I had a very interesting experience yesterday. And today. I started practicing juggling a couple of balls, to rewire my brain and explore some neuroplasticity. I thought it went pretty well. I was able to juggle two balls for about 40 tosses. Then I would find myself getting distracted, and I would drop one of the balls. I noticed my scores were getting worse — from 42 to 35 to 34…
So I stopped for the afternoon and took a nap.
When I got up, I tried it again, and although I wasn’t counting, I was able to juggle the balls much more fluidly, much more easily, and I’m sure considerably longer than 34 tosses.
I practiced a little bit yesterday, then I tried again today.
And this morning I was able to juggle two balls for 136 tosses.
That’s amazing progress.
And the best part is, I didn’t have to force it, I didn’t have to push it. I just relaxed and let the muscle memory that had built up yesterday take over.
I have half of Sunday left, to rest and relax. I didn’t get as much sleep as I wanted, last night, so I do need a nap. I’ve been reading some motivational info this morning, and it’s been really good. I’ve also been taking a long, hard look at the ideas I have about myself that hold me back and seem to be killing my dreams on a regular basis.
A lot of what I believe seems rooted in past impressions — not memories, exactly, because my memory is kind of crappy. But impressions and emotions I have about who I am and what I am capable of doing with my life.
At this point, I the best use of my time is to take another nap. Let the information sink in. Let my brain catch up. Don’t push myself so hard, as I usually do. Just let myself be…
I’m in kind of a raw place this morning. I’ve got a phone screen interview for a potentially great job, later today, and I’m starting to get nervous. The last phone screen I had went really badly. And the last couple of interviews I had didn’t go that great, either.
So, I’m nervous. I need to change jobs, and this could be a great next step, but I’m pretty raw from my past experiences, and I’m concerned that I’m going to screw it up all over again.
It’s disheartening. I want to do well, and the last few times, I intended to do well, but I just couldn’t manage it, and things just tanked on me from that point. It’s been a while since I had what really felt like a win for me, job-wise.
I’m probably making it worse than it is. I know I am. My perception of myself and my abilities is much inferior to what others think of me, and when someone pays me a compliment, I have a hard time accepting it. I have a hard time accepting anything for myself that isn’t criticism and blame. I want to change this, but it is extremely hard. I feel like I have to be pretty hard on myself, or I won’t perform. I won’t pay attention. I won’t be sharp, if I’m not being stressed and put on the spot.
This is when TBI becomes a real issue for me. Or rather, the real issue is the reactions of people around me to my abilities and behavior after all my TBIs. I’ve been getting injured since I was pretty young, and people have never been particularly generous or forgiving about the problems I had with attention and memory and figuring things out and just knowing where I stood in the world.
It really blows chunks, to get beaten up on all your life, because of other people’s stupidity and failure to realize what the problem really was.
It just sucks.
It’s not my fault I forgot things and didn’t realize it. I wasn’t lying. I just didn’t remember.
It’s not my fault I was easily distracted and I got confused and tired, and I couldn’t finish big jobs I was given. I just got turned around and couldn’t figure out how to keep going, and nobody would bother to help me figure it out.
It’s not my fault that light and sound and touch all hurt me, and I pulled away from people when they tried to make contact with me. It was so painful, and sometimes it felt like they were burning my skin.
None of that was my fault. I got hit in the head a lot. I fell. I had accidents. I got roughed up a bit. But rather than giving me the benefit of the doubt and helping me sort things through, all anybody could manage was criticism and name-calling and taunting.
The weird thing is, a lot of what used to happen to me is a bit blurry. My memory is definitely not what it used to be, and when I think back, I don’t have a lot of really clear memories about what all happened. I have some memories of bad stuff I went through and some memories of good times I had, but it’s all kind of jumbled together.
So, for all I know, a lot of good things could have been happening to me, but I can’t seem to remember them. The bad things are easier to remember.
And that doesn’t help me.
It really hurts me. It keeps me locked in a partial understanding of myself that isn’t at all fair. I have a lot on my plate and a lot of things I want to do with my life, and new people are coming into my life, so I need to not let that hold me down. I need to not let those old “versions” of me define the new life I am building for myself.
Why would I want those old tales that people told about me to limit the new life I’m building?
I don’t. So, I’m taking steps.
The first step is to realize that all the things people have said to/about me, have been more about them, than about me. My parents were young when they had me — in their early 20’s. So, they were living with very limited experience, themselves. Heck, they were just kids, themselves. What did they know? On top of that, they were living very responsible lives with a lot of duties and pressure on them, and the world was not kind. So, they took it out on everyone around them, including me.
They were literally doing the best they could, under the circumstances, and if they realized now what they actually did and said back then, I’m sure they would be distressed. My parents have selective memories about my childhood — it’s like we were living on two different planets. Maybe we were. But to go back and dredge it all up… what point would there be to that? Even if I did confront them about it, would they even remember or understand?
I doubt it.
So I’m letting that sleeping dog lie.
And I’m focusing on the positive — not getting mired in what went on before, but looking to what the future holds. The main thing I need to remember in all this, is that my memories of how things were is very spotty — and it’s biased towards the negative. It could very well be that I actually was the happy, active kid my mother remembers me being, but I just don’t remember much of that. It could be that I’m forgetting a ton of great stuff, for whatever reason.
So, if I just take my mother’s word for it, and I don’t let the old negativity about my father get the better of me, it works in my favor. If I just keep in mind that my memories of things, my recollections — my “cellular memory” if you will — is partial and slanted towards survival instincts and identifying and avoiding danger, that puts things in perspective. And I can not get hung up on all the old crap. Certainly, I need to face the old pain and accept it, but the fact is, there’s more to the story than that, and I should know as well as anyone that I can’t trust my memory when it comes to details about what was really happening and what it all meant.
It’s far more productive for me to focus on the things I can change — my present and my future — and not let those old misperceptions hold me back.
That means, each day I need to find something to be grateful for, something to keep me going. I need to seek out ways to focus on my strengths and keep my energy up. I tend to “run hot” and burn up my energy very quickly, so I need to keep a steady supply of fuel for myself — mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
A lot of this is really logistics — arranging my schedule each day so that I have enough time to focus on what I need to focus on, but not so much time that I can get distracted and pulled in a million different directions. It’s also about keeping my mind engaged in positive ways — reading things that motivate and encourage me and offer me new ways of looking at my life. I need to get plenty of rest, which I have been doing better at, ever since I got my new bed. And I need to eat properly, which I have been doing — especially since my parents left, and I’m not eating any more sweets that my mother loves to bake.
Most of all, I need to stick with the facts of my life — they speak for themselves. I spend way too much time talking myself down, making light of all the things I’ve accomplished, and brushing off compliments. I need to really “own” what I’ve done in my life, professionally and otherwise, and not let others’ insecurities drag me down. That’s a huge piece of it — because I seem to be surrounded by really insecure people who love to make me feel less-than. What they say and do towards me, is about them, not about me. And I can’t let them trash my life.
They would if they could — just to prove that what I’m capable of doing is not possible, and make themselves feel better. But why should they hold me back?
They shouldn’t. I’ve got to move along, and I need to do what I need to do. I have connected with some pretty cool people, lately, and I’m getting more socially involved in areas where I have a lot of interest and skill. This is outside of my workplace, which is pretty much of a creative desert. And it’s really pushing me to upgrade how I am in the world — with myself and others.
So, that’s good. It’s what I’ve been needing. Isolating all by myself is no good. And that’s what I’ve done for a long, long time. I was just so tired all the time. But now that I have my “rocket fuel” mixture of coffee and butter and oil, I’m actually in a much better place — and I have the energy to keep going, keep moving, and stay involved with the world.
May is almost here. I can feel a big and positive change coming. It’s good. It really is.
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…