After so many years in confusion and pain…

coming out of the dark

It’s been a long time coming… but it’s here

I can honestly say that life is leveling out for me, and I now have what I would consider a “regular” life. And starting from there, things are becoming truly exceptional.

The “regular-ness” is amazing and phenomenal in its own right. I have been thinking about how many years I spent in confusion and frustration, always playing catch-up, always struggling to keep up appearances of normalcy, always feeling — and being — so behind. And never knowing why that was.

Little did I know, concussion / mild TBI had knocked the crap out of me. I’m not like folks who go through their lives at a normal pace, then have a concussion / mTBI screw them up. I was always screwed up by brain injuries. I started getting hurt when I was very, very young (maybe even having an anoxic brain injury – from having my air cut off – when I was an infant, according to my mother), and I continued to get hurt regularly over the years. I never got hurt badly enough to stop me from diving back into things. And nobody around me knew that I was hurt badly enough for it to throw me off.

I kept all that pain and confusion inside, for as long as I could remember. It was just one day after another of working overtime, trying to keep up with everything… and failing. Always coming up short.

Now, suddenly, I feel like I’ve come out of a long, dark tunnel into the light. No, not suddenly… It’s been a gradual process, so my eyes have adjusted to the light. But the realization of where I am and how I am now, is sudden. It’s like I’ve at last joined the land of the living.

And I am amazed.

How did this happen? How did I get here? It’s been a slow building process, with pieces of the puzzle floating around in the air… taking their sweet time getting plugged back together again. But once they click into place, they click.

Phenomenal.

So, now I have to ask myself — how did I get here? How did I manage to do this? I had all but given up on myself and figured I’d just be struggling and battling, all my born days. But I don’t feel like that anymore.

How did this happen?

I think there were a number of factors:

  • Having someone to talk to on a regular basis – first, my neuropsych, then another counselor who has been able to talk me through stickier emotional things that I don’t like to discuss with my neuropsych. Having someone to just listen and then get to interact with, has had a hugely positive impact.
  • Deciding that I needed to get better. Even when everyone was telling me I was fine, and I didn’t seem at all strange or brain-damaged, I could feel that something was off. I just wasn’t myself. Nobody else seemed to get it. But I did, and I was determined to do something about it.
  • Getting my Sense-Of-Self back. This was the biggest piece of things, by far. It’s been the key, because restoring my Sense-Of-Self makes everything else possible. It absolutely, positively, is the biggest piece of the puzzle.

How did I do that? I’ll be writing about that in the coming days and weeks, as time permits with my schedule. But basically it’s this:

  1. Find a small but significant way I am struggling — a day-to-day required activity that “shouldn’t” be difficult for me, but which is a huge challenge. Getting ready for work each day is a perfect example for me.
  2. Develop a system and a routine for doing that small but significant thing the very same way, each and every day. Making this system into a routine not only makes it predictable and comfortable, but it also keeps my brain from being overtaxed by having to reinvent the wheel each and every day.
  3. Really pay attention to that routine, and really dive into it with all I have, sticking to it like glue.
  4. That routine then “rewires” my system — brain and central nervous system and autonomic nervous system — with familiar and recognizable patterns.
  5. These patterns become something I can then rely on, to know who I am and what I am about… and what I can reasonably expect myself to do under regular circumstances.
  6. In times of uncertainty and insecurity, I can go back to those patterns and find comfort in their familiarity. So that not only gives me confidence in myself, but it also gives me a refuge where I can find some self-assurance again — even in the smallest of ways.

It’s all about building confidence over time.  Predictable patterns. Predictable behaviors. Predictable reactions. And that can lead to predictable outcomes.

Our brains are pattern-seeking by nature, and when we don’t have predictable patterns, we have the sense that we are in chaos — we are threatened. Building in predictable patterns is the key, for me, to a healthy recovery from PCS / mild TBI / other brain injury issues. And anybody can use this. Anybody can do it.

That includes you.

Gearing up – got my bag packed, and ready to roll

I wrote this early this morning.

Checked my calendar, put my necessary paperwork in a folder to take with me, got my numbers to call, once I’m all set, got directions to the place where I’ll have orientation. And I’m running pretty much on time. And yes, I do have clean socks.

So far, so good.

It’s a new chapter to a new day.

Onward

Then my computer froze. G*dd@mn Google was trying to update Chrome in the background again. I  *&)#$(%* hate when they take liberties like that. Just sail right on in and take over my system, like it friggin’ belongs to them. Makes me want to uninstall Chrome, actually.

Bad things come to mind, when Google hijacks my system. I think very uncharitable thoughts about that pack of 20-something ignoramus nincompoops in Palo Alto.

No, I didn’t get to post that note.

My first day went really, really well. The one thing that went wrong, was that I ducked out of the room to empty my bladder at the time they were wrapping up and doing a group photo. So, I didn’t get in the group picture. But that’s okay, I guess. I hate getting my picture taken. Still, it would have been nice to be involved… Bad timing, but not the sort of thing that should ruin my day.

My head is full — so full — of a lot of stuff. I’ve got to get to bed early tonight. I’m incredibly excited about this new job. I’m being introduced as the new “resident expert”, which is phenomenal. I’ve worked for this. I’ve earned it. I’ve saved my past — and my future — from being permanently ruined by TBI. I have another chance. It’s taken me 10 years to get to this place… no, 40-some years, considering all I have been through.

And I’m owning this. Because no doubt about it, I have earned my place.

I have earned this, for sure.

Getting the Gunk Out – Again and Again

Here’s your memory training image for the day (sorry I have forgotten to include these in the past days)

memory training image

Study this image for a few minutes, then read the post below… and then draw it afterwards.

Get that gunk out of the gears

So, I’m starting my new job tomorrow, taking it easy today, catching up on my rest, and not going too crazy with everything. I had some errands I intended to run, but I went to bed, instead.

Just as well. Those errands can wait.

I’m pretty excited about my new role, and I can’t wait to find out how it’s going to go.

I got myself some really nice, fresh food for dinner, and I’ll start cooking that up in a little bit. I need to get my things together — make sure I have clean socks, as well as a formal suit to wear. It’s my first day. I want to look my best. I’m sure it will prove to be a lot less formal than I’m dressing for, but I’ll just take off my jacket. Roll up my sleeves.

Problem solved.

I’m trying to drink a lot of water, so I’m clear for tomorrow. The last few weeks were pretty action-packed, and I need to settle my system. Yesterday I ended up being pretty busy and active, which wasn’t my ideal. I really wanted to have yesterday off, but that’s not what happened. Oh, well. That’s what Sunday’s for, right?

I spent a lot of time, this afternoon, relaxing and stretching and breathing. I did that after my nap, while I was lying in my warm bed, feeling comfortable and easy. I am having more trouble with my upper back, shoulders, neck, and trapezius muscle. I’m really stiff and sore, and not feeling great. All that lifting and moving yesterday didn’t help. Oh, well. I stretched, rolled on a tennis ball to work out the knots, and I “breathed into it ” as my chiropractor tells me to do. In the end, I felt better than when I started, but it’s still tight and painful to move at times.

The main thing for me is to work on clearing out the stress sludge from my last job. Let by-gones be by-gones, and also help my body clear out the biochemical leftovers from all the ridiculous dramas and conflicts that people seemed to dream up to keep themselves entertained. It’s not a small thing, clearing out the sludge. We have to do it, in today’s world, because nobody else will do it for us. We live in very stressful times (especially as the new political season picks up), and our systems are deluged with all kinds of conflict and strife and perceived threats.

If we allow it to build up and stay there, it takes a toll. It puts additional stress on our systems, and it drags us down. I dunno about you, but I don’t need anything else dragging me down. Especially if I know how to clear it out.

So, I’m breathing – steady as she goes – count of 5 in… count of 5 out… nice and even, relaxing all the while. It balances my autonomic nervous system and gets me out of fight-flight mode. It backs down the stress response and makes it possible for me to clear my head, so I can think properly.

This is important. This is critical. I know how to do this, and I must do it. It’s no longer optional for me. Not just some interesting thing to try out, here and there, but a discipline I need to regularly do.

Like the image memory exercises.

Both help. In different ways. They really help.

 

 

And now, get your pencil and paper and draw the image you just looked at above. No peeking. It’s important to see where you come up short. If you succeed each and every time, you’ve learned nothing. Good luck.

Do we really need ALL our brains?

Dude, where’s your brain? This image is of a 44-year-old civil servant with average IQ and normal social functioning… and a ton of fluid in his brain. Dark areas are fluid. Like… everywhere.

I’ve been thinking a lot, this morning, about how people get derailed by neuropsychological exams. In the past few days, other folks whose blogs I follow have talked about their difficulties coming to terms with test results that “show” they are more impaired than they would like to be — or even that they think they are.

It’s a tough one, for sure. One of the hallmarks of TBI is that brain injury survivors are unaware of how impaired they really are. Take, for example, Charlie Elsmore, from the documentary Me And My New Brain (click here to watch it), who adamantly insists that she no longer has any issues from the TBI that nearly killed her only four years before. Just watching her in action, it’s clear (to someone familiar with TBI) that she continues to be affected. It’s not terrible. It’s just there.

On the one hand, you want people to be realistic about where they are. You want them to make good decisions and not put themselves in danger.

But you don’t want to kill their hope.

In the category of keeping hope alive, I keep coming across stories about people who have either functioned throughout life with significant brain impairments (or pieces just being missing). Take, for example, the Chinese woman who was born without a cerebellum. She went in for testing to deal with some dizziness, and she found out through imaging that he has no cerebellum, which

“is estimated to contain half the neurons of the entire brain. Experts used to think its function was purely to do with coordination, balance and controlling the body, but in the last decade or so they’ve realised that its role is far more varied and includes language, emotion, memory and attention.”

So, she’s literally walking around without a very important part of her brain.

Although this woman with no cerebellum apparently started walking late (at age 7), walks unsteadily as an adult and has slurred speech, it’s amazing that she is able to walk and talk at all. The authors of the case study say she has mild intellectual impairment, but they also note that she is married with a daughter, had normal word comprehension and was “fully orientated” by which they presumably mean she had a normal sense of time and place.

So, yeah… It actually is possible to live out your life without everything being perfectly in place — or even, apparently, having a cerebellum.

Huh.

So, for a fun Sunday mental romp, take a gander at this:

From

“Is Your Brain Really Necessary?”, Revisited

By Neuroskeptic | July 26, 2015 7:40 am

According to British biochemist Donald R. Forsdyke in a new paper in Biological Theory, the existence of people who seem to be missing most of their brain tissue calls into question some of the “cherished assumptions” of neuroscience.

I’m not so sure.

Forsdyke discusses the disease called hydrocephalus (‘water on the brain’). Some people who suffer from this condition as children are cured thanks to prompt treatment. Remarkably, in some cases, these post-hydrocephalics turn out to have grossly abnormal brain structure: huge swathes of their brain tissue are missing, replaced by fluid. Even more remarkably, in some cases, these people have normal intelligence and display no obvious symptoms, despite their brains being mostly water.

Here’s Forsdyke’s illustration: a normal adult brain on the left, alongside two striking adult post-hydrocephalic ones. The black spaces are nothing but fluid:

forsdyke_brainsThis phenomenon was first noted by a British pediatrician called John Lorber. Lorber never published his observations in a scientific journal, although a documentary was made about it. However, his work was famously discussed in Science in 1980 by Lewin in an article called “Is Your Brain Really Necessary?“. There have been a number of other more recent published cases.

Forsdyke argues that such cases pose a problem for mainstream neuroscience. If a post-hydrocephalic brain can store the same amount of information as a normal brain, he says, then “brain size does not scale with information quantity”, therefore, “it would seem timely to look anew at possible ways our brains might store their information.”

Whereas the orthodox view is that “information relating to long-term memory is held within the brain in some chemical or physical form”, Forsdyke says that we need to consider the possibility that memory is stored “in some extremely minute, subatomic, form, as yet unknown to biochemists and physiologists” or, maybe, that it is stored “outside the body—extracorporeal!”

Forsdyke refers to this latter possibility as ‘cloud storage’, suggesting that perhaps “The brain [is] as a receptor/transmitter of some form of electromagnetic wave/particle… of course, when speaking of extracorporeal memory we enter the domain of “mind” or “spirit” with corresponding metaphysical implications.”

You can read the rest of the article here: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/2015/07/26/is-your-brain-really-necessary-revisited/#.VbTnRbVBnW1

Who knows what else the world has to teach us?

Me and My New Brain – watch it on the BBC site

From the BBC program – check it out!

In the UK – Watch it on the BBC website here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b063h17m

Outside the UK, watch it on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0iKKMUsaVRU

About the program: Charlie Elmore suffered a brain injury in a snowboarding accident four years ago. Now she’s going to retrace the steps of her dramatic recovery and meet other young people adjusting to life after serious brain injuries, including 19-year-old car-crash survivor Callum, avid skier Tai and fashion buyer Hannah, who has to re-learn how to walk and talk after she collapsed whilst out shopping and hit her head on the pavement. With their help, Charlie embarks on a courageous journey to improve understanding of this ‘invisible’ disability, which is the biggest cause of acquired disability in young adults in Britain, and discovers the hidden ways it affects her own life too.

If you’re in the UK, you have 29 days from today (July 22) to watch it – I plan to, very soon. Hopefully, my browser and internet connection can handle it.

On YouTube, you can probably watch it indefinitely.

Chapter 3 posted

Here’s a random picture of a random French bridge

TBI S.O.S. Chapter 3 just updated after a long day of reading, listening, writing, research. Very satisfying, but also tiring. Good thing tomorrow is Sunday :)

Here ’tis:

Chapter 3 – Does the Self Matter?

Validation, Recovery, and the Diane Rehm Show

Came across a link to a great blog post, talking about how important validation is for TBI survivors. Validation, Recovery, and the Diane Rehm Show. It talks about how important validation is for TBI survivors, which gives me more food for thought in my work on restoring a Sense-Of-Self after brain injury.

Validation is about more than just getting attention. It’s an important part of reinforcing who we are and who we believe ourselves to be — and who we are becoming.

The blog post also mentions a radio show where the author of “The Ghost In My Brain” talks about his experiences. http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2015-06-04/new-treatments-for-concussions  I’m listening to the show right now and enjoying it… though I have to use Internet Explorer to hear the audio – none of the other browsers I have will play it.

Gotta run and get supper cooking. I’ll listen to the show while I’m cooking.

Good use of time.

Always a “new normal” on the horizon

Looking over the horizon. (Image from swissre.com ad.)

Looking over the horizon. (Image from swissre.com ad.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about the changes we all go through in the course of our lives. Especially in context of TBI / concussion, we are routinely forced by circumstances to create a new understanding of ourselves and our world.

When you’re dealing with a life-altering event, such as the loss of a loved-one, a new job, a change or loss of residence, or a sudden illness, you need to find new ways to understand your life and your place in it. In some cases, you need to reconstruct or replace what you lost.  In other cases, there’s no way to replace what’s gone away.

Things and money can be replaced, but people and the things we love most… well, once they are gone, we may literally need to reconstruct our lives in many ways, large and small, to make sense of our lives again.

In thinking about what we lose in TBI / concussion, we can lose not only our “self”, but also the sense of who we are — our Sense-Of-Self. It’s disorienting, distressing, traumatic. Walking through life without a clear sense of yourself and who you are or where you belong… maybe not even having a clear sense of familiarity with many of the things you used to take for granted… it’s tough. And it brings its own sort of trauma with it.

On my Saturday morning hike this morning, it occurred to me that one of the things that makes this so difficult, is the rigidity that often comes with TBI. Check out Stuck in a Thought Tunnel: Rigidity after Brain Injury for a great discussion of this. Here’s an excerpt from that blog post:

What is Rigidity after Brain Injury?

Imagine you wear blinkers that prevent you from seeing to either side of you.

This is what rigidity can look like – blinkers keep you following a line without being able to take in other information around you.

The difficulty with rigidity is that it is easily mistaken for more deliberate acts. It may be thought of as stubbornness, being obstructive, being stuck in a rut, or bloody-mindedness.

Inflexibility or Rigidity after brain injury, from any cause, means you are not able to adjust your thoughts or actions in response to changes that happen to you, or in your environment.

Rigidity after brain injury is not deliberate, it is an outcome of the damage to brain cells.

So, brain injury can make you stubborn, narrow-minded, brittle, inflexible, and give you tunnel-vision. And that’s a tough place to be in, when you need to be flexible to re-learn about your life post-injury.

In my mind, brain injury recovery is all about learning — our brains need to re-learn how to do things (often simple, everyday things), our bodies may need to re-learn how to move and function. We may need specialized training in things that used to be so simple for us, because the connections of our brains that used to run those things have been bumped out of place, like power cords being bumped out of their respective sockets.

Anyone who’s ever been vacuuming and accidentally pulled the cord out of the wall, knows a little bit of what it’s like to have a brain injury. One minute you’re ON, the next, you’re running out of power… and you’re OFF.

The thing with all this learning and re-learning is, it’s nothing new for our systems. We are constantly learning, constantly re-learning. Every waking moment, we are primed to learn, to take information about our world, and then put it to practical use. When we look at the weather and memorize the hourly forecast for Saturday, we are learning. When we meet someone new and they tell us their name and something about them, we are learning. When we read something new online and then share and discuss it with our friends, we are learning.

Learning is nothing new. We are built to learn.

Likewise, creating “new normals” is also nothing new. Every time something different happens in our lives and we adjust to it, we are creating a new normal. We begin to date someone we just met. We keep dating, and they become part of our lives. New normal. We decide to move in together, or to get married. Transitions ensue. Adjustments. New normal. Maybe we have kids. Or we get a dog or some cats or a bird. We have to rearrange our lives around our new dependents. New normal.

In the course of our lives, things are constantly changing. People and jobs and situations come in and out of our environment… one new normal after another. We get used to things being a certain way, then they change without our expecting. New normal. We are always, always re-inventing ourselves. Creating new normals is really nothing new.

Now, if you throw TBI into the mix, it gets interesting. Rigid thinking rises up and bites us in the ass. We get scared. We resist. We don’t want to do things a new way, because we think the old way is just fine. Well, maybe it is. But we may need to re-learn how to do it all over again. And we may find ourselves slipping up, here and there, trying to rely on old habits that no longer serve.

Kind of like how a widowed spouse will start talking to their “other half”, realizing too late that they’re gone. And they are alone in the house.

A new normal needs to develop. It’s not always welcome, but it needs to be created.

The point of all this is that when it comes to brain injury recovery, we as human beings actually know how to do it. We know how to learn. We know how to adjust. We do it all the time. We just get stuck in our foggy-thinking ways of resistance and not seeing clearly what needs to change. We get scared — and that’s normal. At the same time, if we stay scared and let it run our lives, we miss out on the chance to find out what else is possible for us in the big, wide world we call home.

New normal is not the enemy. Nor is it anything particularly new. It’s just what we do.

 

The New Science of Concussion Recovery

I’m not a snowboarder, but I’ve been up-side-down, looking at the sky plenty of times

Those who say “TBI recovery is not possible” can … [insert dismissal here]

Check out this article:

The New Science of Concussion Recovery

Breakthrough therapies are helping athletes recover from injuries previously thought untreatable. But many doctors remain unaware of the advancements.

It’s about seven months old… can’t believe I didn’t see it sooner.

Or maybe I did, and I forgot? That’s always possible.

From the article:

Therapies are tailored to the patient’s particular symptom set, since researchers now recognize six different types of concussions: anxiety/mood; cervical, which can lead to headaches; post-traumatic migraine; ocular dysfunction; vestibular, or difficulty with balance, motion, and coordination; and cognitive/fatigue, which causes concentration issues. A person suffering from an anxiety/mood concussion, for example, might become prone to angry outbursts, while someone with ocular dysfunction might feel woozy when surrounded by moving objects.

One of this year’s program visitors was Laura Fraser, whose concussion spanned three types (vestibular, ocular, and anxiety/mood). Her prescriptions included staring at a point on the wall while shaking her head, seeking out crowded places where people bustled around her, and focusing on objects at different distances. Her clinicians also insisted that she start exercising again. Running or biking, initially for 20 minutes a day, became part of her recovery program. “It was the opposite of what I’d been hearing for a whole year,” she says. But it worked. By December, she was symptom-free and cleared for more snowboarding.

“I could feel improvement every time I did the exercises,” says Fraser. “With the ‘just rest’ approach, I was waiting for something to happen,” she explains. By contrast, the active therapies gave her a sense of control over her injury.

I do take issue with how lightly they dismiss concussion / TBI. The article says, “Head injury symptoms that clear up overnight or within a few days shouldn’t pose a concern.”  And that concerns me a bit.

On the whole, the news about new treatments is encouraging, but it might be premature to declare victory in the Battle Against TBI. There’s a lot more to the story than you can get in one magazine article.

You be the judge. Read the whole article here: http://www.outsideonline.com/1928476/new-science-concussion-recovery

 

TBI S.O.S. Chapter 3. Does The Self Actually Matter?

Here’s your daily image memory test – study this image for a few minutes… then read the post below, which is a continuation of my work TBI S-O-S…  and then try to draw it from memory at the end.

Image Memorizing Test - study... read... draw from memory

Image Memorizing Test – study… read… draw from memory

 

3. Does The Self Actually Matter?

How’s your self-perception?

It’s been pointed out by commenters on my blog, as well as in certain religions and philosophies, that the “self” doesn’t really matter. In fact, it gets in the way of being the best person you can.

“The foolish man conceives the idea of ‘self.'” says the Buddha. “The wise man sees there is no ground on which to build the idea of ‘self;’ thus, he has a right conception of the world and well concludes that all compounds amassed by sorrow will be dissolved again, but the truth will remain.”

“And [Jesus] said to [them] all, If any [man] will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

The self is considered a form of over-inflated ego, in the world I long inhabited. It’s considered a collection of beliefs we have about ourselves that keep us from living a life of sacrifice and purpose. And according many of my teachers along the way, the most important goal in life is to do away with a Sense-Of-Self, to “die to yourself”, and even to embrace the whole of life as either an illusion or a chance to prove your worth in hopes of future reward.

That’s the tradition I was raised in — to forget your Self and sacrifice your own selfish needs for others was the highest aim of life. Individual Sense-Of-Self was unimportant. A sense of the larger community was what mattered. The most important thing a person could do, was give up the Self for the benefit of others. To avoid selfishness at all costs, was the sign of true maturity and development. Who you were, who you expected to be from one day to the next, was of no consequence. What you wanted, what you desired, with all your petty peeves and preferences… well, that all just got in the way of what you were truly meant to do with your life — which was serve the larger whole.

I believed that for many, many years. And in some ways, I think it may have made it easier for me to tolerate the losses of Self I experienced over the course of my life, thanks to numerous mild TBIs. I started experiencing consciousness-altering blows to the head when my age was in the single-digits, and to this day I can recall what it was like afterwards, to be so confused and baffled by things I said and did that — even at a young age — didn’t “seem like me”. The recollection of being so unaccountably angry when I knew that I wasn’t being sensible… teasing other kids with mean-spirited taunts, while inside my own head I was telling myself to STOP! but could not… being off-balance and woozy for long periods of time, unable to play with my new friends at a new school because something in me knew I got hurt when we were playing the day before, and if I joined them again, I might get hurt again… having my grades sink like a rock, when I was always a straight-A student before…

Even as a young kid, I keenly felt the loss of those little pieces of my predictable identity. It was like knife through me… a wide, heavy, wet wool blanket lowered over my head, slowing me down and impossible to get out from under. I knew I was not the person I was appearing to be. I knew I was better than that. More capable. More willing. But there didn’t seem a way for my goodness, capability, and willingness to get out from under that blanket of confusion and rage.

Over and over again, it happened. When I was seven… eight… ten… thirteen… fifteen… sixteen… sixteen-and-a-half. There were probably even more times along the way when I was hurt, but I cannot recall. Nobody thought much about concussion, when I was growing up. Nobody thought getting clunked on the head and being woozy or sick or confused actually mattered.

What did matter, in the world I grew up in, was forgetting the self — “self” with a small “s”. It was less important, than the collective good. Your own wishes took second place to what the community needed. I was raised by parents who’d grown up in a rural area with farming as a main source of livelihood. On the farm and in the gardens, what you wanted for yourself had to come second to what the group needed. You didn’t get to pick and choose when you would do certain things. Everything was dictated by the seasons and what needed to be done. You make hay when the sun shines. You get up before sunrise to milk the cows. You plant and weed and harvest, not when you choose to, yourself, but when circumstances demand it. And the last thing that helps you in all of this, is a dominant sense of what your Self wants, what it needs, or even who that Self is.

Training myself to forget my Self was an important part of my upbringing. It made it possible for me to do the things I did not want to do — chores, planting, weeding, harvesting, putting up food for the rest of the year. Up to my elbows in steaming hot vegetables, getting the corn off the cobs or the peas and beans out of their shells or snapping the stems off the ends of green beans, it didn’t make any difference what I mySelf wanted. It was all about the work. All about meeting the needs of the group, and putting your responsibilities first. Those who placed a premium on their own Self were a liability to the group, and everyone did their part to show them the error of their ways — either directly with discipline, or indirectly with shaming and ostracism. Many a Sunday, the sermon was about “dying to self.” It wasn’t just a nice thought. For the world I grew up in, it ensured a way of life.

Getting rid of my Self was also a form of self-protection. It was a way for me to make peace with the changes I could not explain within myself. It was also a way to avoid dealing with the troubling behaviors, the strange ideas, the distractions, the temper outbursts, the depression. If only I could stop relying on a Sense-Of-Self to point me in the right direction, I’d finally get on the proper path. If only I could escape that combination of experiences I named “mySelf”, I would be free.

But of course it never worked. And ignoring my own individual identity and Sense of who that was, led me to do things and make choices that put me in even more danger — and that danger also led to still more TBIs. I remember so clearly the determination I felt to put aside my bad feelings about an employer I worked for, for a little while. I didn’t agree with their line of business or their industry practices, but I pushed myself to go to work for them each day, in a location some distance from my home. The stress of the internal conflict took a lot of energy to deal with, and the long commute tired me out. One morning on my way to work, as I pulled out from a stop sign at a blind corner, I was t-boned by a speeding driver who was running late for an appointment. He rammed right into the driver’s side of my car, rattling me and making my car undriveable. The impact took its toll — I could not think clearly, and I could not understand what people were saying to me. It was too much for me to take, after a few days, so one day I just didn’t go to work. I stayed home and drank all day, much to the dismay of my roommate.

Here, I had been intent on doing the right thing and putting my own selfish needs aside, and it cost me.

After a couple of years, I managed to get back on my feet and managed to find a job that suited me better and was aligned with my values. Again, though, I tended to push myself too hard for the sake of keeping up, and one Friday after a long week at work, I was on my way to the train station to pick up a friend who was coming to visit for the weekend. I was late, and traffic was heavy, but I knew I had to push on — just put myself, my frustration, my fatigue, and my own wishes aside, and reach the train station in time to meet them. In stop-and-go traffic, I was rear-ended. There wasn’t much damage to the car, but again, I was rattled. I didn’t stop to see if I was okay. I checked the back end of my car and the front end of the driver who hit me, then we parted ways without exchanging information. I thought I was fine. The car certainly was. But I was not. I pushed myself to get to the train station (so they wouldn’t have to wait), putting my visitor’s schedule ahead of my own welfare,. I paid for that, too. I was confused again, addled, unable to follow conversations, and very manic. My family looked at me like there was something wrong, but I ignored them and kept on with my life, pushing myself to meet my obligations and responsibilities. Pushing myself to forget my Self. Deliberately ignoring the confused Sense-Of-Self that felt unaccountably confused… unsettled for reasons it could not fathom.

Many times over, I have been injured because I pushed myself to forget my Self. I only wanted to get away from that burden of “ego” I carried around with me. I only wanted to be free of the confusion, the frustration, the disappointment, the distraction. I longed to be released from the pain of my existence — not through suicide, but through “dying to myself”, day after day. “Train up a child in they way they should go,” says the Bible verse, “And when they are grown, they shall not depart from it.” That way of denying my Self, and fleeing from my Sense-Of-Self, was still very much with me. I had not departed from it.

And in the process of denying the fact of my Self, I have caused a great number of people a great deal of pain. There were so many destructive relationships that never would have commenced, had I listened to my Self and avoided getting involved with those people. I caused so much harm to others, because of poor choices that were more about what seemed to be the right thing to do, than what my gut was telling me. For so many years, I made choices and did things that were entirely out of character for me, because I feared that shifting Self, and I avoided listening to the still small voice that my Sense-Of-Self used to point me in the right direction. In many ways, I actually had good judgment. But I was so mistrustful of my Sense-Of-Self which drew on that, that I ignored it — and did what others recommended against my better judgment.

I thought that denying my Self and not relying on my Sense-Of-Self would save me.

But it just got me hot water. Again, and again, and again.

It’s taken me years to see that the Self is not my enemy. And it’s taken me almost as long to realize that a solid Sense-Of-Self is the one thing that can keep me on firm footing. What I’ve gradually come to realize, is that Self is more than the greedy ego. It is more than a collection of bad behaviors and peevish needs that nag at the soul, day in and day out. There is more to Self than negative qualities and needy drives to quench insatiable desires. And far from being a barrier to living a fulfilling, purposeful life, our Self — and especially our Sense-Of-Self — is what makes it possible for us to function as complete, independent human beings in a healthy, interdependent community. It’s not what separates us from meaning, purpose, and connections with others — it’s the very thing that makes it possible.

 

 

Okay, now remember the image at the top of the page? Get your paper and pencil and draw what you remember. No peeking…