I miss the solitude under my rock

I’m fine here… Really, I’m fine.

God, what I wouldn’t give to just be away from people for a while. But I can’t. I have to be social. I have to talk to people. I have to deal with insurance people, and I have to talk to people about what happened to my spouse during their car accident. The worst part is giving them the details… and then having them tell me all about their car accident experiences.

It’s all very social. And it’s all so exhausting. Driving out to the hospital to get my spouse and their friend and get them to a motel and then get them home, cleaning out the car, and getting info from the tow yard lady, has not been the hard part. The hardest part has been the emotional upheaval afterwards, and my spouse fixating on how close they came to being killed. PTSD.

I’ve been in a number of motor vehicle accidents, myself (three of which gave me TBIs), and I hate thinking about them, because everything gets so jumbled up. It’s also over and done with, and trying to sort all the ideas out takes so much energy. I want to just let that all go and move on. Get back to my regular life. That should be happening in the next few weeks. But right now, everything feels hard and frustrating and confusing. I’m foggy and having trouble doing more than one thing at a time.

My big deadline yesterday actually worked out, pretty much, and even where I screwed up and complicated the process, people were super helpful helping me sort through it all. Nothing else really got done, other than that project. I had to focus on that — and only that. Keep watching. Keep emailing. Keep tracking. Keep following up… It was exhausting, and I slept for another 10 hours last night.

I miss the solitude under my rock. I miss not having to talk out loud to people. I just want to hole myself up and not put words together, not put ideas together, not express them, not make them clear to anyone. It’s just so difficult for me at times like these, when I am stressed, and I am in visual-nonverbal-mode.

Visual-nonverbal-mode is my mode when I am trying to get things done. I see pictures of what is happening, and I see how it’s all fitting together, and I’m moving forward, making that happen. I have a hard time paying attention to anything around me, other than what’s in front of me, and I don’t hear a lot of things that go on. I basically pretend… while my brain is processing images and getting ready to spring into action, instead of sitting around talking.

Less talk, more action, is what that mode is all about, and it’s how I’ve been for most of my life. I had trouble hearing, when I was a kid, and I am having trouble, these days. I also had trouble getting words to organize in ways that others understood. Plus, I didn’t know the proper sounds to use for some letters, so that didn’t help. It’s hard to explain, but when I am stressed, the verbal part of my brain shuts down, and since people are so damn’ eager to talk and talk and talk (it soothes them and connects them to others, thus reducing their anxiety), talking things through just makes things more stressful for me.

It’s like talk and action are mutually exclusive in my brain.

Which is why I favor solitude so much. Nobody is talking to me. I’m just taking action. I’m just doing what I need to do. I don’t have to explain things to people. I don’t have to get their feedback. I’m just doing it. I’m not sorting through my ideas to make them “accessible” to others. Oh, let me digress for a moment…

<rant> why the hell do other people feel entitled to have “access” to each others’ ideas, anyway? can’t we all just do and be what we are, without demanding “access” to each other and being slavishly social? wtf people?! </rant>

Okay…. anyway, being alone is such a tremendous relief for me, especially in times like this, when I have a lot to handle and a lot is on my shoulders. I haven’t been talking to a lot of people about the accident (I told 2 of my close coworkers yesterday), and I really don’t want to get into it, if we’re not exchanging some meaningful information that people can actually use — like dealing with insurance companies.

The other reason I don’t want to talk to others about the accident is that it really upsets me on so many levels, and I need to stay functional. I can’t afford to break down, and when I am this tired and this stressed, it’s easy for me to lose my sh*t. I can’t do that at work. I have to stay steady. I just barely missed getting cut from the roster, a few weeks back, and I need to handle my more demanding workload.

All the more reason to seek out solitude. I go to the cafeteria to work, so I don’t have to be around people and hear them talking. I also go there, so no one will come up and talk to me. I really just need to be by myself, and while that does piss people off, I can use food and an excuse to do it. We’re not supposed to eat at our desks, and I need more than just a piece of candy to keep me going. So, I take my instant oatmeal or little bag of chips, and camp out in the caf.

It works.

Anyway, I have to get going. I have another full day ahead of me, and I just need to get things done. I am working really hard at recovering and getting back on track, so I can continue my trajectory to the type of life that I can be happy with — making the most of all my talents, making the most of my situations, and getting to do things that I can’t do right now – like travel. I just have to make my hours at work, earn the money, do the work, and let everything fall as it will.

It will be fine. I just miss my solitude under my rock.

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Me and my seclusion

Ah, solitude…

An interesting thing has happened with me, since I changed jobs and have more time to myself at home now. I seem to have turned into a bit of a hermit.

Actually I’ve always been a hermit, only now I have the time to go back to it more than ever. I’ve been keeping to myself for the past three days, not doing more than I absolutely have to, and not going on social media much — other than finding WordPress blogs about TBI and concussion.

And it’s really, really nice.

I had struggled for years with feeling like there was too much hustle and bustle in my life, with my day job being the biggest time sink of my life, not leaving me much time to relax and take it easy. Since around the time of my mild TBI in 2004, when I was working just 20 minutes down the road from my place, most of my jobs had long commutes. I did have a contract position for a little over a year, in 2006-2007, and I had another job close to home in 2010-2011, but for most of the past ten years, I’ve had long commutes — an hour (plus) each way.

I had not realized, till lately, how much that has taken out of me. It wasn’t just the commuting that sucked, it was the fatigue. The constant fatigue and exhaustion. And it took such a toll on me.

The biggest casualty of that weariness and time sink, was my peace of mind. My seclusion. My quiet. Looking back on my life, I realize that until fairly recently, I just took for granted that it was going to take me at least an hour to get to work. Sometimes two. It was the price I paid for a good job.

The fact that I don’t feel that way is yet more evidence that my recovery is commencing — and that I’m in better cognitive condition now than ever before. I no longer rely on stress and strain to wake myself up and make myself more alert. I no longer just assume that having a good job comes with a high price tag. I’m not in the “no pain no gain” mentality, anymore, and that’s huge. Absolutely huge.

And it gives me hope. Because doing away with the habit of using stress-and-strain to wake myself up and make me more alert, means I’m inherently safer in the way I live my life. I cannot tell you how many times I have either gotten hurt… I have nearly gotten seriously hurt… or I made choices that could have put me in an early grave… because I needed the rush to wake myself up. Just on a very basic level, on a day-to-day basis, I used stress to numb my physical pain, to heighten my senses, to make me more alert, and to get myself going when I was feeling sluggish.

And I didn’t worry too much about not having a lot of time to myself. Because going-going-going and getting a ton of things done was so important just to my basic sense of well-being. Yeah, I valued my time alone, and I have gone for years being pretty much of a hermit in my own time. But there wasn’t this powerful devotion to seclusion.

Nor was there good discipline around using it well.

I had a lot of plans, I had a lot of hopes and dreams. I had a lot of ambitions. But none of them truly amounted to anything, because I did not apply myself on a regular basis. I did not use the time I had to make progress. I flitted from one idea to the next, thinking I was just being “free”. And now here I am, years — decades — on down the line, without much to show for all those dreams and ambitions.

I’ve been down on myself for having gotten to this point in my life without a whole lot to show for what I really want to be doing with myself. But that’s not going to change anything. It’s not a good use of time. Now I feel 1000% more focused on what I want to do with myself, what I want to do with my time and my energy. And the fact that I am no longer on constant edge, looking for the next adrenaline “bump” to get me past the pain and confusion I feel… well, that makes a huge difference.

I would not be here without my TBI recovery, and I am so grateful to everyone who has helped me along the way to get here.

It’s turned out to be an amazing day. And I have been taking time to chill out and relax. This is my third day “off” and I am enjoying it like nothing else. I have a few things I still need to take care of, but an overall sense of calm and “chill” has come over me, and I finally, finally, finally feel like I can truly relax.

I’m doing what I want to do — which is reading and writing and working on concepts and mental “constructs” that explain significant parts of the world to me. You might call it “thought experiments”. Or philosophy. But I haven’t been formally trained in philosophy, and when I read “the philosophers,” it just sounds like Woodstock jabbering away in a Peanuts cartoon.

What I’m doing is a more basic, fundamental approach to understanding the world, and it makes sense to me. It doesn’t rely on jargon and specialized terminology or catch-phrases to make its point. It’s just my breakdown of understanding about how things are put together, why they are the way they are, and what it means for me and others I know.

And it’s good. It feels like an actual vocation — a calling. And since I’m not getting any younger, I guess I consider this my legacy for future generations. Keeping things simple, and understanding the world in a clear and collected way. In a way, it’s the next logical extension for my recovery — challenging my mind to be calm, clear, and collected… and to eventually share what I have garnered. I still haven’t figured out how I’m going to share it, or with whom. For me, the main thing is the exercise, the work of it. The discipline. It feels good.

And I know it is helping my brain.

Speaking of helping my brain, I’ve started juggling again. I took a break from it for a few weeks, then I picked it up again, and I am actually better at it than I was before. I was afraid I might lose my ability, but my brain’s new wiring seems to have settled in and solidified, and it feels good.

It’s all part of my recovery. It’s all related. I’m at a place now where I am actually — really, truly — enjoying my life, and my efforts now are focused on deepening my ability to do that. I have been struggling for so long, battling so much, getting hurt and having to recover… getting hurt and having to recover… dealing with my and others’ health issues… dealing with the upheavals of life… and always feeling like I was playing catch-up.

I don’t feel that way anymore. If anything, I feel like I actually know how to handle things — and that I WILL be able to handle them, come what may.  It’s a far cry from how I have felt for many, many years — probably ever. And I am enjoying myself immensely.

So, it’s back to my solitude. I am working on some ideas that have been on my mind, lately. They emerged out of conversations I’ve had with people over years and years and years, so who can say what my influences have been? Everything, I guess.

But anyway, enough talk. I hope you can find some time to enjoy yourself today.

And Happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there.

What I’ve left behind

Somewhere, someone cares about your loss

I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about the things I’ve left behind over the years. The people, the places, the things… as well as the abilities and interests that have gone away, due in large part to TBI. With Thanks-giving fast approaching, here in the U.S., and travels to old haunts and family activities on the horizon, I have been thinking a lot about how things are different now than they were before — as well as how things might have been different, had I not fallen in 2004 and gotten screwed up with that head injury.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about how I handle my life now, compared with before, due to my TBI recovery work, and my discussions with my neuropsych. The professional I see for rehab work is not very big on acknowledging or dealing with the losses I’ve experienced — in part because my perception of those things has been pretty heavily skewed, and it isn’t always accurate. And my NP is there to get me to move forward, not stay stuck in the past.

In any case, they don’t seem to believe me when I tell them about how things were before my injury. Like so many people, they make up their minds about who and how I am, and they use that as a reference point for dealing with me. Their reference point isn’t always accurate — but then, my own reference points are not always accurate, either. So, between all these different reference points, without having any confidence in specific details about Who I Really Am and How I Used To Be, I just keep moving forward, keep living my life, and I don’t try not to worry about.

But aside from the general haziness of who I really am and how I really am, I have been dealing with a lot of sense of loss, lately. I have immediate family members who have either passed on, or are in their late-late golden years and may not be around much longer. I also have family members who make what I consider really un-healthy decisions and are locked in a constant struggle with drama they have invented with their own personal choices. All in all, it’s pretty depressing to go visit my family, because there is so much unhappiness — due in large part to people making decisions that are not healthy or helpful for them and those around them. The worst part is, they can’t seem to see any way out of their decisions, as though they “have” to do those things that hurt them.

Am I being vague? Here are some examples of choices by loved-ones that depress me:

  • Moving in with someone and then marrying them, despite the fact that they have a drinking problem… then being stuck in a marriage that looks great on the outside to everyone who cannot see that your spouse is structuring their entire life schedule around getting drunk — and you’re stuck in that schedule, too. For years. Till you leave them and start living with someone else who doesn’t seem like a much better choice.
  • Losing your spouse to cancer at a relatively young age, when you have two young kids, and never getting those kids proper counseling help for their loss… and marrying someone who looks exactly like the spouse you lost and you don’t really love, but is a good parent for your kids… and burying yourself in a very extreme religion to dull the pain of your choices.
  • Having a lot of health issues that are directly related to lifestyle — eating foods that are bad for you, keeping a schedule that is unhealthy, and ignoring the warning signs your body is giving you — and being progressively more crippled each year from the foods you eat and the way you live your life.
  • Spending your life in a profession that is combative and antagonistic, and bringing that combativeness and antagonism into the home where you verbally attack anyone who disagrees with you, hurting and pushing people away “on principle”.
  • Choosing to marry for practical, popular reasons instead of love, then spending the rest of your adult life pining for a deep emotional connection with your spouse that has never been there, and never will be… refusing to accept responsibility for your choice in partners… and being on heavy-duty meds to dull the pain of your choices and your refusal to make different choices in your life that would suit you better but be less popular with others… Basically medicating yourself to avoid taking any responsibility for your life.

I don’t mean to be cold or unkind — my frustration comes from knowing just how much better life can be, and feeling great pain for the individuals I love and care for, who seem so stuck in the ruts they’ve grooved into their lives. We don’t have to be victims! I want to pick them up and shake them and let them know there is a better way. But it’s like we’re living in parallel universes and speaking in a different language, and they cannot hear or understand what I’m saying.

Now, I know life is never going to be perfect, for sure, and there is much pain and struggle for all of us. Most people struggle with inner demons that no one else can see, but we fight with daily. But the fight doesn’t have to be miserable. We can see it as a regular part of life that can bring us some freedom and relief — and help to define and refine our characters.

So, there is hope. At the same time, there is so much grief and loss and pain. This time of year is very hard for me, because I lost some important people around this time of year, and the autumn-time experience of loss still stays with me to this day. It’s like it’s in my cells — and I re-live it each year, even decades after those losses.

So, the theme for my life during this time of year is mourning. If I don’t do something constructive, the grief just takes over. I know I have many, many reasons to be thankful — and maybe that’s the thing that will save me — Thanks-giving — yet I cannot seem to shake this grief, this sense of having lost so much over the years of my life, thanks to TBI and the results of it, starting in childhood and on into my adult life. I cannot help but wonder, what might have been possible, had I never gotten hurt like that… had I gotten help… had people known about TBI when I was a kid, and given me half a chance. I cannot help but wonder, what might have happened, had I told someone about my head injury when it actually happened in 2004, instead of lying about it and then watching as my whole life went to hell for no apparent reason.

But no, it didn’t happen that way. And I am bereft.

This is something that I think many people fail to see and address — the losses of TBI, the importance of recognizing and mourning of those losses, and dealing with the deep grief that comes from knowing that once upon a time you could do better… that once upon a time, you took certain things for granted… that once upon a time, so much was possible… but now it’s all different. It’s not like that anymore. Maybe somewhat, somehow, but not exactly. And you have to start from scratch in many ways, and fight your way back to where you want to be — if you can ever get there at all.

Sometimes, you can’t get there as quickly as you’d like, or not at all, and then you have to let it go. You have to just cut your losses and move on.

But “cutting losses” doesn’t factor in the pain that comes from those losses, and that’s what I want to talk about today.

When I try to explain to people what it was like for me before I fell in 2004, I get blank stares.

When I try to tell them how I used to be able to just pick things up — new programming techniques, new ideas, new information, they just look at me like it’s no big deal. When I tell them how I used to be in the thick of craziness on the job, day in and day out, without any real negative side-effects, they almost don’t believe me, and they cringe if I tell them what it’s like for me now (if I even do – because nowadays, I don’t).

When I try to tell them how fluid my approach used to be, before I fell — I would see a challenge and I would rise to it without giving it a second thought — they almost don’t believe me, either.

And when I tell them how much money I used to make and how much money I was worth, the flat-out disbelieve me. Because that would be impossible for someone my age without a college degree, doing the kind of work I used to do.

This is partly because they didn’t really know me before. They didn’t know the line of work I was in, and they didn’t know what it was like to work for my employer. They don’t come from the world where I work, each day, and they have no idea just how good things were for me, and how well I could function in those circumstances, and how rewarding it all was. For people who know me now but didn’t know me before, my accounts of how things used to be just sounds like confabulation — or me making things up. Because the difference between now and then is so dramatic and so extreme, that they probably could not begin to imagine me as I once was.

As I believe I once was.

See, there’s the rub — maybe I was that way, or maybe it was my perception of how I was. Maybe I was “all that”, and maybe I wasn’t. I may never know. My memory plays tricks on me all the time, and the best that I can do, some days, is muster a “feeling” about the past that seems true.

I know things used to be different for me. I know I used to be different. Looking at my bank account, and considering the kind of work I do today, compared with 10 years ago, there is a radical difference. Like night and day. And the fact that I am struggling terribly with money these days, just maddens me. It was never like this before. Never. Ever. But now it’s a daily challenge to keep my finances in order and keep myself on track. I manage, but it’s not nearly as easy as it once was.

Money doesn’t lie. That’s the bottom line. And what my money says, is that I’m a very different person than I was before.

Hence the sense of loss. A profound and sometimes debilitating sense of loss. And I am pretty much alone in this sense, because either nobody understands what it’s like to have so much, and lose it. Or they don’t believe I ever had what I once had, in the first place. Or (even worse) they think that nobody deserves to have what I had before, so it was a kind of karmic justice that now I have such troubles.

Loss. Lonely, lonely loss.

But I cannot stay tied down in my depression. I am working my way out of a hole, and I have to handle this alone, so I have developed ways to deal with this whole grief thing.

The first thing I do, is to acknowledge it. Not minimize it. Recognize the experience of loss and grief and mourning as very, very real. And very, very important.

The next thing I do, is understand what it is that I am mourning the loss of.

I recently realized that I can group my losses into two different categories:

  • Invented Loss – the “loss” of things that I once-upon-a-time decided that I wanted and needed, but I never really did want or need. These are losses like:
    • false friends (who I once thought were my real friends) who ditched me when I stopped having so much money
    • possessions that other people told me mattered, but I just didn’t care about
    • 100% devotion and dedication to employers who were more than happy to pull the rug out from under me when I ran into trouble, and
    • public approval and a sterling reputation, regardless of how sleazy the people were whom I wanted to respect me, regardless of what I needed to do to uphold that reputation
  • Genuine Loss – the true loss of things that I really did want and need, but couldn’t hang onto, like:
    • being able to read things and understand them immediately
    • constant abundant energy
    • clear, quick thinking and definite decisions
    • my ability to earn top dollar almost without thinking about it
    • my ability to learn new things quickly and use what I learned quickly
    • confidence in my memory – things didn’t used to seem this foggy before (I’m not sure if this is a genuine or invented loss, however, because it could be that my memory was always spotty, I just wasn’t aware of it)

In some cases, it’s hard for me to tell whether my losses are genuine or invented. My memory is a classic case — it really wasn’t until I started working with my neuropsychologist that I realized how spotty my memory was. And in fact, when I think back, there are big parts of my past that I don’t remember — people always assumed that it was because I had been traumatized as a child and I blocked a lot of things out, but more and more I think it was a lot of other things, including a spotty memory during childhood, thanks to repeated head injuries.

Furthermore, human memory is notoriously unreliable, even with people who have no history of TBI. Just ask the cops. People who see the same thing will have different interpretations, and each person will be convinced that they’re right. That’s just how we’re built. It’s just how we are. TBI or no, memory is a tricky thing, so it doesn’t make that much sense for me to be upset over the crappiness of my memory. Who’s to say that anyone’s is any good?

But still — I think the thing that gets me the most is the loss of my old confidence about who I was and what I was all about. So much changed, so much has altered with me in the past years — 8 years, since my fall down the stairs a day or two after Thanksgiving in 2004 — that some days I don’t know who the hell I am, where I’m going, or what even matters to me.

Some days, I wake up a complete blank — I have no point of reference, I don’t know what day it is, what I should be doing, what I want to do… anything. It’s like everything has been wiped clean. Then I’ll sit for a little bit, re-orient myself, look at my lists, and it will come back to me. Some days, it feels like I’m starting from scratch. Completely. With no experiences from before to guide me.

And I miss that old feeling of knowing who I am and what I’m about and what matters most to me. The things that used to drive me — reading and writing and studying and grasping the secrets of my universe… the subjects that used to absolutely drive me are just not there anymore. What’s left? Other things. New interests. Different subjects that draw me in… if I can remember them.

Ultimately, that’s probably the biggest loss I deal with — losing my sense of self, who I am vs. who I think I was — and losing my confidence about who that “self” once was, and now is. The second-guessing, the not-knowing… it’s a lot to learn to handle, and it’s a lot to learn to manage. I will manage, somehow — I AM managing somehow — and do that keeps my mind off my troubles. But some days, it just gets to me.

Like today. Like right now. I have this deep and abiding sense that I have lost something very important to me, but I’m not exactly sure what that is. I’m not sure if it’s one big thing, or if it’s a lot of little things, and as much as I am determined to build back my life, I just don’t know if/how/when I will be able to do that to my satisfaction.

Because building “back” is a point of confusion, to begin with. My memory of how things once were is not great, so where’s my point of reference? My memory of how I once was, is also not great, so how do I know if I’ve even gotten “back”? I think the thing for me is having the old feeling again — having a sense of who I am and where I am and how my life is… getting that old sense back. If it’s even possible.

Of all the issues that come with TBI, the grief business is probably the most difficult to handle, because it is so hidden, it is so personal, and it’s hard to find others who understand the extent of your loss. Everyone wants you to move on. Everyone wants you to focus on the positives. Everyone wants you to get back to normal and quit feeling sorry for yourself. But TBI can take from us the very things that make us who “we” are — and when you lose that… even if it’s just for a while… it can be vastly unsettling, and it can linger at the back of your mind, like a jabbering monkey, making it hard to just get on with your life — and do the things that will bring you back to where you want to be.

I’m not saying it’s the end. But grief and mourning for the things we have lost — especially realizing that the loss does matter — is an important part of recovery. And until we really look at it and find a way to deal with it constructively, it can overtake us and run our lives without our even knowing.

That’s what I think about it, anyway. And now, it’s time for me to stave off this depression and get my circulation moving. Time for a walk — perhaps in the woods.

Onward. To the future.