Well, why didn’t they just SAY so?

People need to talk so others can understand
People need to explain things so others can understand

When I was a little kid, I had trouble hearing. I could pick up a full range of volume just fine, according to the tests they gave me, but I had a hard time distinguishing between sounds.

“S” sounded like “F” and the soft “TH” to me.

“B” sounded like “V” to me.

Unless I saw a word written out, it was sometimes hard for me to understand precisely what was meant. Based on what I heard, it could have meant anything, really.

I was also a very literal child, who didn’t “get” the whole slang thing. That 1970s song “Convoy”, which was an extended conversation between truckers using their trucking slang, was pretty interesting for me to listen to. I had all sorts of unusual ideas about what exactly was going on there, and when my mother asked me if I knew what the song was about, I said, “Sure! It’s about truckers going bear hunting!”

She gave me a strange look that made me think I was probably wrong — and sure enough, the “hunting bear” reference was really about truckers doing battle with the highway patrol.

I also had a lot of disagreements about what people were talking about and what they were saying to me. I got my letters mixed up, because they all sounded the same to me, and I made up my own (stubborn) mind about what words should be used — and how.

I remember one time I had a pitched battle with my mother, who told me that the name of one of my school friends was “Valerie” — with a “V”.  I heard “Balerie” — with a “B”. Never in my life had I heard her name pronounced with a “V” sound, so being the stubborn kid I was, I argued for quite some time and got very, very angry, that my mother had it wrong.

She kept repeating “Valerie… Valerie… Valerie”, drawing a “V” in the air with her finger, and I got angrier and angrier.

Because that wasn’t what I experienced. It wasn’t what I heard.

I also had trouble pronouncing words. I had a “lisp” when I was little, partly because I didn’t realize you had to form “F”, “TH” (the soft one), and “S” differently with your mouth. I thought they were all the same sound, so I picked the one that was the easiest for me to tolerate.

Part of the issue was that I had trouble with my ears — they were so hyper-acute, the sound of an “S” literally hurt them. It was painful to pronounce “S”, so I tried to soften it, like a “TH”. And of course, that was wrong, so I was in speech therapy for some time, to try to correct it.

That was rough. They took me out of my regular classes, and not only was everyone staring at me, but then they walked me through the halls of the massive school that seemed so cavernous and vast to me. I could never remember how to get there, and I got lost a number of times. People got upset with me, because apparently it was easy to get to the speech therapist’s office. Easy for everyone else. I got turned around and couldn’t find my way. And the speech therapist had to keep coming to my classroom to show me the way.

So, I figured I must be an idiot.  Such a simple thing … and it was so hard for me. There must have been something really wrong with me.

I also couldn’t makethe sounds right. The speech therapist kept trying to get me to sound out the sounds, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t tell that there was a difference between them, and try as I might, I couldn’t make the connection between what they were telling me to say, and what I could/did say. It all sounded the same to me, and nobody explained to me the way to shape the sounds in my mouth, so I could say them correctly.

After some time trying to work with me, the speech therapist gave up. They may have suspected I just wasn’t trying. Or they couldn’t justify spending any more time with me, because I wasn’t making any progress. They may have also believed I was deliberately being difficult.

There were a lot of things that were pretty challenging for me, which I “should” have been able to do. But I couldn’t. And nobody seemed to know how to help me.

What really would have helped, is if someone had just told me that you shape words different ways with your mouth. Everybody seemed to take for granted, that everyone knows that. But looking at someone’s mouth from a distance, you cannot see the position of their tongue or their teeth or even the subtle differences in their lips. “B” looked pretty much like “V” to me. And even though “TH”, “S”, and “F” look different from a distance, I could not tell the difference in the sounds, so I could never tell if I was saying it correctly.

So, I went with the sound that was the least painful — the “TH”.

Eventually, it dawned on me that sounds were shaped differently, and if I just formed them properly, even if it didn’t sound right to me, others would get it. I have no idea if I reached this conclusion myself, or if it finally sank in, after I was on my own and the lessons of the speech therapist finally sank in with me. I used to think I figured it out by myself, but now I think it could have been a delayed realization.

In retrospect, it would have been really helpful, if someone had just sat me down and explained to me slowly and carefully, in very clear and logical terms, that words and sounds were produced with certain positions of lips, tongue, and teeth. And have me practice making those sounds with my mouth. Even if I couldn’t hear the sounds properly, I could know that I was forming the words correctly, so others would understand me. Even if I didn’t get it, at least someone would. And 1 out of 2 is better than 0 for 2.

Then again, they may have tried. But I was a tough case. I had trouble paying attention. If people didn’t explain to me why we were doing something, I lost interest. I was also overwhelmed and stressed from the walk to the speech therapist’s office, so that made it hard to concentrate. Plus, I didn’t know why I wasn’t getting it. I just didn’t know. And neither did they, apparently.

The whole speech and articulation thing just messed with my head when I was little — to the point that I started hyper-articulating things, and I became pretty OCD about making sure I was pronouncing words exactly right. It’s one of the reasons I can pronounce foreign words pretty well and also simulate a non-English accent pretty well. I get extremely nervous if I don’t pronounce something right. It’s a visceral reaction to past bad experiences, I guess.

As a kid, I had so many failed interactions, thanks to my speech and comprehension difficulties. On my first day at kindergarten, I couldn’t articulate to the teachers what my address was, so they couldn’t put me on the right bus. And after my first day of school, ever, when my mother was waiting at the bus stop, her firstborn was nowhere to be found. The school called to tell her they were giving me a ride home, but my mother almost lost it when I didn’t get off the bus.

I had lots of trouble with kids at school, too. I tried to talk, but I couldn’t seem to make myself understood. I felt like I was babbling into the wind, and it might have sounded that way to them, too.

Ultimately, when I could read books, I turned to them for company. That was enough. It was more than enough for me. Books didn’t make fun of me, they didn’t look at me strangely, they didn’t correct me, they didn’t test me to see if I got it. They were just there, waiting to impart their knowledge. Of course they never told me how to pronounce the big words that I found there (I thought rendezvous was pronounced renn-dezz-vus, until my dad told me otherwise), but then, that never mattered, because I had the meaning in my head.

I swear, I really don’t know what is up with people who can’t be direct and just come right out and tell people what the deal is. Hinting around and intimating makes me nuts.  It drove me nuts as a kid, and it still does today.

If I’m messing up, just tell me. I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again. And it’s a heck of a lot easier to deal with, when you have direct information, rather than trying to “go easy” on me. Easy is hard. Direct is simpler.

Don’t make me guess — just tell me what the deal is.

And then I’ll deal.

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.

How quickly things can change

July is nearly over. August is soon upon us. Back-to-school ads are starting to play on television and radio, which always makes me nostalgic as well as a little melancholy. Back-to-school time was always hard for me. I loved the summers, being free to come and go as I pleased, being able to stay in the woods at the end of our street, or playing sports with the rec league, having the freedom to do as I wished, as well as balance out my summer jobs with other things I wanted to do.

School was so contrived, so challenging, so threatening for me. I was bullied intensely in school – during my 5th and 7th grade school years, at two different schools – and I anticipated the start of the academic year with a mix of excitement and dread. I never knew how things were going to turn out, but I soldiered on and tried not to make things too difficult for my parents.

Looking back, I realize now just how much everything got to me. I tried not to let on that I was having a hard time with things. I’m not even sure if I fully realized how hard things were for me — it was all I knew, so I just kept going, tried to keep interested and engaged in life around me, and did my best under the circumstances. But it was so hard. I’m sure it is for everyone — I just didn’t know how to handle it well on the inside. I was so confused and so frustrated, so much of the time, but I just kept going

I just kept going.

One of the things that makes my memories of back-to-school so poignant, is how hard-up my family was, just trying to make ends meet. I hear all these stories, these days, about how hard things are for people, and I have a mix of feelings about that. On the one hand, I understand how difficult it is to not have the means to provide for yourself. On the other hand, I don’t understand how people can treat smart phones and expensive clothing and shoes and eating out like they are “staples”. When I was growing up, my parents had very little money, and we supplemented by growing our own food and making our own clothing and cutting corners wherever we could. Back-to-school was not about fashion and school accessories. It was about getting one pair of jeans, two new shirts, two pairs of underwear, two pairs of socks, and every few years a new belt if it was needed. My mother sewed a lot of our clothing, and we inherited a lot of hand-me-downs from cousins who had more money than we did. Brand new clothes were a luxury we did not take for granted, and we mostly bought them from a catalog, which sent the shirts and pants individually wrapped in clear plastic and packed into a cardboard box.

Looking around at the world today, I’m astounded at the glut of consumer items that are on the market today. It’s as mind-boggling as it seems pointless to me. So much that we have is little more than an expensive distraction from what we really need to deal with, and we can actually get by on very little, if we pick and choose carefully.

I grew up with a lot of scarcity – we had a big family, and my parents both worked jobs with small salaries. We made ends meet, and we didn’t starve. We had plenty of things to occupy our attention and keep us busy, and even though growing up was very hard at times, I still made it. And I learned a ton of valuable lessons in the process.

Probably the biggest lesson I learned, was how to seem rich even when I was poor. I came from a very poor part of town, but because I knew how to learn and I stood out as a smart kid in school who was also good at sports, I ended up hanging out with the rich kids a lot. For some reason, I’ve always ended up hanging out with rich people, even though a lot of days I don’t have two quarters to rub together, and I’m in constant danger of getting something turned off. There have been lots of times when I had almost nothing, I was dealing with debt collectors and lawyers, I was getting nasty-grams from the mortgage company, and utilities collections people knew me on a first-name basis… and I had to come up with hundreds of dollars to pay for car repairs or somesuch. But I always ended up hanging out with people who were doing really well.

And things always turned around. It’s weird, because when I think, “Things are going to turn around soon,” I often get this image of a down-and-out “loser” or gambler or some other sort of con artist who’s ignoring all the obvious signs that their life is shit and is going nowhere, thanks to their piss-poor decisions. That’s a classic line from someone who banks on a big score, rather than a lot of hard work over the long run, to get them where they’re going. But in my case, it actually seems to happen for me. Things do turn around. They look up. I perk up. And I get out of my poor-me funk and can get on with my life.

Things change. They really do. That’s something I need to really concentrate on and keep focused on. Because right now, things are looking pretty dismal. I need to do some house repairs, and the bids I’m getting are pretty far over what I can comfortably afford to pay – and that’s not even considering the structural issues the contractors may uncover in the course of the job.

It’s pretty friggin’ depressing, all around. I know it’s a process, and I know that there’s going to be some negotiation that takes place, but the whole situation just dogs me. I wish I just had the money and could move forward with it. But that’s not the reality. And I’m not going to have the money until I can change jobs and get a decent contract that pays me what I’m worth on the market, instead of this pathetic situation I’m in at work. Yeah, it’s a process. A pain in the ass process.

But that can change. Of course it can. I’m being silly if I think it’s going to stay this way forever. Life – by its very nature – is about change, so whatever situation I’m chafing about now, will by definition not exist in another six months. In some ways it will be better. In other ways it will be worse. Whatever. It will be.

So, life goes on. I signed up for Angie’s List today and found several more contractors who can come and bid on this home renovation project I have to do. If they can come on Friday, that would be ideal, because my spouse is going out of town for three days — and I’ll have that time to myself, to sort things out and put a number of things in order. My spouse has been having a lot of health troubles, and that’s been a huge demand on my time and energy. They don’t take care of themself — or chores around the house or the bills — adequately, so I end up picking up the slack and doing damage control. They’re also having a ton of problems with anxiety and depression, so that’s another significant demand on my energy — just keeping them out of the pit of despair…

It’s been working, but it’s been a ton of work. Oh hell, I should do this kind of thing for a living – I’d probably make a mint. If I can keep my profoundly depressed and anxious spouse at least somewhat functional — and active enough to go on business trips — I must have some mental health mojo going on.

Then again, it’s challenging enough doing this at home during almost every waking hour. Doing it for a living would probably put me over the edge.

… and it occurs to me that perhaps this is why I have chosen to work with computers for the past 20+ years — they never get depressed, they don’t overeat and neglect their physical health, they don’t constantly nag and harass me over every little thing, and I don’t have to be constantly careful about what I say and do because of a wild-ass irrational over-reaction based on some fantasy about what might be happening and what that might mean.

Yeah – no – going down a mental health career path doesn’t interest me. I take it back.

Plus, the pay really sucks, from what I hear.

Anyway, life goes on. I am doing pretty well, under the circumstances, and even though I’m not getting everything done that I have been hoping to, I’m still making progress. I’m learning as I go, and I’m adjusting my approach as needed. I get to decide how I feel about things, and what I do with the information I get. My life isn’t perfect, but my experience of it can change in an instant, so that’s what I’m focusing on — the experience.

Very few other things are under my control. But what I choose to make of everything that crosses my path, most certainly is.

So… onward.


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.

What the REAL problem is

What's really going on?

I had an interesting/annoying conversation with my neuropsych last night. Overall, it was a good session, and it’s given me good food for thought.

In a nutshell, we talked about my flagging self-esteem, how I seem to be sabotaging myself in my present job, and how I have this perception of myself of being a “ticking time bomb” of a loser. After so many years of having troubles that nobody could understand or detect, and after having had so many things just go south for no reason that I could tell, I seem to have this perception of myself as this loser who’s basically able to fool the rest of the world into believing that I’m competent and capable… until eventually they find out that I’m not really that great, after all.

That seems to be where I am right now… I’ve been having issues at work, which I’ve been trying to gloss over and deal with, and I’ve been somewhat successful at keeping my act together. But there’s still this creeping sense that it’s only a matter of time until things fall apart.

And that’s what we were talking about yesterday. I guess I feel like I can keep going for x-amount of time, until I gradually run out of steam/good ideas/patience. And then it all falls to shit pieces. I feel like my success has an expiration date, and there’s only so long I can expect things to go well, before they start to unravel.

My neuropsych seems to think that this is stuff I’ve made up in my head about myself, and I am unconsciously undermining myself. And that may be true, to some extent. I can definitely see where that fits. At the same time, I think that’s part of a larger pattern I need to deal with — patterns of loss and neglect and poor treatment that I’ve experienced over the years, because of a combination of life events, and my differences from other “normal” people.

I think that a big part of it is due to my early school years. I spent a lot of time “bouncing around” from one daycare situation to another, when I was little. Then, when I started school, I got moved from school to school, and each year the classes had completely different kids in them, and I had to hassle through learning to deal with a new “crop” of peers each year. It was like, each new school year brought a whole new set of problems to deal with — and my family lived in an inner-city situation during the early busing years, so there was a lot of upheaval, danger, crisis… all that and more. So, I just got habituated to the revolving door of annual cycles of extreme, dramatic change. And if things didn’t change, then something felt wrong.

When I was in college, too, there was the annual shift and change. Nothing stayed the same. Each of my for college years was different, with a different set of problems and challenges. I did way too much drinking, my freshman year, and that led to some pretty intense problems my sophomore year (involving police and restraining orders — one of them against me), and then I took off and studied overseas for a few years, in part to get away from the mess I’d gotten into.

And after I got out of school (didn’t graduate, just stopped going), I had a series of jobs at one company or another, switching back and forth between permanent spots and temporary/ contract positions. All the while, I was making a living and doing okay for myself, but everything was cyclical. And if positions didn’t end within a year or two after I started, it made me intensely nervous.

I think part of it has been the old residue of the “danger years” when I was basically on the lam in college, trying (with varying degrees of success) to keep out of sight and under the radar of the individual who was intent on doing me some serious hurt. And come to think of it, that was like an extension of my grade-school years when I was bullied so intensely in 5th and 7th grade — two different schools, in two different school districts, but each of them equally shitty challenging.

So, I’ve had this ongoing, lifelong pattern of upheaval and problems and cyclical ends to increasingly difficult situations, that is now rearing its ugly head and making my life kind of tough to handle. What’s more, as with so many other job situations, I’m finding myself increasingly un-challenged at work, doing things that come all too easily to me, but which I do better than anyone… so I am practically “frozen” in place in that slot at work, while others around me advance and go on to do bigger things. I also find myself intensely uneasy with the new management — I’ve worked for big organizations before, and I didn’t care for it then… and I don’t care for it now — and that’s cutting into my sense of purpose and resolve.

And once again, I find myself really wanting to do what I’ve always wanted to do — head out on my own, do my own thing, and build a life that is independent and free… according to my specifications, not someone else’s definition of success. I don’t have a stereotypical life with a spouse and 2.4 kids and 2 cars in the garage and a family pet. I also don’t have the need for the kinds of status symbols that others crave. I don’t give a damn about the job title and all that. I do give a damn about doing good work that engages me and gives me a greater sense of self-determination and personal achievement.

So, that’s where I’m finding myself arriving, these days. At a place where I know I need to make different choices, and also develop a greater sense of satisfaction and accomplishment in in my life. And I need to really focus on following my own dreams according to my own standards, rather than getting caught up in what others are saying or thinking or telling me is the way I should be doing things.

The fact that I just don’t feel that way, the fact that I’m not making that my full focus at this time, is the thing that’s dragging me down. I’m not dragged down because I’m feeling like a loser. I’m feeling like a lower because I’m dragged down by my lack of focus and lack of self-determination.

I can see where my neuropsych is coming from, but I think they’re putting the cart before the horse. When I can take action on my own behalf, get clear about what I want to do, and sort things out logistically, I don’t feel like such a loser. It’s remarkable, what change takes place in my head and heart. But when I’m all turned around and can’t think straight, I lose sight of where I’m going, and then I get down on myself.

They’re sorta kinda right. But the cause and effect for them, are the other way around for me.

Which I need to explain to them.

And I need to explain to them that instead of being talked out of feeling like a loser, I need to figure out substantive steps to take to get where I’m going. It’s the lack of concrete steps, the lack of concrete progress, that is dragging me down… not the other way around. Sure, I have these old patterns of cyclical upheaval behind me, but that’s totally manageable, when I have a focus to train my attention on. When I’m busy taking action, I have no time to sit around and feel like crap about myself. Indeed, I don’t. But when I am not taking action — or I am unclear and indecisive — then I start to feel bad, and I start telling myself all sorts of stupid things about myself that just aren’t true.

I just need to get myself back in gear, clear my head, and quit telling myself bad things about myself. As they said last night, I need to stop wasting energy creating some sort of meaning about myself that just isn’t true. At the same time, too, I need to understand the true cause of these issues I’ve got, and do something concrete about them.

In fairness to myself, this recent transition and reorganization has really taken a toll on me, as has the added commuting time and costs. It has cut into my overall quality of life, and I am tired. So, the fact that things have been falling apart more and more over the last few months, shouldn’t surprise me.At the same time, I know that no matter how tired I am, if I have tools around me to help keep me focused and on-target, I can overcome that… and also come up with new and different ways to get more rest.

The main thing is to realize that I’m experiencing feelings — not facts.  I may feel a certain way about myself, but that’s not necessarily a fact. And I need to find ways to keep my spirits up — or at the very least, keep the facts in plain sight in front of me.

So, I guess it’s time for some props. Some new tools. And it’s time to just settle in, stop being distracted by all the things I’m telling myself about what a loser I am… and realize that a lot of what I think about myself comes from a childhood of traumatic brain injury issues that nobody understood and everybody was actually pretty awful about. It wasn’t my fault that I got hurt. It wasn’t my fault that I couldn’t understand what people were saying. It wasn’t my fault that I had balance issues and that I had trouble interacting with others. Hell, anyone would have trouble interacting, if they couldn’t understand what others were saying, if their processing speed was slower than expected, and everybody was intent on pushing them to do more-more-more without stopping to ask if the way they were trying to do it was appropriate or not.

The real problem is partly that I get caught up in telling myself I’m a pathetic loser, and partly that circumstances need to change. Which comes first, is anybody’s guess, but one thing is sure — things really need to change, I’m aware of the fact, and I’m not going to let my feelings distract me from that. Hell, I’ve got enough on my plate, without beating myself up in the process.

No one has a clue how hard this is for me

Even I don’t, sometimes.

Seriously. I walk through my days, going about my regular business, living my life, interacting with people, doing what I do, making mistakes, making it right… working (hard) to keep up. And I do manage to keep up. Most of the time.

At least, that’s how it looks on the outside. I’ve learned, over years, to present in a certain way… to project a certain image… to do a passable job of fitting in, by mirroring the mannerisms and “social pacing” of people around me. And it works. I had to figure it out by trial-and-error, but I did eventually figure it out.

In my early childhood, when I was first learning about how to live outside my parents’ house — in school, especially — I had a very hard time fitting into my surroundings. My early grade-school years were rocky and rough, and I went through a lot of bullying and teasing and marginalization. I also had a very, very hard time dealing with academic requirements. I could pretty much get by, but it was — again — trial and error. I remember working so very, very hard to make my teachers happy… without fully understanding why they were asking me to learn certain things and complete certain lessons.

I think part of the problem was that, despite having a hard time keeping up with what was going on around me, I was ahead of the kids around me, subject-wise. I grew up in a family that valued education and spent a lot of time exploring the world of ideas. My parents were — and still are — very well read, and my grandparents were experts in their fields. I was well accustomed to sitting around talking about complex subjects… more comfortable doing that, in fact, than spending time playing with the kids around me.

And it was awkward. Very awkward for everyone. At least, I think it was. I didn’t understand my peers very well, and they didn’t seem to understand me at all. Or maybe my perceptions were skewed because of my TBIs — poor judgment, slowed information processing, and misperception of the actions and/or intentions of others are all hallmarks of TBI. Maybe everyone was fine with me; I just wasn’t fine with them (or myself).

Anyway, I don’t want to harp on all my difficulties. Let’s just say my childhood was somewhat challenging.

All that started to change, however, when I started getting connected with kids who were several years older than me. My family had moved to a new area, and we had started attending a new church. That church did not have a very large concentration of kids exactly my age — they were either several years older than me or several years younger. My parents talked to the youth director and managed to get me “in” with the older kids in the young adult youth group.

I really wasn’t sure about it, when I started. I was painfully shy — no, shy isn’t the word for it. I was completely out of my depth. All the boys and girls — young men and young women, actually — who were part of the youth group seemed so with it, so together, so … grown up. They seemed like they knew what everyone was saying when they talked, and they seemed to know how to act around other people.

I was amazed. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to initiate conversations that weren’t about some academic matter, and I sure as hell didn’t know how to keep a conversation going. I was petrified, the first months I hung out with the other kids. But fortunately, some of the most popular kids in the “gang” at church were second cousins of mine, and they knew me from family reunions. So, I was “in” with the crowd, even when I couldn’t manage to put two words together.

It would be really easy for me to focus on how challenging those years were for me. But I’d rather focus on how much I gained from meeting those challenges head-on, and learning from them. Those several years with the older kids — I spent about 3 years among kids who were several years my senior — taught me volumes about how to make my way in the world. By watching them and seeing how they interacted with others, I was able to model my behavior on something positive — and types of behavior that obviously worked. I watched the kids who were clearly popular and having a great time being alive, and I mirrored their words and actions. I’m sure I looked a bit spastic, at times, tagging along and clumsily imitating everyone at the start, but eventually I learned how to smooth it all out and “deliver a seamless presentation” of the kinds of behavior I saw other people using — that worked well for them in social situations.

I could tell things worked, if people laughed at jokes. I could tell things worked for them, if other people smiled when they approached. I could tell things were “clicking” socially, if everyone was relaxed and enjoying each others’ company. It probably sounds pretty remedial and basic, but that’s how I learned. And I learned pretty quickly, too — so long as I could be a part of the group, but still be able to withdraw, now and then, when I got overwhelmed. Because I was with kids who were some years older than me, I was able to get “special dispensation” because I was younger. I was “just a kid” so I was allowed to mess up, now and then. Not all the time, but they tended to cut me some slack, which was helpful.

The fact that all this took place in a church environment, where there were very strict rules about how you did and did not behave was very helpful also. All the boys were well-behaved, and all the girls kept to very high standards of behavior. Even though a lot of us eventually left the church and went our own ways, far from organized religion, the fact that there were clear guidelines in place for us to follow made it pretty straightforward for me to figure out how I should — and should not — behave around others. The kids who were ahead of me modeled acceptable behavior, and I followed their example. I was part of a “gang” — but the gang was all good Christian kids, so I had the benefit of being in a group of pressuring peers who pressured me in directions that did not lead towards drugs, alcohol, petty crime, and teen sex.  (That pressure took place in the other “gangs” I ran with, several years later, in school and at jobs I held.)

During those early teen years in the church youth group, I learned how to integrate socially through the various activities we had — Sunday School, prayer meetings, weeknight services, organized youth group activities, like trips and outings, Bible quiz team, and countless other get-togethers that were organized by the youth leaders. They really did have a good program, I realize in retrospect, and I benefitted from it a lot. Being able to be around kids who were older than me gave me license to just be who and what I was — a little dorky, a little geeky, gangly and awkward and prone to say dumb things that were out of context — and be accepted, anyway, because I was young. I don’t remember being stigmatized, probably because it was generally expected that I was supposed to be different — but that was because of my age, not because I was a queer little brain-damaged freak who couldn’t fit in with my peer group.

What a relief it was, to be allowed to be different! I had been battling against my social surroundings for years, but that had gotten me nowhere. And I mean, nowhere. Standing out as being different (which was my “default setting”), had resulted in a lot of bullying, ridicule, and general hardship for me. It had also not helped my academic performance or my general ability to get by in the world. But being able to hang out with kids who were not only older than me and showed me how to behave, but being given some leeway with how I behaved, totally took the pressure off.

I was finally able to relax, socially. And I was able to learn. I was able to pattern my demeanor after the most socially successful members of the youth group — the guys and gals who were the most capable, the most popular, the smartest, the most respected-by-adults. I’m sure I looked kind of dense, stumbling and bumbling my way after them. But you know what? No matter how dorky I looked around the older kids, when I was around my own peer group, those behaviors and mannerisms made me look a lot more mature than I felt. I didn’t need to understand exactly why someone would say certain things (like social pleasantries) or do certain things (like strike up a conversation with people you’ve never met before in your life). I only needed to understand how they did it, and that it worked for them… and perfect my impressions of the most socially successful people I knew.

Granted, my “performance” wasn’t always perfect, and there were a lot of false moves over the years that got me in trouble with older kids and teachers and other authority figures, but you know what? By practicing and practicing and practicing some more… observing carefully when others did things that made them look good… by rehearsing the “role” I wanted to play in the world in the privacy of my own bedroom, out in the woods where I could have some alone-time… by constantly checking and re-checking the results of what I’d done, learning my lessons and “taking my lumps” as I went, I was able to build a really compelling and convincing repertoire of social graces that have stood me in good staid.

Okay, so my parents were probably pretty concerned throughout the course of my life, when I’d spend hours just talking to myself. And I’m sure they’ve often wondered about me walking around having animated, in-depth conversations about topics I’m passionate about… with no one in particular. To this day, I still have extended animated converstions with myself when I’m alone or in the car driving. I do it — and have always done it — to work on my vocal pacing, my delivery, my presentation. I have a role to play in the world, and I know well enough (inside my own woolly head) how hard it can be for me to keep my act together. I get lost all too quickly, so I need to keep my composure skills up, and “running the lines” my life does it for me. This “regular life” stuff doesn’t come easily to me, so I have to work at it, work at it, work at it some more. All the time, whenever I get a chance.

Fortunately, I enjoy it, and when I’m having intense, protracted discussions with myself, pretending to talk to another person — breaking now and then to let “them” get a word in — I’m usually going on about something that captures and holds my interest. So it’s not work as much as it is effortful play. And it pays off.

In countless ways. Can I just tell you, the best validation of my efforts has been all these people telling me, over the course of the past year or so, that they never would have guessed I had a head injury, let alone half a dozen. It never would have occurred to them that I was anything less than perfectly normal. On the outside, then, my presentation is intact. And all my hard work has paid off. The countless hours I’ve spent analyzing my interactions with the world, checking and double-checking the results of my relating to others… the untold time I’ve spent carefully tweaking my demeanor during the course of converstaions… the tricks I’ve picked up about how to interact effectively with others… it’s all paid off. Big time.

Now there are some days, of course, when I feel a lot more like a fraud than I feel functional. I feel like I’m just walking through my days playing a role that has nothing to do with me. I’m sure a lot of people feel that way — especially as they age and start to examine their lives. But with me, it’s especially pronounced, because there are many, many times I say and do things without even thinking about them which don’t sound anything like me, or what interests me, or what I care about. There are times when I’ll get to the end of a conversation or a complex interaction with someone and realize that I have no idea what just happened — I wasn’t even personally involved in the interaction. I didn’t even say what I meant or thought or felt. I just mirrored that other person, without even knowing what I was mirroring. They thought for sure that I agreed with them wholeheartedly and was validating their point of view by repeating it back to them, but I was really just saying and doing the bare minimum to get in and out of the conversation without getting too turned around.

Indeed, this is the great pitfall of this approach, socially successful as it may be: that I can get swept up in a chain of events that I don’t agree with, don’t care about, don’t even want to participate in… because the action is moving a lot faster than my little brain is, and I’ve unconsciously mirrored everyone so well, that they enlisted my help and swept me into their grand designs without my ever consciously assenting to it. And they think that because I’m able to mirror them so well, I’ve consciously chosen the path they’re taking because I’m as totally into it as they are… But I haven’t deliberately chosen.  And I’m not totally into it. I’m totally into nothing more than just participating and navigating the situation successfully enough to not be found out as a head-injured dimwit.

It can be a problem. Especially when I try to slow down the action long enough to say, “Hey – I need a while to think this through before I get involved.” Slowing things down is terribly difficult for me, in the first place, because I tend to be highly impulsive and get swept up into the energy of things. I also hate feeling as slow as I am, and I hate feeling so friggin’ retarded — as in the literal meaning “to be delayed”, which is exactly what I am at times. I have developed an elaborate and effective cover/compensatory strategy for my limitations, and I like how I feel when I’m “under cover”. I like feeling whole and hale and hearty and fast and smooth and with it. I like feeling complete and well-integrated. But when I “buy my cover” and forget that it’s just that — well, things can break down pretty quickly.

I suppose it’s all a balancing act.  There’s no way I’m going to just dispense with my compensatory behaviors — why should I? Everyone needs a little cover, now and then, and plenty of people say “yes-yes-yes” while they’re trying to buy time to think things through on their own, in the privacy of their own heads. But I don’t want to fool myself into thinking that everything is perfectly alright, since I can present well, articulate, keep my act together in very controlled circumstances. I don’t want to fall into the habit of thinking that because I can function very well in a highly structured environment where I’m literally just mimicking people around me and able to perform well as a result, than I can duplicate that same level of effectiveness out on my own.

I’ve tried it, and it doesn’t work. I once thought that my on-the-job skills at my highly routinized, heavily project-managed 9-to-5 position at an established corporation would translate into the same level of effectiveness and success when I started my own company. But I was wrong, and that experiment ended very, very badly. I’m still picking up the pieces.

I once thought that because I saw other people conducting workshops and I understood the form and structure of them, that I could duplicate their efforts and do just as well. What happened was, I got 10 minutes into the workshop and lost control of the “flow” and ended up riding a wild bucking bronco of a workshop where everyone talked out of turn and wouldn’t stay on-topic — very similar to what happens inside my head when I’m tired and overwhelmed.

I once thought that because I had worked in financial services for many years, and I had a burning interest in financial planning, that I could and should become a financial planner. But I ended up enrolling in a program for a bunch of money and then was unable to even finish two of the six courses. I was also unable to get more than a C grade in the two tests I took. And I had no idea why! As so many times in my past, I actually forgot about the program for a while and wandered off to do other things… and it didn’t fully sink in that I was supposed to be working on it until I got a notice that I had all of six… then three months left to complete the 18-month course. It slipped my mind, for the most part… and I couldn’t finish the program. What could — and should — have been a simple matter for me turned out to be a whole lot more complicated than I thought it would be. And I was a whole lot less up to the task, than I had assumed.

I once thought that because I had worked with many different kinds of lawyers for many years, that I could read and analyze and understand important legal documents for my family, but I ended up really turned around and confused, and if it weren’t for the fact that I had a good lawyer waiting in the wings, I could have really screwed things up.

The wild thing was — I had gotten myself into all these messes at the urging of others around me. Others who were so very, very sure that I could handle myself perfectly well, that I was perfectly capable, that I was perfectly equipped to deal with all of this… who had no idea at the time (as I) that there were some serious neurological impairments holding me back. There weren’t a lot, but there were enough.

And as a result, I have danced on the edge of disaster repeatedly throughout the course of my adulthood — and I’m still running into instances where I overestimate my capabilities. They’re less and less pronounced, and I’m getting more acclimated to “quality controlling” my assumptions, but the risk still exists that I might overreach and not realize I need to take special care to compensate for my limits.

I suspect that these may be good examples of anosognosic hazard — having lacking self-awareness get in the way of living your life. I know that they’re good examples of how buying my own cover can get me into trouble.

The thing is, I don’t feel like being disabled, I don’t feel like being head-injured, I don’t feel like making special exceptions for myself. But when I don’t at least consider that my broken brain may be complicating my life needlessly… getting me into trouble, yet again… well, the feeling of being in hot water is far worse than the feeling of tending to my relatively few special needs.

I really, really hate having to consider how difficult some things are for me. I detest having to bumble and fumble and stumble my way through situations until I figure out how to handle them. I cannot stand having trouble with sequential steps and not being able to remember stuff that “should” come easily to me. Most of all, I hate the idea of revealing to others how hard I have to work to do the most basic of things, like getting up and going through my routine each morning, and actually getting to work on time. It’s embarrassing, it’s disconcerting, it’s a total downer. But that’s how it is.

And even if I don’t show it to everyone else, it’s important that I not lose sight of it inside my own head.

‘Cause you can’t fix something, if you don’t know it’s broken.

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