prompts me to look back on the past months to do a kind of inventory of where I’ve been and how far I’ve progressed.

I have to say, for all the challenges of the past 12 months, I have made significant progress. I’ve managed to extricate my mind from the hold of my current employer, and I have managed to stick it out long enough to not look like a flake, by leaving my employer in two years’ time. I have made some real progress in my work, achieving some pretty impressive feats – even if the cost was high. I’ve also had some real revelations about myself and where I want to fit in the world, and I’ve made some real strides with regard to my eating and exercising. I’ve become more active — all across the board — and that’s a really good thing.

With regard to the part I want to play in the world, after re-connecting with some old friends and co-workers, I’ve realized that I really did get sidetracked by the whole career thing. For the past three years, I’ve been living under the belief that by applying myself and working hard and showing real results and good progress and transforming the way my job is done, I can be a valued team player who has real career prospects. The first year in my job, that was pretty much true. The thing that held me back, was me. I didn’t put myself forward enough and I didn’t leverage the connections I had, to move forward. For the past two years, my prospects have shrunk and shriveled, and now it’s pretty clear that no matter how well I do my job, if I don’t say the right things to the right people at the right time, I’ll be perpetually marginalized and relegated to the “average 80%” pool of employees at this mega-corporation. Just a number.

Looking back, there’s part of me that regrets not pushing harder for the career advancement thing. But with a week’s vacation behind me, I realize now that it would not have worked, because that’s just not how I want to organize my life. I don’t want to be a high-flying hot-shot at work, to the point where it takes over my life and is my identity. I don’t want to give myself 100% to that path, because there is so much else I want to do with myself, and there is so much else I need to experience, beyond the realm of that whole career business.

If I had wanted to push for promotions and move up in the corporate world, I would have done it. If I had wanted to advance professionally and take it all to the next level, I would have gotten it done. But the fact of the matter is, I am deeply distrustful of that whole world, and more than anything, I want freedom and balance and the ability to move at will about the world. I’m more interested in questions, than answers, and I want to be free from any licensing agency or professional association that could impose its standards on me and shut down my voice. I would much rather hold down a day job for the structure and society, and then be free to do my own thing in my own hours.

And given that for the past three years, I’ve been in a job that has required me to be available pretty much anytime, any day, moving back to a 9-to-5 job will probably feel like a breeze. It will give me time to research TBI and to write. It will give me time to build out the library of resources I’m compiling for mild TBI understanding and recovery. It will give me time to do what I really want to do —  freely read and write and think and talk the way I see fit and am drawn to do, without the intrusion of those who crave power and influence in the world.

And that, to me, is progress. Realizing and remembering – yet again – where I am going, and why… that’s the best sign of growth and strength that I could ever get.

Looking back, there are many things that could have gone differently and could have been “better”. There’s also a lot of stuff that could have turned out a whole lot worse. All in all, it’s been a wild ride — and here I am, on down the road, with a whole lot of experience under my belt, that makes it all worth it.

Way.

So, onward we go. Looking back to see how very far I’ve come. And yes, it is very, very far.

 

PTSD/TBI Factor #7 – Societal Context

What the larger group thinks, does matter

This is a continuation of the discussion about PTSD from TBI – Exploring some possibilities.

The next factor in the development of PTSD, according to Belleruth Naparstek, is societal context — what the culture you belong to believes — and communicates to the survivor — about the source of your trauma. “The meaning and significance assigned to a  traumatic event by the larger culture makes a difference in its impact.” (Invisible Heroes, p. 52)

In an example she cites, Finnish veterans of WWII showed extremely low incidences of PTSD — the war was seen as important, the fighting spirit of the veterans was celebrated, and overall there was a relatively high sense of subjective well-being, despite disabling health issues. The sacrifices of the soldiers were celebrated by the society — in sharp contrast to American veterans of the Korean War and the Viet Nam War, whose PTSD rates were as high as 30%.

Now, when it comes to TBI, so little is actually known about it in the general populace, and there are so many misconceptions about what causes it, what it means, and where it can lead, that it’s pretty difficult sometimes to ascribe any meaning to it at all. On top of that, when you get into labeling TBI’s as “mild” or “moderate” or “slight” you not only skew the facts of the situation (every brain injury is a serious matter, not to be taken lightly) but you also diminish the significance of it.

And when the injury happens as part of a freak accident, like something falling on your head, or you falling down a flight of stairs… that makes it even worse.

So, all the upheaval you’re experiencing, all the ups and downs, the confusion, the cognitive processing issues, the light and noise sensitivities… well, it doesn’t mean all that much, really. And society doesn’t have much use for you, when you’re unable (they think unwilling) to “get your act together”. As Belleruth Naparstek puts it, “… the significance that the larger community attaches to the traumatic catalyst has the power to cushion or exacerbate PTSD symptoms.” And all too often, no significance is (or ever can be) attached to the injury, leaving TBI survivors open to post-traumatic stress, which gradually builds over time.

21 days to change… really?

I found an interesting article today (thank you Twitter) called Busting the 21 days habit formation myth. Apparently, we’ve all been under the impression that science was at the root of this belief, when the “21 day magic bullet” was pretty much anecdotal…

Not that anecdotes are wrong, but a complete world view needs a little more substantiation, in my book.