Good to be home – and figuring out next steps

That feeling of being all alone in the crowd... is shared by many
That feeling of being all alone in the crowd… is shared by many

It’s been a good week.

A challenging week.

But still a good week.

Sometimes you just need to step away to get some clarity on your priorities in life, what you want to do with yourself, how you want to do it… and perhaps most importantly, how badly you want to do it. There are some things that I’ve been meaning to spend more time on — projects that actually do look like they have good potential to widen my employment prospects, as well as bring in some money on the side.  And it’s given me more motivation to really work on them.

It’s also important to figure out what you don’t want to do, and this trip made that abundantly clear. It was a pain in the neck, dealing with all the prejudice and pressure — the prejudice that came out when people started drinking and stopped being on their best behavior, the stifling biases against women and gay people, the “jokes” about so-and-so having romantic relations with someone of their own sex, when they’re not even gay – har-har-har (not funny for gay or straight people)… as well as the constant pressure from my boss to stay up late with everyone and party, even though they know I don’t drink… and them joking about getting me drunk (I wouldn’t put it past them), which is not only stupid, it’s dangerous.

I don’t know which would be worse for me – to lose too much sleep, or to get drunk. In both cases, I can fall, which could be catastrophic. In both cases, I can get in trouble with other people, including the police. And it’s not the sort of trouble that I can just get out of easily.

When I get in trouble — I get in trouble. As in, get combative towards law enforcement and other authority figures. And at the conference, I was not shielded by local folks knowing who I am.

I was also not shielded from sensory overload — all the crowds, the noise, the lights, the big open expo hall where I was working, and the constant movement and hustle. I felt like a zombie, much of the time, and it was miserable at moments, but then I got to step away to the restroom, or to get something to eat, or walk to a quieter part of the expo hall. There was music pumping, lights flashing, constant streams of people walking by who I had to engage and hopefully bring into our booth, and it was cold in that hall. I felt like I was going to lose it, a couple of times, but I regrouped and chilled myself out by focusing on something specific – like checking my email on my smartphone.

The area that the conference was in, was crazy, too — all the lights and motion and crowds and music everywhere. It’s perfect for sensation-seeking people, but for me it was just too much. At the concert they had on the last night, I thought I was going to flip out and hit someone. I was pressed up against the very front of the cordoned-off area, with people pushing in close behind me, whistling and clapping right beside my ears, and all of them wearing some sort of perfume. I’m not terribly sensitive to scents, but when I’m tired and overwhelmed, I get that way — and yeah, I got that way. I had to leave early, when I realized that I was on the verge of punching someone — anyone. That wouldn’t have been good. Plus, there were security guards about 10 feet away from me.

So, I skipped out and got in bed by 9:30 that night. Pretty good, I have to say. Considering that I had to fly out, first thing in the morning, it was ideal.

The main thing is, I managed to make it through the week without A) drinking, B) losing too much sleep, or C) getting in trouble. I held my tongue and didn’t respond, when intoxicated people were running their mouths about stupid things. They probably don’t remember saying it, anyway. I also didn’t let it get to me personally too much. All the “frat boy” shenanigans, which I have never related to, anyway, didn’t throw me. Mercifully, “frat boy” types have usually ignored me, instead of singling me out and beating me up. So, I just kept clear of the grown-up versions of “nuggie”-giving football players, and stuck with a few other like-minded folks.

Most important of all, I made it home in one piece.

And that’s a huge accomplishment for me. Not only did I navigate all the alcohol-soaked dinners and social events without so much as a sip of booze, but I also got in bed by 9:00 p.m. on two nights… at 10:00 on one night… and not long after 11:00 on another night. All in all, I think I lost maybe four or five hours of sleep over the whole five days, which is pretty amazing, considering that my boss was telling me I had to stay out with the team till 3 a.m., and then stumble back to get a few hours rest before morning.

Yeah, it was amazing that I got out of all that B.S. in one piece.

I just wish it didn’t have to be so amazing.

Overall, though, I’m feeling pretty good about my progress and everything I accomplished. Unlike other similar conferences in the past, this time I did not freak out, I did not lose it back in my hotel room, I did not space out or check out. In other years, at these big user conferences, I was fried by the end of the first day, and I was isolated and alienated for the rest of the trips. But this time, I was all there, I was just “riding” the situation, and I got some good things out of it, as well.

My big discovery at this event is that I am actually really, really good at engaging with strangers and getting them to open up to me. I have a ton of experience and a lot of “war stories”, and when I share them with others, they open up about their own experiences.

It’s funny, because I never really thought of myself as that kind of person – outgoing and engaging – because I am such an introvert. But even introverts can be engaging and outgoing, when we are in the right situations. And in fact, I was interacting with a lot of introverts, myself — one of whom was pretty drunk at 11:30 in the morning on the last day of the conference… probably completely overwhelmed like I was, and using the mini-bar in their room to ease the pain.

Yeah, it was overwhelming. But I made it through.

I realized some new (and important) things about myself and the kind of work I want to do. I also realized the kinds of things I can do, that I never thought I was good at, before.

So, that’s helpful. Despite the challenges, I still got a lot out of the experience.

So, that’s something.

Boy, oh boy, is it good to be home!

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Getting better… getting worse – life resumes years after tbi

Balance scale
It's all about the balance

Had a great trip down to see family, this past weekend. Truth to tell, I was a bit apprehensive about it all – there was a LOT of driving involved, and multiple family units, some of whom I have not seen in decades (not all of them friendly, the last time we spoke)… all on top of a seemingly unsustainable lack of sleep. Between the driving and visiting and events, there was simply no way I could have gotten 8 hours each night.

And sure enough, I didn’t.

But it all turned out alright, in part because I was prepared for it. I knew I was going to be tired. I knew I was going to be “behind” on my sleep. And I monitored my behavior pretty closely for the duration, to make sure I didn’t get ahead of myself and start down a road that would mess up my whole trip.

Only twice did I get out of hand – once when my siblings kids were disobeying their parents and doing something that was potentially dangerous, and my siblings were not pro-active at all and didn’t get them in line for their own safety. I spoke up sharply, and I think I scared the kids. But it kept them out of danger. And my siblings got a little miffed that I said anything to the kids. That kind of threw me a little bit, because in years past we’ve had a lot of confrontations where I acted out and was pretty aggressive with people around me, and they all remember that — all too well.

So there was the old “vibe” about “BB is up to their old tricks again – they just can’t be trusted in polite company – just a bad seed” that I had to work so hard to overcome in my mind over the years. It threw me for a couple of hours that morning, but then I went to lie down for a nap, had a little rest, and then I got up feeling a little better. But when I joined everyone else, I was still out of sorts, and I had an argument with my spouse that got very tense. They were also on edge, because my family can be very demanding and judgmental and pretty rough on everyone, and my spouse has never been comfortable with that level of harshness in family settings. They think that family should unconditionally support one another, while my family thinks that it’s the family’s duty to find fault with and correct each others’ “flaws”.

So, we had a bit of a squabble that day. We weren’t the only ones, though. My siblings were all having trouble with their spouses, and at various points, they were all split off in different rooms, having “talks” to sort things out.

But at least we did.

So, things actually went okay, for the duration of the trip. And I had some good conversations with family members.

One thing I noticed, however, is that my “flashpoint” is higher than it used to be, but it’s more powerful. The things that used to always set me off with my family didn’t affect me as much as they used to, but when they did hit, my reaction to them was much stronger than in the past. In the past, the discomfort and issues would simmer in the background and be like this sub-text of my experience. Now, however, they just bubble right up to the top and explode. Not as extremely as they used to, when I was a kid, but still…

Just ask my spouse. It’s a wonder I didn’t threaten divorce in the course of our conversation. I thought about it. Seriously. And I was prepared to go through with it. But when I gave myself some time to simmer down and chill out, I saw how ridiculous I was being. I wish I could say I had a good laugh about it, but it bothered me. I knew I was being stupid and ridiculous, but it wasn’t amusing to me. It was bothersome.

So, in the after-hours since getting home late-late-late last night, I’m looking back at the weekend, choosing how I will think about it. I could choose to focus on those two stages of a near-meltdown and think the whole time was ruined by them. Or I could focus on all the really great times I had with people I haven’t seen in years, who genuinely care about me and were very loving and engaging, despite my troubled past.

I feel in a lot of ways, as though my life with my extended family has “resumed”. For many years, I kept my distance from them because I had so many troubles communicating with them, and I felt like I was always getting turned around — and that really upset me. People in my family “knew I had problems” but they didn’t understand why that was, and they often didn’t treat me well. So, I kept my distance. Or when I was with them, I didn’t come out of my shell very well.

I was literally a captive of my perceptions of myself. I felt like I was too “problematic” for them, and they probably picked up on that and treated me accordingly. I sort of have this reputation in my family as being a bit of a loser — plenty of potential, but somehow lacking the moral fortitude to do anything with it. That reputation has dragged me down so very much, and in the past, I didn’t have much hope of interacting well with them, so I never gave myself a chance to just be who I was with them.

That has changed dramatically, however, in the past several years. Working with my neuropsych, they’ve just about convinced me that I’m not profoundly, mortally flawed and an intermittent danger to myself and others. I’ve been learning to give myself a chance around people, engaging with them, striking up conversations and interacting in healthy, productive ways. And I’ve been really gingerly resuming contact with people who I’d steered clear of in the past.

Now, it hasn’t been easy going. It’s been touch and go, and I’ve actually backed off on a lot of social interactions that I once had. I’ve stepped away from a lot of old friendships and acquaintances, to keep myself sane and centered. But sometimes I’ve distanced myself from people just out of laziness. And a desire to withdraw, isolate, and do my own thing without having to work with others. That has not been the biggest improvement in my life.

And yet, it serves its purpose. When it comes time to interact with people, I’m far less depleted. I am aware of my challenges, and I take proactive steps to deal with them. Being aware helps. So long as it doesn’t hold me back. Fortunately, this past weekend, it didn’t hold me back very much, aside from a few blips in the road.

I would like to get to a point where I can freely interact with people, connect, and just have a conversation… eventually building up friendships.  I’m not quite there, yet. I think this is one way I’ve slid back over the past few years, while I’ve advanced in other ways. I think I’ll get there, eventually. Maybe sooner than later. But I’m not quite there yet.  Sometimes I get down on myself, thinking I should be farther along. These things take time, though. It will come.

I guess this is just how it is… Steps forward, steps back. TBI is never easy, and it has its share of surprises. I’ll count my blessings that I had such a good weekend and such a good time with my relatives. Right now, that’s what counts.