So, I don’t really HAVE to do it the hard way?

accounting-calculatorI’m going to finish my taxes today. I got them 1/4-way done yesterday — all my own income and business expenses have been tallied up and accounted for. Now I need to pull in my spouse’s numbers, and that will be a bigger task, since they are self-employed, and they have a lot going on.

Fortunately, this year, we did the smart thing and split up the work, so I only did the bank-numbers-collecting, and the tax software forms-filling-out, and they took care of tallying up all the checks and the items that I couldn’t make sense of. So, it actually worked out well. And they produced two pieces of paper that have neat calculations on them, rather than 10 sheets of paper with a thousand individual items listed.

It’s progress — real progress. And it tells me my spouse is actually doing much better, neurologically, than they’ve been in a number of years.

In past years, I explained what I needed, and they didn’t understand. They just didn’t get it. No matter how I phrased it, no matter how many times I repeated myself, they just didn’t get what I needed, and they went ahead and did what they wanted to do, anyway… which made my life extremely difficult at this time of year.

Now they’ve gotten their system down, and they did it in the space of a day, rather than dragging it out for weeks on end. That’s huge progress, too. They’re more focused, more cognitively streamlined, more motivated.

And it’s all good.

So, today I finish off the work. I do this every year, so now it’s very familiar to me. And that’s a great thing, because each year, I get all tangled up in anxiety about going through this process, and I become convinced that I won’t understand it, or I’ll get confused, or I’ll get turned around. Doing my taxes used to be a fairly straightforward thing, before I had several businesses to account for. Once upon a time, I could do my taxes in the space of a few hours in the afternoon. But when both my spouse and I got our businesses going, things got very complicated — it would take me weeks to get it all done. And ironically, our businesses really took off and got way more complex during the early years of my TBI recovery — after 2004.

Doing taxes turned into a huge undertaking. I would collect all the data and sort it and categorize it and compile it into several different spreadsheets, and then sort it again. I’d have to re-assign numbers that I did wrong, because they really belonged with one business, not the other. And I sometimes wasn’t sure if I’d done it all correctly, which was a massive source of stress for me.

This year has been different, however.

As it turns out, my own thinking is much, much clearer now than in the past. I got a first inkling with that, when I was exporting all my banking information to sort and plug in. I’ve always been extremely thorough, sorting and categorizing everything, from start to finish, following dates. I got so caught up in it, in fact, that I had intended to collect all the numbers on a quarterly basis and sort through them, so that at tax time, I could just plug them in.

Of course, that never happened. I did it last April, after I’d finished my 2014 taxes, and just the exercise of sorting the numbers of three different bank accounts in multiple formats was too much for me. Hundreds and hundreds of transactions, large and small. How could I keep up with it?

Answer: I couldn’t.

So, I abandoned the exercise, and I was feeling bad about myself, when I went back to my 2015 taxes directory on my computer and saw the failed attempt from last year.Then, it occurred to me yesterday, that that exercise was actually a total waste of time. I didn’t have to collect and sort every single transaction. I didn’t have to categorize every trip to the grocery store, barber, and fast food joint. I could just cut them all out, up front, and only categorize the numbers that actually applied to our businesses.

It seems so simple now, but this was an epiphany for me. Rather than biting off a massive chunk of work, I could work with only the most necessary pieces, and concentrate on them — and pretty much disregard everything else.

So, I did that yesterday evening, and what used to take me days, took me a couple of hours, max. And that’s a good thing, indeed.

I should be able to get our taxes all squared away in a matter of hours, really. And that’s fantastic. Because I can keep doing this new and improved approach each year. The progress continues. Even if it’s the sort of thing that should have been totally obvious to me… it wasn’t. I got so mired in the details, I couldn’t see the easy way of doing things.

Now I can see it, though. I’ll have to make a note for myself to do this again next year.

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Things to do differently this year

Starting ahead of time is probably the best idea

After going through all the pain of sorting through my taxes from several years, I am strongly motivated to do things very differently this year, than in past years.

What became very clear to me, in the course of sorting through all my past records, is that lack of organization has really messed me up in so many ways, financially speaking. And this is the year to do something about it.

I had not realized — partly because I glossed over certain parts of my tax prep that I thought were “non-essential” — was that there were deductions I could have been taking all along, that I didn’t. Perhaps the tax law has changed, so it’s more prevalent, now, but I uncovered close to $1000 extra dollars that I could deduct, simply by claiming my spouse’s van for business expenses in a different way. They use that van almost primarily for business, and if they didn’t have their work, they wouldn’t be driving it. They put hundreds (sometimes thousands) of miles each year on that vehicle specifically for business.

So clearly it counts as a business expense.

Live and learn.

After finalizing the last of my old tax returns, I took some extra hours yesterday to download all my bank statements and put them into a spreadsheet. And I started organizing them and figuring out what can be counted towards what deduction and what kind of income.

And so it starts. In tried doing this a few years back, but I was very unorganized. And I got confused. So just like I did with the refiling of past taxes, I gave up after a very short time. And I never looked back.

Till yesterday.

I can really tell that my thinking is much more organized than it used to be. This is leaps and bounds ahead of where I used to be. I think a number of things have helped me:

First, keeping this blog going.

It disciplines me to organize my thoughts each day — usually first thing in the morning. Because I’ve got over 500 followers, and more keep joining, I really feel a responsibility to write something useful and meaningful, not just toss a bunch of blather out on the screen.

Second, the logic work I’ve been doing.

I’ve been specifically working with logic problems for about a year and a half. I come up with a statement, and then I prove it to myself on paper with a detailed step-by-step explanation. I don’t do it for others, rather for myself. I’m my biggest critic, after all, and if I can’t convince myself, I’m not going to convince anyone else. I really believe it’s helped me collect and organize my thoughts in ways that few other exercises have.

Third, working with a lot of different kinds of people and organizing them to get things done.

In my job, I am in charge of making sure people get things done, so that’s really forced me to think in organized terms that direct people in a certain way. I’ve had to really dig deep to learn how to do this … and I’m still learning. And it’s doing wonders for my ability to gather, process, and organize information. That whole process actually started in my last job, so now I’ve been at it for about five years, and work has been hugely helpful in getting me more cognitively functional all across the board,

So, yes, I’m better organized in my thinking. And now I need to get better organized with my doing. I need to get my papers in order — all the bank statements in a folder together, all the bills in a folder together. It’s really a question of just having a place to put them all. I need 3-ring binders, for sure. That is a simple fix for what amounts to an incredible amount of needless complexity in my life.

I bitch and moan about how complicated the modern world is, but I also don’t do myself any favors, at times. If things are too confusing at a 50,000 level, then I need to get in closer — more frequently — and take a closer look on a regular basis. I can break this down into more manageable pieces — and I can also use it to my professional benefit, because my household expenditures numbers are data I can use to create meaningful visualizations that will not only be good experience for me with the new programs I’m trying to learn, but also help me understand my world better.

The beauty part of all this is, because we’re now halfway through April, I have three months’ worth of numbers to plug into my 2015 taxes spreadsheets, and I can get a jump on things.

Plus, if I keep on top of it, next year I won’t get sidetracked by all my disorganization and freeze response, and end up pushing against the deadline to get my taxes filed. AND I can have a good sense along the way, of where things are problematic, financially, and need to be fixed.

I’m also going to continue with my logic problems. They really seem to be helping me. That, and being really engaged with my work… letting myself mess up without getting too bent out of shape about it… learning as I go… it’s all good.

So, this feels good. I just need to keep at it.

Onward.

Yeah, I’m definitely better

NOW it makes sense to me. That’s a relief.

I just got done with recalculating my taxes for a couple of past years. I had tried to do it last year but process had me completely confused and intimidated, that I first messed it up pretty badly, and then I avoided it… and missed out on recouping thousands of dollars that were rightfully mine.

This is not so difficult, after all. And compared to how confused I got before, trying to organize my thoughts around it, the process this time was much more straightforward.

It’s been over a year, since I last tried to do this. I must be getting better, because this time I was able to do it with very little angst, anguish, and confusion.

Yes, there is progress.

I don’t even care about the missing thousands of dollars. This obvious progress is worth far more than that to me. And I’ll make up the difference in the coming years. I’m determined to do it.

Onward.

Taxes, Healthcare, Day-to-Day Tangled Messes – Complexity as a form of social control

Got ‘er done

I finished my taxes last night.

Hoo

Ray.

Now, I need to refile some other taxes which I messed up in years past. I figure, I’m still in tax-filing mode, so why not?

I messed up, years ago, thanks to a number of factors — not least of which was my TBI in 2004. I just wasn’t doing that great at handling complexity. Even with my tax prep software, just collecting everything together and organizing myself was a monumental task.

I managed to do it, but I did it wrong.

And that really messed with my head.

It messed with me so completely, that I missed the re-filing deadline last year, and I missed out on recouping thousands of dollars that I really needed. That’s on me – I should have reached out for help, but I didn’t. I guess my pride got the better of me on that one.

Anyway, now I’m busting my hump, trying to get myself into the frame of mind that will let me finally do these remaining taxes.  Git ‘er done, you know? And considering how challenging it is for me, I can only imagine how challenging it is for others who are in much worse shape than I am.

And it occurs to me that the powers that be probably profit handsomely from our confusion. We pay too much, because we don’t understand how to navigate the hidden complexities that could give us an advantage. We don’t get the refunds we deserve, because everything is far too complicated for us to grasp, and we don’t always know where to turn for help. When we do manage to reach out for help, we’re still screwed, because we may not know how to talk to the person(s) who are helping us. We might not be able to communicate our situation, and so we don’t get the assistance we need.

This can apply to taxes, healthcare, and just about every other complicated thing in life. Especially where older and/or cognitively impaired folks are involved. Seeing what my spouse went through after their car accident, where they totaled our van and had to talk to all sorts of insurance folks and navigate the healthcare system, made it all the more clear to me just how disadvantaged people can be… simply because everything is so hugely complicated.

If you don’t think the way the people in charge think, you’re so out of luck. You’re on your own, really — this is America, after all. And unless you learn how to fend for yourself, you’re pretty much out of luck. On the one hand, this is great incentive for people who have that kind of orientation and are able to adapt and learn — or at least take a beating and keep on going to fight another day. But for people who are genuinely impaired and who need assistance… well, shit. You’re just out of luck.

Now, this is not to excuse people who just can’t be bothered to get up off their asses and make something of themselves. We all know people like that — who use every excuse to get themselves off the hook and not live up to their potential.

This is about recognizing that not everyone has the same skill level or capacity to think things through and navigate tricky situations, as the people who design the convoluted systems of our lives. It’s about recognizing that the way things are structured, these days, has become so specialized and so professionalized, that everyday people are being cut out of their own world. If you’re not professionally trained or you don’t have access to assistance from someone who knows (or can figure out) the whole system, you’re pretty much screwed.

Of course, there are plenty of people who will help — for a fee. There are also people who will help for free.  But it’s not always easy to find them. And you may not know exactly what to ask or what you need help with, when find them.

All of which seems like a really cool way to “manage” society — split our culture into levels and classes, putting the people who organize things at the top, people who can figure things out in the middle, and people who can’t make sense of any of it, at the very bottom. I’ve been in all three classes, over the course of my life — as many of us are, in a variety of ways — and scraping the bottom of the barrel is no fun at all.

The thing I can’t help but keep coming back to, is the idea of how much money the federal government makes off us, how much power they hold, and how much they do, simply because they’ve created a system that’s far too complicated for any average, normal person to get their head around. If everyone understood how the tax code works and had the wherewithal to get every penny back that they are owed, how different would things be?

I don’t know the answer to that. Maybe it wouldn’t be that different from how things are now. Some people are naturally inclined to amass power and abuse their position. And those people tend to gravitate towards powerful positions. Even if we did get rid of the god-awful tax code and went to a flat tax for all (which I strongly support, by the way), there would still be people who would seek out positions of power and control in other ways. Maybe having a convoluted tax code serves as an outlet for people who absolutely crave the experience of screwing everyone over, and it keeps them from branching out into other areas, thus sparing us their sickness of mind and spirit in other more obnoxious ways.

In any case, the whole system is a screwed-up mess in more ways than any of us knows. For me, rather than tilting at the windmills of social injustice, I’m fending for myself. For many, many years when I was younger, I was bound and determined to change the overall system. That got me nowhere.

Now I’m focused on building up my own skills and becoming as self-sufficient and independent as humanly possible. The things that would give me an advantage in the world — namely, a college degree and social connections to people who can be of assistance to me — are pretty much out of reach. I doubt I’ll ever have the time or money to go back to school and put in two years of academic work required to get a degree. And fatigue and exhaustion are such major factors with me, that I am absolutely done by the end of each day. And I spend my weekends just getting back up to normal speed. So, I don’t have the energy for socializing and getting into the circles of people who can help me get ahead.

Even if I could do all that, I’m not sure I’d want to. I think those ships have sailed for me, and I’ve gotten so accustomed to making my own way, it suits me now. I don’t want to be in the midst of a corrupt and corrupting system. I need to be on the outside, making my own way IN my own way. It works for me. And from what I see of the people around me, it works better for me, than it does for them.

Anyway, I’ve got a full day ahead of me, so I’ll sign off now. With any luck, by the end of today, I’ll have a prior year’s taxes refiled and I’ll be able to check that off my list.

Onward.

A productive weekend, even so

How could I pass up this?

Well, most of what I planned to do over the weekend did not happen. I had every intention of finishing my taxes, which I started weeks ago, but that was not to be.

Instead, I spent Saturday working on a programming problem that still had me stumped by the end of the day. It soaked up the entire day and rendered me distracted and confused and frustrated, and I was only a few steps closer to a resolution, when all was said and done.

On the bright side, it became incredibly clear to me that programming as a way to make a living is NOT what I want, anymore. I want to design programs, not code them up. And this is something I can do, for sure.

This is really good news because I got an amazing idea over the weekend, which I think has a lot of potential, and it’s something I can pretty easily document and hand off to a capable developer to create. If I insist on doing the coding myself, it will only slow me down. But this is the sort of thing a really capable programmer could “bang out” in short order.

So, I’m pretty psyched about that.

I have been getting in my way with so many things, mainly because I have been rigid and hard-headed and haven’t been willing to entertain other possibilities — or let go of old things that no longer fit me.

But after a full day of focusing on the computer screen, trying to solve one little problem that had me hung up all day, it’s pretty clear that I don’t want to do that anymore. I ended up sore and stiff and feeling like I’d been trampled by elephants. Plus, I spent a full day off — which was beautiful — inside, staring at a computer.

No thank you.

Saturday evening, I made up for that and went for a long walk in the woods. Saw a herd of 12 deer. Got some good exercise. Unwound.

Sunday I turned the tables and started the day with a walk, then did yard work for about four hours. Got a lot done. Wore myself out. Took a long nap. Got up and went for a ride with my spouse, to get some fresh air and just hang out. We’ve both been working really hard, and we needed some “away time”. And we got it. It was really nice to just get out of the house together and relax.

Last night, we had supper, watched some television, and then I trundled off to bed. I briefly took a look at my taxes, but the weekend was mine, and I wanted to just enjoy myself. I would have made better use of my time working on taxes Saturday, than getting stuck on that programming problem, but that didn’t happen.

The thing is, I hate using my free time off for drudge work. The kind of drudge work I had to do, is really best broken up into chunks of time — focusing in for only a few hours, instead of a full day. I really need my time off, to do what I please, when I please, and concentrate on the things that I want to do. I spend my weeks taking care of other people’s business. The weekends are mine. And I have a hell of a time relinquishing them for anyone — especially for something like taxes.

So now I need to finish up my filings in the next two days. It’s no big deal, because I am 80% done. It’s just that extra 20% that has me stumped. I figure I have tonight and tomorrow night — and possibly Wednesday morning — to do them, so that gives me plenty of time. I’ll go into work early today and tomorrow, so I have at least 4 hours each night to devote to them. That is more than enough time, actually, so I’m not really worried. It’s just a thing I need to get done with 100% focus.

Yes, getting my workdays out of the way and having free time in the evenings is the right way to go. And after my taxes are done, I will focus on my new project, getting the documentation together so I can find a programmer. I had a really great weekend, even though it didn’t turn out the way I wanted.

It’s all good.

Onward.

Long-term dangers of pediatric concussion/brain injury

Football less dangerous for kids?

The Concussion Blog has another thought-provoking post about an announcement made by Dr. Howard Derman, co-director of the vanguard Methodist Hospital Concussion Center that children’s brains are (apparently?) better able to tolerate the effects of concussion. From what I read — also in the orginal article at Beyond Chron — the plasticity of a kid’s brain, along with its greater amount of room to handle swelling, makes (football-related) concussions “less of a concern” for children.

“I’m not saying it’s safer to play football as a child,” said Dr. … Derman,… “but the plasticity – flexibility, in layman’s terms – in the brain is greater in a child, and it has more room to swell. So things we see in adult football players are slightly less of a concern in children. That’s just a statement of fact.”

Okay, so let’s assume that the doctor has his facts right, which is up for dispute by a number of truly independent writers and investigative journalists. Even if a kid’s brain is more resilient (and I’m not agreeing that this helps), another fact to be taken into consideration is that having a concussion makes you more susceptible to having others. And speaking from experience, the cumulative effects of childhood concussion into adulthood (which brought with it yet more concussions/tbi’s), can wreak havoc long after the initial injury was sustained.

What concerns me about this statement — aside from the fact that it was made by a physician with ties to professional sports teams, whose word is probably taken as gospel in certain circles — is that it treats childhood concussion/brain injury as an isolated incident that you really don’t need to worry about, because, well — as so many people have said over the years — chances are everything will clear up and things will go back to normal.

I truly wish I could say that was true for me, but from where I’m sitting, those supposedly harmless blows to my head when I was younger, led to more supposedly harmless blows… which ended up sidelining me not only from games, but from the game of life.

And this was some 30 years after my first concussion — the first of many, which had cumulative effects over time.

Where does that leave me? Still working to pick up the pieces, still trying to avoid meltdowns, still trying to keep my act together at work, still hassling with light and sound sensitivity, as well as continuous fatigue. I won’t say “chronic fatigue” because chronic implies that it comes and goes indefinitely. With me the fatigue just never goes away. Oh, well.

And where does that leave the people around me? Stressed out for reasons they don’t fully understand, and scratching their heads wondering WTF?! when I do something truly boneheaded.

And where does that leave my community? Well, my immediate community as well as my country, have lost about 40% of my original tax revenues since late 2004, when I left a good job because I just couldn’t hang in there after my last TBI. Say what you will about the individual being responsible for pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. Thanks to (undiagnosed and underestimated) TBI, my employment situation is at 60% of what it should be. And in the past seven years, the loss in tax revenue is thus equal to about three years of full-employment tax revenue. By the time I stop working (if I ever do), thanks to the TBI-related gaps in my employment history, the lost tax revenues will probably be equivalent to me retiring and no longer contributing to the collective kitty at least 10 years early. If not more. Can the government afford this? I’m not sure — especially considering that I was born at the tail-end of the Baby Boom, and it’s my tax dollars which will be buoying up the aging generation of retirees right before me, as the younger generation struggles to just pay off their credit cards and student loan bills.

It’s tax time, and I’m hassling through yet another data collection process — which is so much harder than it used to be, even though my taxes are significantly less complicated than seven years ago. In the process, I’m thinking about the effects of my injury on my tax rate. And while I don’t really chafe at how much money the government is scooping out of my pay (so long as I can just live my life and I’m not being totally flayed), if Uncle Sam did the math on how much revenue is lost to TBI each year, thanks to fully employed people becoming under-employed (or un-employed), I’m guessing they might take it a little more seriously.

Seriously, we live in expensive times, and I’m willing to help pay for roads and schools and infrastructure and War on Terror and national parks and all the things we tend to happily take for granted. Somebody’s got to. But it’s difficult to really contribute when you’ve got this whole… deal going on. And it’s difficult to take seriously a prominent doctor who claims that a contact/collision sport like football poses less of a problem to kids than to full-grown adults. Especially when I look at the long-term effects that one seemingly innocuous concussion after another can — and in my case, did — have on a young brain, and a young life.

So, in the end, it’s caveat emptor as usual. Be smart. Consider the sources, and draw your own conclusions. And remember, just because you have “M.D.” after your name doesn’t make you the ultimate authority… even in your chosen field.

If I had gotten help for my TBIs sooner…

I have been wondering a lot about how my life might have been different, had I gotten help for my TBIs when they happened.

If I had gotten help when I was 7 and fell down the stairs, and again when I was knocked out by a rock when I was 8… If I had been given strict orders to rest, and then watched carefully and given extra help in school and life to teach me better how to deal with classroom and social situations… not to mention being treated as an injured person, rather than a bad seed… I wonder if my grades would have been better and if my talents would have been better used.

If I had gotten help after my sports concussions in high school… again, being forced to rest, sit out of sports, take it easy, address my balance issues and get help dealing with social and attentional issues… I wonder if I would have slipped so quickly into drugs and alcohol (that numbed the pain), or if I would have been such a contrary rebel who didn’t have a good grasp on the consequences of my choices.

I wonder if my grades might have been better, if my academic career might have been better, if my ability to pursue opportunities might have been better, earlier on in life… which could have made a difference in my career path, my ability to earn, my ability to pay taxes, my ability to hold down jobs for longer than a year or so.  I wonder if I would have become so fond of risky ventures and certain kinds of danger. I wonder if I would have chosen the friends and associates I chose over the year — many of whom were bad choices, and I never realized it. Till too late. I wonder if I might have sustained some of my friendships with people over the years who meant so much to me, but whom I hurt terribly because my brain was broken and I had no clue.

I wonder if I might have been able to really contribute something of value to the world — a great book or a great discovery or a great body of research… Or just steadier, more reliable participation in my society and culture. I wonder if I might have achieved a level of participation that, given my personal commitment to make the world a better place whenever and however I can — might have helped people more than I have, thus far.

I usually get upset at tax time, when I look at how much (or little) I’ve earned and paid out, and I think about how much better I might have done for myself, had I not been so injured so often over the course of my life… so impaired… so under-achieving… so clueless about what was wrong with me. Now, I don’t want to feel sorry for myself and I don’t want to punish myself for things I had no control over. My injuries started when I was a kid, and they pretty much changed the course of my life without my understanding how or why. I know with all my heart that I have been tremendously blessed in so many, many ways. But I always feel a sense of inadequacy around this time of year. I just don’t feel like I’ve done enough with myself. I haven’t made the most of my potentials. What a waste.

On the bright side, a Washington State concussion bill would help protect young athletes, which is truly awesome! My injuries are part of my past, part of my present, and very much a part of my future. I never got adequate help after my concussions, when I was a young athlete. My chance at full recovery immediately after hard tackles, falls, and various accidents may have passed me by, but for lots of young kids, that doesn’t necessarily need to be the case.

And that gives me hope for our future.