Oh, sweet, sweet relief

I finally got my first paycheck, and wonder of wonders, it is NOT less than the paycheck I was bringing home before as a contractor. For those who do not understand the significance of this, contractors typically earn 30% more than full-time employees, because of the benefits they don’t get. A full-time employee (FTE) has insurance coverage of several kinds, retirement savings, flexible savings plans for extra health expenses, and a number of other perks that usually skim off the top of the paycheck, making a sizeable dent in one’s take-home pay.

With this full-time job, that is not happening. Even with a percentage of my checks taken for the pre-tax flex savings plan, as well as my retirement savings (which my employer is matching).

I was nervous… with good reason. But wonder of wonders, I am bringing home the same amount of money I was before — AND there is quarterly performance pay for another little boost.

What an enormous relief this is. I can breathe again. I wasn’t sure how I was going to explain to my spouse that I bring home less money. They count on me “making bank”Β  — and so do I.

I can rest tonight. I’m having some supper, then it’s off to bed.

This is very good.

It is so good to be home

Good to be home again

After more than 24 hours of go-go-going, with about an hour of sleep on the flight back home, I spent most of yesterday taking care of myself. I went out with some friends around lunch time, just to catch up, then I came home and slept. For almost 7 hours.

God, that felt good. I have been operating on 5-6 hours of sleep a night, with really long days — sometimes 15 hours of non-stop going — and it is fantastic to get to just STOP moving, and basically collapse.

I could do without losing the hour, thanks to changing our clocks, but that’s the least of my concerns, right now.

I have a big week ahead of me, with some significant projects. One of them is really behind – it’s overdue, and the folks I’m working with are just not happy about it. They haven’t been happy about things for several years, but I’m not the only one to blame. They don’t do what they say they’re going to do, on time, and then they come back to me, bitching and complaining about things not being “right”.

It’s generally unsatisfactory, and nobody is happy, but that seems to be how it always goes. Frankly, the fact that I’m able to get anything done under the conditions I’m working with, is a miracle. I have a feeling things are going to be changing soon in my life and work, so I’m not going to let it get the better of me and throw me off. These things happen. Nobody likes them. They’re awkward and uncomfortable, and they’re a pain in everyone’s ass. But that’s just how things are for the time being.

It’s all experience. Just that. Experience.

Speaking of experience, I’ve decide that whatever happens in my life, I alone am responsible for the experience I get from things. Yes, there are going to be really tough times and really easy times, too. But how I react to it, and what I get out of it, is on me. I can treat the tough times like they are victimizing me, and I am helpless to prevent them. Or I can treat them like lessons and opportunities to build up my strength and reach deeper within myself for more strength and endurance.

These past weeks – the past couple of months, actually, have been all about learning to deal with adversity and looking my imperfections and shortcomings and limitations in the eye. These are very public imperfections, which are resulting in frictions and drama with my workmates, as well as compromising my work product. In the past, I have really let that get to me, when I came up short, my focus and attention failed me, and I screwed things up.

I really beat up on myself, convinced that I was broken beyond repair, and I would never amount to anything. But that wasn’t actually accurate. Those were just times when I had the opportunity to see close up and personal just where I needed to put more attention and effort.

And when all was said and done, when I held steady and didn’t let things throw me in a hyper-personal way, what I had was a greater resilience and the ability to wade into potentially distressing situations without losing my cool.

That’s been a great boon to me, because the thing that my last TBI cost me — which also cost me my job(s) and almost killed my marriage — was my ability to stay cool. In the past, I had really banked on my ability to stay calm in the face of the storm, but after my TBI in 2004, I just lost it. I couldn’t keep anything together. I was so stressed and so fried by every danged thing, that I couldn’t make it through the day without melting down or blowing up over one thing or another.

It’s all a jumbled mass of shadowy recollections in my head, now, but I can remember a number of times when I just lost it — at work as well as at home. And I really know how that impacted me — lost jobs, friction at home, a fractured marriage and lost friendships…

Now, though, I’m getting back on my feet. I just got my tax refund back, and I also actually got a bonus this year, so things are actually looking up for me. I’m able to pay off a LOT of back debts, that have been sucking hundreds of dollars from me each month. It has taken me four years to clear out debts that were the equivalent of a year’s take-home salary. It has been a long, hard slog, but I am now making payments that will wipe out ALL my old outstanding debts, even my line of credit at the bank to cover my mortgage payments. I’m getting current on all my bills, and I’m consolidating and removing extra costs that I don’t need. I am now also in a position to do some house repairs which have been waiting about ten years — since I had my TBI in 2004, and I ceased being able to deal with, well, just about anything.

I’m in a position where I can actually fix the issues with my cars, and I’m considering getting a new (to me) car to replace my commuter car that’s nearing 150,000 miles and is starting to have the kinds of problems that older cars have. Radiator needs to be replaced. Back left strut needs to be fixed, rust around the edges, and so forth. So, if I can trade in the car I have for another one, it would probably be cheaper just to get a new-to-me car, instead of having to replace and repair so much on my current vehicle.

Having that influx of money to my bank account has just solved a whole lot of stress-inducing problems, the nicest one being that whenever I go look for another job, I don’t have to push the envelope on what I’m earning, just to get by. I’m not saddled with all these infernal debt payments, and I can actually work with what I’m making, rather than watching it trickle away.

Looking at all my numbers, I can see how I can actually get ahead in the coming months and years, which is a great feeling, after the past four years of being trapped in a cycle of debt resolution, feeling like I would never get out from under.

Yes, it is really good to be home.

I have started an art gallery to explain my tbi experiences

In the course of working through my tbi issues over the past year, I’ve realized that words alone aren’t always the best way to communicate what’s going on with me. I grew up in a very verbal household — both of my parents are avid readers, and I was often found with my nose in book. I never thought of myself as an artist — my younger siblings were the “artistic” ones. I wrote stories and I focused more on words (perhaps because the act of hand-writing uses parts of the brain that are related to impulse control, and I instinctively new I needed to develop that part of my brain).

What I didn’t realize (till my mother told me within the last year) was that as a child, I had a very advanced visual “intelligence”. I drew pictures as a young kid that incorporated elements that weren’t usually seen until later in one’s development. In some ways I was a prodigy… but I think that changed, when I started to have head injuries… so that my skills and abilities were hidden behind the difficulties I had, and they were not actively developed.

In the past year, I’ve found myself drawing and painting A LOT. And I’ve found that when I draw and paint, I am actually better able to think about certain things, than if I just use words. I’ve also found myself remembering events from my life that had escaped me for many years. There’s something about the color and shapes that triggers my memories. And it also brings up a lot of emotion.

I’ve started an Imagekind Gallery (tbi-survivor.imagekind.com/art/) where my artworks can be found. I only have one piece up there, right now, and it shows how I see my back yard. But there will be more coming.

I’m pretty excited about this new development — both as a way for me to express myself and show the world I live in, and to help educate people about what it’s like to live with the after-effects of mild traumatic brain injuries.

Imagekind offers prints of my work on paper and on canvas. I hope you’ll pay a visit.

TBI Symptom of the Day: Auditory (Hyper) Sensitivity

I’m not sure what’s going on with me, these days, but I have been hearing just about everything around me much more acutely and loudly and with a lot more detail, than I recall in the past. Listening to the radio, I hear all these different aspects of the music that I normally don’t… I hear the individual instruments in the background, all of them in distinct detail… to the point where it doesn’t even sound like a single song, anymore, but a group of instruments each playing their own part.

It’s very trippy. I keep thinking I’m hearing my cell phone go off, but it’s electronic background melodies and harmonies of the songs I’m listening to.

I’ve been hearing my cubicle neighbors really clearly, too, which is fine, except that they’re driving me nuts with their conversations about their trivia calendars. I try to listen to music with headphones on, but somehow their conversations bleed through. I like the people I work with. A lot. And it irritates me that I’m so irritated by them.

I haven’t been much fun, lately.

I’m coming up on my 4-year anniversary of my most recent tbi (I fell down a flight of stairs a few days after Thanksgiving in 2004), and I haven’t been sleeping very well. I try to relax, I try to chill out, I try all sorts of things. But I haven’t been able to really REST, which is a problem.

When I’m tired, everything gets amplified around me. My vision, too. All the colors look brighter. The sounds are louder. The tastes of things I rarely notice are now very noticeable — like the candy bar I was eating the other day — I could taste every major ingredient, and it occurred to me that the chocolate wasn’t the highest quality.

Which is weird. Because I’m not a real candy connoisseur. But I noticed the relative quality of the chocolate.

If I drank, now would be a good time to impress people with my palate for fine wines. But I don’t drink, so I guess that leaves me with candy. Oh, well. The price we have to pay πŸ˜‰

People seem to think I’m depressed. And the other day someone hinted at whether I might be thinking about ending it all. That really bothered me. WTF? Of course not! Just because I’m low, these days, doesn’t mean I’m planning to check out! Don’t get me wrong… the thought has crossed my mind in the past… especially at times when I realized that the net worth of my life insurance policy was greater than my living worth, and I was feeling like I was letting my family down by not being a better provider. But those thoughts pass. Seriously. I’m not a danger to myself. Am I protesting too much? Perhaps, but no, I don’t want to kill myself.

Not when I’m finally figuring out what’s going on with me and I’m getting help! Fer Chrissakes, it’s taken me 40-some years to get to this place, and I’m not about to just check out because I’m feeling low.

Besides, I feel as though I’ve really been divinely spared a lot of terrible things in my life. Things that went badly for me could have gone a whole lot worse, but they didn’t. And I hung in there, and they got better. When all is said and done, that’s really my whole life philosophy/strategy — just hang in there. Things change. They either get better or they get worse, or they go both ways at the same time. But you never know when things are going to go in your favor, so why not stick around and find out what happens…?

It’s not the most sophisticated or complex philosophy, but it works for me.

Now, if only my hearing would change. Seriously, it’s driving me nuts, hearing every little thing. The sound of the keys clicking as I type is not just the usual clicking. I can hear my fingers making contact with the plastic of the keys, I can hear my thumb brushing along the space bar, I can hear the keys depressing and then clicking against the keyboard base… and the wiggling of the keys has a weird clicky plastic sound that’s very “reedy” and faint. But it’s there.

I just heard my furnace kick in, which is good. It’s getting cold, these days, and heat is good. I hear cars driving on the road near my house, whooshing down the hill as they head into the woods… I hear the baseboard heat kicking in… and the distant sound of a radioΒ  playing. And of course there’s the ringing in my ears. Tinnitus they call it. I call it constant.

“Ringing” is the wrong word for it. It’s not ringing. It’s a constant high-pitched whine that has an almost metallic quality to it. Beneath the high-pitched whine — like a huge honkin’ mosquito always hovering beside my ears — there’s another tone… lower, fuller… again, always there. I’ve had this since I was a kid — when I was a teenager, it used to drive me NUTS!!! I couldn’t stand it!!! But oddly, I got used to it.

It’s really never gone. It just varies in intensity. And when I’m tired and my allergies are acting up, it gets way out of control. The weird thing is, it doesn’t keep me from hearing everything else. It’s like it’s in a different “space” that I hear in… always in the background, but never keeping me from hearing every other sound on God’s good earth.

Good grief!

Well, I know I’m tired, and it’s been a long day, and I have a doctor’s appointment in the a.m., when I’m going to discuss some of my concerns with my pcp, who I actually really like. My doc has got a good manner, and I feel comfortable talking things through with them. I need to do a reality check about some things I’ve been noticing… to make sure I’m not in imminent danger. It sounds serious(?) and it might be. But I won’t know, till I check in.

And it’s definitely tbi-related, so I’m actually looking forward, in a way, to getting to the bottom of the mystery.

I’m being cryptic, I know. I’ll write more later, when I know more. Later

Yes, I’m tired. And overtaxed. I really need to chill for the evening. Eat my supper. Go to bed.

Then go to the doctor and get on with my day.

Onward…

Catching up with myself

It’s been a while since I last posted… there’s been a lot going on with me, actually. I have been seeing a doctor regularly for neuropsychological testing, as well as other physicians like neurologists and my general practitioner, to follow up on other health issues. I have more appointments scheduled to check out some issues that I’ve been having for a long time — and I believe are tbi-related — but I never realized were part of a larger pattern, till the past year or so.

It’s been very frustrating for me, because

  1. I’ve had a lot of trouble identifying the true issues, starting with even realizing that I had them to begin with.
  2. It’s hard for me to talk out loud about things I can conceptualize in the privacy and quiet and safety of my own mind — somehow the words don’t do justice to my thoughts.
  3. Talking with doctors and interacting in that power relationship is very stressful for me, which makes it even harder for me to express myself.
  4. People don’t like to think there’s something wrong with me — they don’t want to believe that someone with my intelligence and insight and humor and kind manner and talent and abilities might actually have something wrong with them. Even doctors get scared by that prospect, I’ve found.
  5. I don’t have medical records of my injuries. I’m one of those tbi survivors who people thought would just get over the falls, the accidents, the blows to my head, when I was a kid. And even when I was in charge of my own health and well-being, I never put two and two together to get myself to the doctor and seek help. Now, my doctors are faced with a lot of unknowns and a lot of guesswork — which they hate! — about what’s going on with me.
  6. I don’t know how to ask for help. My parents and teachers and authority figures when I was growing up never got me help for my problems, I don’t think they ever realized that my injuries might be the cause of my bad behavior (no, I wasn’t just being bad all the time! I wasn’t just bad seed, the “bad apple” in their barrel of kids — I had neurological problems that needed to be addressed!) And since I was raised in an environment that relied on discipline and force to keep me in line, I never was able to see that my issues were due to actual physical injuries, rather than some character defect. I thought it was me that was defective, rather than the processes in my brain. So, I’ve tried like crazy over the years to avoid any sort of detection and avoid drawing attention to my needs and limitations.

But while I can’t do much about most of the points above, I can do something about the last one. I’m actually learning to ask for help! I’m learning to figure out where I’m falling down (using my self-assessment sheet and other check-in approaches), and I’m learning how to express to others what my needs are, getting past the shame and horrible feeling of being so friggin’ deficient.

Yes, I’m learning to ask for help. And I’m learning to talk to doctors. Which is a big change for me. All my life, I’ve avoided them like the plague — in large part because of my communication issues. And because I never wanted anyone to know I was in the level of trouble I was in.

A little progress at a time. It’s slow going. But at least my various doctors and I have all agreed that I do have issues… which is a big step, compared to where I have been in the past, when my issues were not as pronounced, and I frankly didn’t have a clue why I was doing the things I was doing — like being unable to get going with things I needed to do… being unable to follow conversations… being emotionally volatile and tired all the time… I could go on, but I get tired just thinking about it πŸ˜‰ I really need to finish this post…

The view of my back yard has changed…

my back yard

You can buy a copy of this piece at my gallery at Imagekind – click here for prints on paper and canvas

One of the things I’ve noticed, this fall, is how much my relationship with my home has changed. When I first moved into my house in 2002, I was rarin’ to go… really pro-active with everything. I worked at a pretty intense pace, getting the place in order each season. I seeded the lawn, mowed it every other week in the summer, fertilized it, put down lime, mulched the shrubbery, kept things neatly trimmed… I split a lot of firewood and really went hog-wild with cutting up fallen trees and stacking the winter wood supply… I tidied up the flowers and plantings… I fixed things around the house… I constructed different fixtures I needed… I was quite handy and used my carpentry tools regularly. And I used my workshop in the basement a lot. I kept on top of all the repairs that needed to be done, and I called workmen to do work I couldn’t handle.

Since my fall down the stairs in 2004, however, a lot of that has changed. One of my 2-1/2 baths is completely out of commission — falling apart, literally — and I haven’t used it in almost a year. The electrical wiring in my dining room is funky and I’ve stopped using the overhead light. The outside light to the back stairs is not working, and hasn’t been for some time. The trees need to be trimmed and cabled, but I haven’t made the call. I haven’t been keeping up the outside of the house, doing the same level of upkeep. I haven’t been chopping wood. I have even forgotten to cover piles of perfectly good firewood, time and time again, to the point where much of it is unusable now — a total waste. My yard is suffering, the plantings are just running wild, the ticks in the grass are out of control, and frankly I’m lucky to have gotten any leaves up last year, at all.

It’s quite dismaying, when I think about it. It’s just not like me. And I feel that loss of my old self quite keenly.

But there’s a big part of me that just doesn’t care. That part of me looks out at the yard (which isn’t horrible looking, by any stretch, but still needs help) and just notices that it needs help. It doesn’t actually want to do anything about it. I work around the lighting issues in the dining room and the back stairs, using lamps and lanterns instead of the light switches.Β  All the repairs that need to be done just have to wait, as the part of me that’s usually motivated to do something about these things just tries to get through the day.

Truly, even the most basic things — like getting up and out into the day — are so much of a challenge, I just haven’t got the energy to tend to other things. It’s such a challenge to just get to work, do my job, and then come home, that the extra stuff like raking and calling contractors and fixing and patching and hammering and what-not, just tend to fall by the wayside.

But as I’m increasingly aware of these things, I find myself better able to deal with them. Like when I do my self-assessment sheets, and I check in about how I’m really doing… if I’m angry, if I’m anxious, if I’m distracted, if I’m tired, what kind of headache I have today… when I take a look at myself and my life and it sinks in about what I need to do, then I can start taking some action.

I just need to be aware. i just need to watch my energy. I just need to sleep when I need to sleep, and not worry about it. And I need to ask for help, when I need it.

Because I do need help. And there’s no shame in that.

How I figured out something was REALLY wrong

Yes, I picture’s worth a thousand words… Here’s a graph of what happened to my financial situation, after my fall down the stairs (I hit the back of my head on the top 3-4 stairs) in 2004:

The interesting thing about this is that I never fully realized that there was something really really wrong with me, till I looked at my finances in 2007. Prior to that, I had thought that the problems I was having with my moods, my temper, my attention, my sleeping patterns, my pain… welll, everything… were due to things outside myself.

I literally thought that it was other people who had the problem. Or, it was just job stress. Or it was an unhappy childhood. Or I didn’t realize there was something wrong at all.

But then, in 2007, I looked at my finances and I realized that something was very, very wrong. I, who had been in the financial services industry for a decade or so, who was studying to become a financial advisor, who had been all about money for years and years and years… who knew about all sorts of common sense investment and savings vehicles… I had literally forgotten to keep track of my finances. And I had forgotten to stash a large lump sum I’d received in a secure interest-bearing savings account.

People, that’s just common sense. It’s the bare minimum you do with a lump sum of money, let alone all the other things you can do with it.

But I hadn’t. Even knowing what I knew, even having the positive orientation that I had to money, even having all this domain experience in savings and investments… something had broken down. And it forced me to take a long, hard look at all the other factors that had been plaguing me in my life.

Suddenly, a pattern emerged. And I started to remember things i hadn’t thought about in years…