TBI Issue #5 – Trouble understanding

What’s going on out there? What’s going on in here?

So, I had a pretty good Thanksgiving. It was good to be with everyone, but I also burned through my money on gas and incidentals. It was cheaper than flying, but it’s still expensive to drive all that way.

Anyway, now I’m back and I get to resume my regular routine. I can get back to my daily work and start eating the foods I prefer to eat, at the times I prefer to eat them. I can get back to my usual “grind” which isn’t a grind at all – it’s quite pleasant, actually. I have refined it and honed it, to where I am pretty productive everyday, but at the same time, I also have room to move and breathe and make plans and preparations for what’s next in my life.

I have been thinking a lot, lately, about the issues I have understanding others. I have especially been thinking about the time, back around 1988, when I was in a car accident, got hit on the driver’s side of the car, and all of a sudden, I couldn’t understand what people were saying to me. It was especially difficult with people who had non-American accents – when they were talking to me, it sounded like they kept “clipping out” — like an old movie that has a choppy frame rate. In and out, in and out, getting only small pieces of what they were saying.

It was a big problem especially because they were my boss, and I could not understand what they were saying at all. So, I quit. It was a temp job, anyway, but to quit work… that’s something that was very unlike me.

That’s one kind of trouble understanding – just not being able to hear.

The other kind of trouble understanding (as I think about it) is needing enough time to catch up with what someone is saying to you. That’s what I’ve got going on now.

I often have to ask people to repeat what they said, because I need a minute to switch gears and catch up with them. I’m not stupid. My brain just processes information a bit differently, and that takes a little more time. I’ve tried to speed things up, but it doesn’t always work. It’s especially bad, if I’m in an “open environment” at work, where there are so many, many distractions. That is truly maddening with all the visual and auditory stimuli crowding me, and it makes it really hard for me to understand what people say to me right away. I usually have to ask people to repeat themselves.

I used to never do this. And it was a huge problem for me. In fact, not being able to hear — and never asking others to repeat what they said — had me blocked into a dark corner, where I was pretty much guessing all the time at what people were saying to me and what we were talking about. I have to admit, I’ve gone back to a bit of that — faking my way through. But this time, I’m aware of how spotty my working memory is, and I’m aware of what a hard time I have understanding people the first time they say something to me, so I really work at making up for the lapses. I take steps to actually “get” what others are saying to me.

There are several factors that come into play with me:

  1. Not being able to make out sounds, the first time I hear them.  I actually can’t hear the sounds if I’m not listening closely — it sounds like a garbled jumble of noise, and I have to really attend closely to get what others are saying.
  2. Being subject to tremendous distraction in the environment I’m in. Especially at work, where everything is open and countless sights and sounds are competing for attention. Having visual distractions actually makes hearing harder, because it distracts me from what I’m listening to. It’s really hellish, and as much as I’d like to make the best of my current situation, there is no way. No way in hell. In the spring, I have got to go, if they don’t reconfigure the environment.
  3. Slower processing speed, thanks to multiple concussions/TBIs. It’s bad enough when you can’t make out sounds, and when you have to deal with heightened distractability. But when your processing speed is slower than you’d like… triple-whammy. Everything slows down – it’s just crazy. And it’s exhausting, because I have to work so hard at processing everything. I sometimes feel like people avoid dealing with me, too, because I have to slow them down and our conversations can be so plodding. What fun is that? Not much for them, and certainly not for me.

Small wonder I’ve gone back to faking my way through a lot of conversations. It’s just so laborious at times, and I feel like such an idiot, not being able to “get” things right away. I can fake it through many situations, but eventually people tend to figure out that I’m fudging my way through, and then things start to come down around me.

Small wonder, I do so well with computers and prefer them and their company to real-live people who have no knowledge or compassion about my situation. A computer won’t yell at me and force me to “keep up”. It just says “yes” or “no” and always gives me another chance.

Others try to reassure me that I’m doing fine, that I am not impaired but they cannot see or feel how slow it is for me, and how hard I have to work at things. I try to explain to my neuropsych, but they cannot imagine what it’s like because we always meet under ideal conditions — in a quiet office without any distractions or pressure, and no terrible consequences for screwing up. I would venture to say that I am a very different person in my NP appointments, than I am in the outside world. I just wish I could communicate that to them.

Well, anyway, my work day is about to begin. I am working from home this morning — have a few conference calls I need to make, which requires a lot of listening and understanding. The thing that works in my favor is that I’m talking to folks outside the USA, and we ALL have trouble being understood. In a way, my difficulties make me easier to work with, in that respect, and I can offer my colleagues a lot of leeway they don’t get with my other American colleagues, because most people don’t understand what it’s like to have trouble understanding what others are saying to you.

But I understand. Very well, in fact.

So, now it’s time to go and put that knowledge to use.