Discovering a new identity after brain injury – or creating one? – Part II

I decide who I am

I had to run out the door to work this morning, before I could “finish my thoughts” on Discovering a new identity after brain injury – or creating one?, so now I’ll continue…

So, after my fall in 2004, something happened to my old sense of being able to reinvent myself at will. I lost my flexibility. I lost my fluidity. I lost my “old” Self — the Self who knew there was more to me than I knew at the present time.

That change didn’t happen immediately. It was a gradual process… a slow erosion of who I was and who I knew myself to be… as I had one instance after another of feeling and thinking and behaving not only different from how I wanted to feel and think and behave, but how I intended and expected my Self to be.  Listening to myself fly off the handle over little things… Watching myself get so belligerent and argumentative over stuff that never used to bother me… Seeing my whole way of relating to others fall apart — getting all jumpy and antsy and aggressive — and never being able to really predict how I would be, on any given day…

One experience after another happened, to make me doubt and question who I was, and take me farther and farther from my Self. Some people turn to religion or spirituality to find their way back themselves again. For me, any religious or spiritual feeling was gone, baby, gone. I had always felt a close connection to God, Spirit, Creator, Higher Power (whatever you may call it), but after my fall in 2004, I just couldn’t be bothered. People around me would want to pray and meditate, and all I could do, was roll my eyes and get irritated.

That all takes a toll. Especially when your behavior is nothing like what you want it to be. And how I was, did not resemble me in the least. I found myself doing and saying things I regretted even before I started — but I was helpless to stop it. The worst part was, I didn’t feel comfortable talking to anyone about it, because it was so terribly painful for me, and I would start to cry, when I thought or talked about it. I was deeply, deeply ashamed of my behavior. I knew better. Why couldn’t I do better?

I just pulled away from people, over several years after my fall in 2004. Only after I started regularly seeing a neuropsychologist in 2008, did things start to turn around. They got me reoriented in the right direction, and after a few years, I started to be responsible again. I got my act together, bit by bit, and things really improved for me, all across the board.

But there was still a missing piece of it all, a missing part of me that made me feel like a stranger in my own skin — uncomfortable with myself, not feeling like I recognized myself. I tried discussing it with my neuropsych, but they didn’t seem to realize the dept of my distress — maybe because I kept it wrapped so tightly under this veneer of capability, that they never could have known how wrecked I felt inside.

In any case, they never directly addressed my dissolving sense of Self with me. They were more focused on how I perceived myself in relation to myself and to others. Maybe they knew all the time that I had to reconstruct a sense of who I was, in order to fully recover. Or maybe they just didn’t seem to think my identity crisis was that big of a deal.

In any case, the net result of it all, was that I ended up spending a whole lot of time coming up with ways that I could make sense of my own life in my own way. Keeping this blog has been a big piece of it, as well as finding new things that got me interested in my life again — things that I felt were brand new discoveries. Even if I had “discovered” them before (sometimes several times), the fact that they felt new to me, kept me going. It kept me curious. It kept me looking and searching. It kept me engaged in my life.

And it gave me the feeling that I wasn’t just rediscovering my old self, but I was actively creating a new one. As I reduced the stress in my life, I found myself able to enjoy things again. I didn’t worry about whether those things “mattered” or not — or whether I was really fully appreciating what they were about. I didn’t care if I didn’t follow everything in the scientific papers I was reading. That wasn’t the point. The point was about reading something that intrigued me — even if I didn’t actually understand 100% what was being discussed.

I also found myself able to learn new things, albeit slowly. I taught myself to juggle, and that gave me a huge confidence boost. I figured, if other people could learn it, why not me?

I got involved in different projects and different undertakings, and I even did a live presentation that was broadcast to a special interest group. I never went back to the group after that. The point was that I did my presentation to begin with. I made art. I took photos. I did volunteer work. I created picture books and animations about topics that intrigued me. Just for the sake of doing it.

And all along, when I felt like I was in uncharted waters or things were unfamiliar to me, I treated it all like a learning experience. A series of teachable moments. A time to not only discover parts of myself I had never noticed before, but to create a new understanding of myself that was bigger than the rigid ideas I had about who I was and what was possible for me and my life.

At some point, I realized that the more time I spent trying to recreate the lost parts of myself from before, the less time I was spending on creating new experiences and discovering new parts of myself. And I also realized that the more I focused on the new and interesting developments in my life, the less I was bothered by the troublesome new parts.

When I was totally focused on something fascinating in front of me, the light and sound sensitivities didn’t make me nuts. When I was caught up in doing something that mesmerized me, it brought my brain to life, and I felt like I could think again. When I was actively learning new things, I had a sense of hope that drowned out all the bad feelings from meltdowns and blowups that really wrecked my peace of mind.

I didn’t just want to restore what I’d lost — like filling up divots in a golf course. I wanted to go explore a whole new part of the countryside, far away from those mucked up 18 holes.

In a very real way, my restored Sense of Self is a result of things I did to recreate it — to have a new and bigger understanding of myself in the context of my life. Over the years, I’ve developed some really helpful techniques to help me just stay chill and calm, so I can pay attention to the things that really matter in my life — the things that I can control and manage. I find that as long as I take care of myself and I keep showing up, my recovery progresses. There are always set-backs, but eventually things come together, and I’m stronger than before. And I find new ways to redefine myself and my place in the world.

So, I’m going to stop writing now and go read some more works about identity after TBI. It turns out, there’s a ton of stuff that’s been written, and some of it is very good. I find people talking about people “rediscovering” their identity after TBI, regaining a sense of who they are, and so forth. For me, creating a bigger and more durable identity is so important — it’s not just about discovery, it’s about actively taking a role in re-making yourself in the ways you choose.

I’ve always done this. That’s what I need to remember. Ever since I was a little kid, and I got moved around a lot, shuffled from one school to the next, from one peer group to the next. I’ve always had to adjust and redefine myself. And adapting after TBI is no exception to that rule. The stakes are higher now, and I have no real safety net, so it’s even more important that I take responsibility for my Sense Of Self.

I hope what I’ve learned can help others, as well.

We’ll see…

 

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Discovering a new identity after brain injury – or creating one?

Works for me.

So, I’m working on my book TBI S.O.S. – an expansion of my site section TBI SoS – Restoring a Sense of Self after Traumatic Brain Injury, and I’m doing a lot of reading about sense of self, identity after brain injury, and what it means to be “yourself”. There’s a ton of interesting material out there, much of it from experts and researchers, who either know, work with, or interview(ed) brain injury survivors.

It’s been about a couple of weeks, since I started working on the book in my spare time, and I feel like I’ve made some really great progress. It’s truly a burning question with me – one that cuts to the very core of who I am and how I see myself in the world. It’s also at the center of many other people’s lives, as TBI or ABI completely reconstructs the way they think, move, talk, experience the world, and express themselves… and subsequently affects how they experience themselves.

Usually, when I think of people “losing” their identity to traumatic brain injury, I think that it needs to be someone who’s lost key and critical pieces of their abilities — moderate or severe brain injury survivors only. But in my own experience with all those mild TBIs, I got completely lost and feel like I had been cut loos from any semblance of reality for years and years.

It didn’t take a catastrophic injury to cause a catastrophic outcome. And I think maybe that’s one of the things that throws people off with TBI — if you “look fine” and people can’t detect a difference to you just from looking at you and interacting with you on a superficial level, then you must be okay. Nothing going on here, folks.

Right?

Wrong.

And then we get left out in the cold, cut off from everything — including ourselves.

Especially with brain injury. TBI, stroke, aneurism, infection… anything that screws up the brain can do it to you. We TBI survivors don’t have the market cornered on losing our identity.

But for the purposes of this book, I can only speak about my own personal perspective, which is all about mild TBI.

I think mild TBI is in some way a “different animal” than other types of brain injury, precisely because it appears so “mild” and it’s so hard to detect and track. But the impact can be hugely disruptive. And getting back to some sense of who you are — who you ARE, and can be — doesn’t seem to be very well mapped.

My hope is that this book will serve as a sort of road map for others — or at the very least spark some ideas about what they could do, themselves, to get back on track. In my case, after years and years of not having a clear sense of who I am and what I’m about — feeling like I was losing myself slowly but surely, and having no sense of who I WAS anymore — that’s changed dramatically. I feel like my “old self” again, in many respects (others I’m still working on), and I know how that happened.

I did specific things for myself and in my life that made this possible. A number of things I did were related to what my neuropsych was discussing with me each week. And a number of the things went directly against what my neuropsych encouraged me to explore and consider. I also threw some things in the mix that they never thought of — or that they specifically told me not to do. Some of it, they said, was too simplistic, and didn’t reflect my actual functioning abilities. I did those simple things anyway. Even my neuropsych could apparently not see the extent to which I was struggling and how much it was all affecting me, so I had to do some super simple things for myself that gave me tremendous relief.

I sorta kinda took my recovery into my own hands, and I used everything I learned — including some key concepts from the  Give Back Orlando TBI Self-Therapy Guide — to get myself back on track.

And this morning, right here and now, sitting at my desk, typing on my laptop which keeps stalling because it’s old and needs to be serviced, I’m really feeling familiar to myself.

Again. More than I have in many, many years.

After so many years of feeling like a stranger in my own skin, feeling like someone else had “moved in” to my head and body and heart… it’s good to be back.

In the course of looking at the past 10 years of my life, after my last TBI, and beyond into my past before that (as I sustained a number of mild TBIs / concussions over the course of my childhood and adulthood), I have to say that the thing that’s saved my butt, over and over again, has been actively recreating myself — not getting stuck in a rigid version of who I was, or was supposed to be, and really actively seeking out new sides of myself to develop. Out of curiosity. Out of a sense of adventure. Out of a need to explore. And not wanting to be boxed in.

I’ve always been pretty fluid in my life. I had to be, because so much changed around me, all the time. From kindergarten till 8th grade, I was never in the exact same class situation from one year to the next. Every year it was a different group of kids, a different school. And I moved a fair amount. I got in trouble with the law and other bad situations, here and there, and I had to relocate to make a fresh start. I’ve changed jobs and careers several times. And in the meantime, I got hit on the head, which changed my perspective dramatically.

Through it all, I didn’t lock myself into a single identity. Not really. I mean, it’s not like I was a chameleon who didn’t know who “I” was. Rather, I always knew there was more about me to develop and discover. And that saved me, time and time again.

After my fall in 2004, though, something happened. I lost that flexibility. I lost my fluidity. I lost myself. It didn’t happen immediately. It was a gradual process… a slow erosion of who I was and who I knew myself to be. One experience after another happened, to make me doubt and question who I was, and get farther and farther from myself. Some people turn to religion or spirituality to find their way back themselves again. For me, any religious or spiritual feeling was gone, baby, gone.

Well, anyway, so it goes. I just looked at the clock, and I’m running late.

More later…

>> Keep reading…

 

Finding my way through the country I used to recognize

Sometimes it all just goes away

Yesterday was a good day. I was riding high on the boost I got from work, and the day turned out pretty cool.

The more I think about the compliment I got at work on Friday, the more it means to me. It’s really sinking in, and I’m “letting it in” (as my spouse urges me to do). I don’t like to get into patting myself on the back too much – no sooner do I get really comfortable, than the rug gets pulled out from under me, and I have to work my way back to a place that’s good again.

Over the past two days, I’ve been looking back at the way my life has developed — how it was in the days and weeks and months and several years after my TBI in 2004… and how I’ve re-ordered it in the meantime. I have made huge progress — thanks to getting regular support from folks who don’t treat me like there’s something wrong with me (it’s important to have some of them in my life, because so many people seem to think I’m not quite “right”), as well as constant WORK.

It’s been a long, long road back, through the disaster area that was my life for so many years. Like the tsunami in Japan that devastated so many lives in cities and villages, TBI tore through my life and trashed a lot that used to be reliable.

It sounds weird to me, thinking about how devastating the damage was, relative to my injury. I had a “mild” TBI — a concussion. I wasn’t knocked out more than a second or so. I didn’t end up in the hospital, hooked up to tubes and machines. I wasn’t in a coma. I didn’t have to relearn to walk and talk. But within a few years after my fall, my life looked like the picture of Japan above.

And at the time I realized just how bad things were getting, I thought the good stuff was gone for good. I thought I was gone for good. I couldn’t imagine ever coming back.

But apparently I have.

It’s been a balancing act — making concessions here and there, and pushing forward with things that meant a lot to me. There are certain things I had to let go, and other things that have come back to me.

Three things that I’ve had to change are:

  • How quickly I do things
  • My sleep frequency and patterns
  • How I live my everyday life

One thing I can’t do anymore is the “rush” thing. It’s confusing and exhausting, and I hate it with every fiber of my being. I used to get a charge out of it — a real rush. But not anymore. Now it just screws everything up. I’ve had to slow down a lot — for me, that is. Compared to others, I’m not going that much more slowly, but for me, it feels like I’m moving at a glacially slow pace, and it makes me nuts. But I have to do it, so I do.

Another thing that I’ve had to let go of, is staying up till all hours of the night/morning and then being able to get up the next day and go to work and be fine with it. That’s gone-baby-gone. If I don’t get at least 7 hours the night before, I struggle all day. I might not feel tired, but I can definitely tell I’m impaired. It’s just not worth it to me, to get all ragged around the edges and have to push through. Adrenaline is all very well and good, but it’s no substitute for a good night’s sleep.

I also need to actively manage my life with notes and reminders. If I don’t set reminders and keep notes for myself, I lose track of a whole lot of things I need to not lose track of. It’s pretty bad — especially when I’m tired. Sometimes I “rebel” and try to wing it – and then I learn again what a bad idea that really is. Keeping notes and reminders lets me focus on what’s in front of me, without needing to keep the reminders and to-do items in the back of my mind all the time.

I have to do a lot more preparation, too, than I used to. I need to preview my days and figure out what I’m going to be doing, and how. I need to actively manage my entire day, making sure I’m doing things at the right times and in the right sequence. If I don’t, it spells trouble.

Making accommodations for how I’ve become isn’t much fun. It’s a little depressing, to tell the truth. I want things to be like they used to be. I want my brain to be like it used to be.

But that’s not going to happen. Not like I think it’s going to be, anyway.

Actually, though, the accommodations I’m making for my brain are helping me in many unexpected ways.

It’s actually good practice to take things more slowly than I did before. This is not only because of my brain, but because of the greater complexity of my life, compared to how it used to be. Ten years ago, I wasn’t juggling my own logistical issues with the intense health issues my spouse has, along with being the only wage-earner in the house. Both of us were working and earning okay money, and we were both self-sufficient. Then the sh*t hit the fan, and I now have to manage a lot more for both of us, because my spouse just isn’t as capable as they used to be.

On top of that, my job is now more managerial than before. I’m managing projects and leading teams, so I have to factor in a lot more in the course of each day — and this spans not only this country, with coworkers in multiple time zones, but also overseas with colleagues in Asia and Europe to accommodate. Work has gotten way more complicated than it was, just a decade ago, and the nature of my work has changed as well. So, going fast and rushing to completion is not an option anymore. I need to consider a lot of things, including time zones and cultural differences — and also not rush myself and others in the process.

In all of this, sleep is critical.  And my relationship to it has changed a lot. I don’t have a lot of downtime, each day, and I’m exhausted by the end of it all. It’s been that way for a long time, actually — and it got that much more acute after my last TBI. I had a lot of trouble with insomnia and sleep disturbances. Just getting myself to bed has been a challenge, over the years. But where I used to really fight it, now sleep feels like a little vacation to me, when I can just let it all go — disappear into a different world. It is the ONE escape I have, so I value it like never before. I don’t drink or smoke or eat a lot of junk food, and my vices are necessarily few and far between (they can really derail me). Sleep is the one luxury I have, I’ve realized, and since coming to that conclusion, it’s become easier for me to let it all go and get some rest.

As for my lists and reminders, they keep me organized. I’m so friggin’ organized (out of necessity) at work, that my calendar is a model for others. I spend a lot of time at work, moving dates around and trying to fit things together in a big-ass choreographed production. In fact, that’s probably the best way I can think about it — as an exercise in choreography.

Getting people dancing… moving together… and making a beautiful production out of it. It’s funny — watching dance irritates the crap out of me. Maybe it moves too fast for my brain, or it takes me too long to catch up with it. But I absolutely love still pictures of dancers in motion. The pictures of mastery in motion really inspire me — if they can do that (and how do they do that?!) then what isn’t possible for people to do?

Still pictures of dancers — especially black and white photos of modern dancers in motion — really inspire me. And my job as a project manager is to inspire people do to the equivalent in their own work, so that our projects come together in a unified performance.

And you know what’s interesting? In the process of accommodating my limitations, I’ve actually been able to extend what’s possible for me, above and beyond what I’ve done in the past. In some ways, losing my basic functionality at one level, forced me to learn to live at a completely different one.

If I hadn’t gotten hurt and gone downhill as badly as I had, would I have been forced to “bump it up” the way I have? I’m not sure. Other keys have definitely been getting the right information and also getting some support, but ultimately, it was the total unworkability of my past ways of doing things in my emerging life, that forced me to dig deeper and see what else was there.

Anyway, this post is going on way too long. The bottom line is, TBI trashed my life, but I have gotten to a point where it’s no longer a total wasteland without any hope for the future. I have a ton of hope now, and that’s for a good reason — because things are turning around in tangible, daily ways. I have something to show for all my work, and it’s good.

It’s really, really good.

Onward.

The Ultimate Compliment

I had a really great day, yesterday. I got a big boost on Friday, after a hell week of missed deadlines, scrambling to catch up, and feeling like everything was falling apart. There were some critical missed opportunities and requirements that I completely lost track of, so I had to redeem myself — to myself, and my teams, both here and overseas.

But at the end of the week, one of my coworkers, whom I respect so much — they are level-headed and kind and have a memory like a steel trap, and they do a fantastic job of managing and supporting people — paid me the ultimate compliment. After I had sent out a status report on Friday afternoon about a project launching, they wrote back to me privately and said they were really glad I was “leading the charge” on that project, because I am such a rational and level-headed project manager.

That really made my day. First, because it came from someone who is an accomplished professional who does not dispense praise lightly.  Second, because they sent it to me privately, which meant there wasn’t another agenda behind it. And perhaps most of all, because it signalled that in some truly significant ways, I have figured out how to overcome the damage of my TBI in 2004 — and indeed, the bulk of my life before that.

See, there are many thing that TBI has screwed up in my life — I get crazy tired over little things, I have intermittent troubles with things that seem easy for others (like following conversations, keeping up with things moving fast, sizing up situations in an instant, and being able to deal with bright lights, loud noises, and crowds of people). Many of the things that everybody else seems to love — going to football and basketball games, sharing meals with large groups of people, and running around like chickens with their heads cut off all weekend — those wreck me for days afterwards. As much as I’d like to do them ALL, none of them is practical for me.

But the thing that really destroyed my self-confidence, was the way TBI screwed up my ability to deal with stresses. Being rational and level-headed was not an option for me, for so many years, because I just couldn’t sort everything out and I would become a raving lunatic over it all. I’d either withdraw into my shell or start to yell and sound off. I’d throw things, slam things around, bite people’s heads off… generally act out, without being able to stop it.

And then I’d have to not only clean up my relationships with others, but I’d have to live with myself afterwards, as well.

Not easy to do. And it seemed like nothing I did could actually prevent me from flying off the handle again in the future. I would just snap — lose it — go off the deep end, sometimes over little things that I knew were not worth the emotional outburst, but could not seem to stop.

Once upon a time, I was know for my calm in the midst of the storm. I was THE person who management assigned to impossible projects that were stalled, because I could pull them out of their tailspin and get them on the right track again. In a very minor way, I was like a first responder, who could rush to the scene of an emergency — run towards the chaos, not away from it — and rescue folks who were stuck there.

After my TBI in 2004… no more. At least, that’s what I thought.

That loss was the most debilitating injury of all — that mortal wound to one of the most key and critical parts of my identity, my “interface” with the world — my level-headed rationality, my ability to stay calm and collected, no matter what sh*t was hitting the fan around me. Losing that for years and years not only cost me my job, and nearly cost me my marriage, my home, my entire life, but also my sense of who I was, the sense of being “at home in my own skin”.

I didn’t actually feel like a real person for many years. I felt like an impostor — and I didn’t have any idea who I was really. Or even who I was supposed to be impersonating.

But then last week happened. And I didn’t lose my sh*t. I kept my act together, I ate my big slice o’ humble pie, I came up with an alternate plan, and I put the wheels in motion on getting things moving in the right direction. I talked to the right people, I connected the right dots. And by the end of the week, we had made progress and were back on track.

And the person I respect most in our group at work complimented me and said they couldn’t imagine a better person to lead the charge.

Wow. Just wow. I’m still just floored by it. I get a little misty over it, too. It’s just that huge for me.

After all those years of being unable to stop the downward slide into chaos and the destruction of my self and self-confidence… getting so many little messages from my brain and biochemistry, that I was not the same person anymore, and the old “me” was nowhere to be found, no matter how hard I tried…  attempting and failing, over and over, to hold myself together and be the person I had come to know myself to be…

At last. At long, long last. I was able to make it through an impossible week, staying intact both in my mind and spirit, and in my outward appearance. Some say appearances shouldn’t matter, but in my work situation, they matter very much. It’s a trust issue. A credibility issue. Yeah, it matters.

And I delivered. I found my team had made some critical errors, and we fell short of the goal. But in the end, I got us back on track, and the next week is about keeping folks there. this can be done. I can do this. If nothing else, the leader of my team believes in me unconditionally, and that’s more than I ever dared to hope for.

Morning walk with moon and stars

I woke up early again today, after having a pretty full weekend. I got to bed pretty late, and I probably should have slept more, but I didn’t. So, I made the most of it and got up and took a walk while the moon and stars were still out.

Nice. It was cold, but it was good to move. And I got the blood stirring, which is always nice.

I’m feeling much better about how things are going, these days. I spent a bunch of time getting my workspace organized again, and I made some good progress yesterday. I didn’t complete the task I started yesterday morning – I got maybe 1/3 of the way through it, before I had to stop. But I know when and how I’m going to finish the job, and I have some ideas for things I can do to make the job easier when I do it — later this week, and also in the future.

The main thing is to not get myself all bent out of shape about changes in plans. I have my ideas about how things will/should go, but unless (and until) I actually do them, there’s no telling what will come of my amazing plans.

So, I just need to dive in and git ‘er done, I guess… as long as I don’t leap too far before I look. It’s a balance — always a balance.

The main thing is, I’m not feeling down on myself. I’m interested in my life, and I’m making good progress. Even if it’s not the progress I had in my mind, originally, at least I’m going somewhere and doing something constructive. And that’s what counts.

Onward.

Yes, of course I can. If…

With the right tools and approach…

I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about the idea “I Can’t” that has been in the back of my head for about as long as I can remember. It’s been a constant companion for me through the years, and has both held me back, and propelled me forward.

Knowing nothing about how TBI can affect how you behave in the world, didn’t help me at all. I had no idea that how it can disrupt your short-term working memory, how it can make you more distractable and lead to “catastrophic response” meltdowns, and really disrupt your functioning in stressful situations. And so, I figured that I was just built wrong, that I was messed up, and there was nothing to be done about it.

I would try and try and try to do things, but they would just fall flat. I would get overwhelmed or distracted (and then forget what I was doing), and then I’d end up with a lot of plans that never happened. This was for things that others asked me to do, as well as things I took on myself. Nobody ever realized that I might need a little prompting — they just assumed I was lazy, and that was that. They just assumed that there was something wrong with me, and they made sure I knew that they thought so.

And being a basically trusting individual, I assumed they were right. There was something amiss with me. And that was that I couldn’t do the things that other people did. I just couldn’t. I didn’t give a lot of thought to why or how — all I knew was, “I can’t.”

Now, on the other hand, I’ve got this stubborn, contrary streak that refuses to give in to the “I can’ts” all rattling ’round in my head. For those things that meant the most to me, as well as the things that everybody else said I couldn’t do, I had an irresistible, unconquerable, indomitable drive to succeed. I would just get to a point where I couldn’t stand having people think that about me, and I couldn’t stand the thought of them “winning” over me and convincing me that I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do. That just pissed me off.

So, I would pull out all the stops, put all doubt from my mind, and drive head-first into any storm, not caring what anyone said, not paying any attention to any detractors, not giving an inch in my pursuit for my goals. And I would drive through any and all obstacles that kept me from my goal. Because I could. I could do it. I could get there. I could succeed, by God, I could.

Now, when I think back on my life, I realize that a lot of things I’ve done over the years have been done for the sake of proving to others (and myself), that I could do something. I would take on challenges, not because they were something I genuinely wanted to do, but because they were things I supposedly couldn’t do. They were things that nobody else believed in, that nobody else thought I was up to accomplishing. And I would accomplish them with pretty impressive skill, if I say so myself.

The only thing was, once the challenge was conquered, I lost all interest in what I was doing, because the thing that kept me going was the challenge, not the ultimate goal. And even if the goal was still off in the distance, if the challenge was overcome, I would not complete the task to reach the ultimate goal.

And I’d end up with half-finished projects and half-attained goals — which ultimately add up to failure to complete — failure.

And my once-bright-and-shining glory would fade… and once again, I would be left standing alone in the construction site of my life, proverbial hammer in hand, other tools scattered around me, crowbar still hooked to the nail I was pulling out of that beam, just hanging there…

And once again, my success would sour into failure, and I would have confirmation, yet again, that I can’t.

The thing was — and this is actually a life-changing revelation for me — the problem was not my ability, the problem was my motivation. My drive to succeed wasn’t about me achieving a goal because I wanted that goal. It was about me achieving something that nobody else thought could be done. And once that source of motivation — doing the “impossible” — was over and done with, all motivation to keep on going was gone, baby, gone.

So, the source of that “I can’t” core belief was really contextual. For the things I care most about, that matter so much to me, that I really care about, my motivation always stays strong. Because it’s what I want to do — for myself. For my life. For my soul. Things like writing about my life experiences, taking care of my health and my personal relationships, pursuing the projects that I work on in my spare time… they are all so precious to me, so vital to me, there is no need for me to keep bolstering up my motivation, because I want to do them for the right reasons. They give me life.

On the other hand, my job — which has pretty much been just a way to make money to fund the other parts of my life, so that I can do them freely as I please — is another story. And it’s driven by that contrary, “Yes, I can do it – I don’t care what you say – just watch me” mentality that is directly connected to proving to myself and others that we are all wrong about me and my general ineptitude. It’s just about me proving a point, not actually doing something I care about and believe in.

So, of course after a certain point, that’s going to fall apart. Because there’s really only so much I can expect to gain from a situation that has nothing to do with my deepest values and that I’m really just doing for the money. And when that situation starts going directly against my deepest values, like the current job I’m in, then the clock is well and truly ticking. Proving “I can do it” in a situation where my accomplishment is going to literally trash the world I live in, is not my idea of success.

The thing I need to remember is that, when I start to back off on things that I’ve lost motivation for, it is not an indication that I cannot succeed at them. I am literally choosing to under-perform. It’s that simple. I’m not failing because I lack ability. I’m under-performing because I’m choosing to not apply my ability. And that’s usually for a pretty good reason. I just disengage and let the chips fall where they may — usually in some sort of disarray.

Of course, the problems start in my head, when I start listening to others telling me that my failings mean I am not good enough, or there is some fundamental flaw in me. That’s what they seem to think, without apparently stopping to ask if there might be a reason why I am under-performing… and if there might be a way that they can help turn things around. They don’t get it. They don’t understand. And too often the results are that I internalize what they’re communicating to me, and I get a completely wrong perception of myself. I get tired, basically, and then my filtering system doesn’t work so well.

See, that’s the thing — I get tired. I get worn out, and then my ability to think clearly and have an objective perspective is totally screwed. I get down on myself for not being able to think well when I’m exhausted. Well d’oh – of course I can’t. Who can? I have pretty unrealistic expectations of myself, sometimes, and it takes a toll. When I’m tired, I’m probably living at about 25% of my potential, which is no reflection on my true abilities and prospects.

It’s wild, now my self-perception is directly linked to fatigue and how I feel physically. This is something I am examining and learning about, more each day, and this is an important piece of the puzzle that is my life.

So, here’s the thing — that whole “I can’t” business is directly tied to a bunch of things — my motivation, how I feel physically, feedback from others, and my memory and distractability issues.

When I am aware of them all, and I am managing them actively, then I’m fine. I don’t get bothered by the whole “I can’t” thing.

  • When my motivation is for something I really, really want to do that brings me to life, I’m good to go.
  • When I am well-rested and not feeling sick to my stomach and I am feeling vigorous, I’m good to go.
  • When I am actively screening feedback from others to block out the B.S. they send my way and make up my own damn’ mind about things (especially myself), I am good to go.
  • When I am using my tools to deal with my memory and distractability and actively keep myself on track, then yes, I am really good to go.

All that being said, I have all of the above going for me today. So, off I go…

Onward!