The importance of not giving up

I am looking for a new job. The one I’m in, while a step up from where I was a year ago, is not a good long-term prospect, and I need to reach out and stretch to see where else I can learn and grow.

It’s no small feat, taking this on.  It’s downright nerve-wracking, in fact. Every time I look at my resume, I am reminded of my past injuries, for most of them immediately preceded a job change. People have been asking me for years, why I moved from job to job so often, and I’ve long since gotten in the habit of saying, “A better opportunity came up.” But in fact, many of the changes I underwent happened because I got hurt and/or my brain stopped working thanks to my longstanding issues, and I couldn’t do the job I was doing before.

So, I had to find a new one.

Another thing that makes resume-updating difficult is covering all the details again, making sure I haven’t missed or misstated anything… finding old errors that I missed before… it’s a little unnerving, thinking that these inaccuracies have been out there for so long without my realizing it. And there might be other things I have missed.

So I review my resume one more time.

As daunting as it is, I’m not giving up, however. As I look over my work history, I am frankly amazed at how well I’ve done for myself. Not bad for someone whose working memory is in the low-low end of the spectrum, and whose behavior issues have cost them numerous quality relationships along the way. And as I look over the parts of my past that signal Warning Will Robinson! Danger! Danger! I am making a conscious, concerted effort to turn my mind away from its automatic impulse to think the worst of myself, and I’m choosing to think the best.

I wasn’t a bad employee. I wasn’t a bad person. I wasn’t a slacker. I wasn’t a good-for-nothing deadbeat. I was injured. Repeatedly. And I have prevailed, nonetheless.

Still, it’s tough going. One of the hardest things for me, at this point, is dealing with the fact that I don’t have a degree. I attended college for four years — two in the States, and two in Europe — but I never got my degree. I had so many serious problems, when I was in college, due in no small part, I believe, to the multiple concussions I sustained during high school, and the bad patterns and behaviors I developed as an adolescent with a history of head injury.

Looking back, I am frankly amazed that I wasn’t worse off than I was. Don’t get me wrong, I was running wild, engaged in various kinds of petty crime and involved in business dealings with criminals. But my external circumstances never caught up with my interior reality. Frankly, I’m lucky I didn’t end up in jail. The one thing that I think saved me was that my parents were prominent members of their community, and nobody seriously thought that I was at risk or a troubled teen. I was just ‘moody’ — just another angry young person who would eventually grow up and grow out of it. Or something like that.

One thing I wasn’t saved from, however, was the lack of education. High school, let’s face it, was not an educational time for me, or for many of my peers. I fudged my way through most of it, thanks in no small part to the preponderance of multiple-choice (multiple guess, in my case) tests throughout the four years. Nobody paid much attention to deeper thought or intellectual activities. School was a either training ground for the adult world of work and 9-to-5 schedules, or it was a place to rack up points to get into some college.

High school as we now know it didn’t exist in my day. It wasn’t the kind of thing my parents really went out of their way to support me in, like I see happening with kids today. My folks just assumed that I’d get certain kinds of grades, and they just assumed that I’d graduate and move on from there. Get a job, settle down, be a regular person. But the importance of high school wasn’t really on their radar. In fact,  I’m not sure my parents even bothered to come to my graduation. They may have come, but I have almost no recollection of the event. Another result of concussions, perhaps?

Anyway, high school was survivable, but college was where it all broke down for me. My parents had decided that I would go to a certain religiously-affiliated college, near where some of my relatives lived. I think their plan was to send me to the school to reform my wicked ways within plain sight of my relatives, so they could report back about me. Either that, or they could try to curb my wild behavior.

When I announced I was not going there, the reaction was, “Well, then you’re on your own.” They eventually softened up and offered me a thousand dollars a year for help with tuition and living expenses, and they just barely managed to complete the financial aid forms so I could get some help from someone.

Long story short, I had a very interesting time earning my way. Again, I fell in with some bad folks, I ended up doing some illegal stuff to make ends meet (though, ironically, I didn’t realize at the time that I was doing anything wrong), and before long, my only viable alternative for continuing my education was to leave the country. So, I did.

Quelle adventure. Those are more stories for other times. On the whole I had a really great experience and learned a whole lot, the first year I was there. But again, my troubles caught up with me, and I spent the second year scrambling to keep my act together — on another continent in a different language. When I got back to the States in 1987, I was a stranger to myself, my family, and my country.

I had run out of money, and I had no degree. What to do?

Well, I managed to get some temporary work, here and there, and then eventually employers would notice that I had a spark or something, and they would promote me for no apparent reason I could see. But I went through the motions of being a good employee, discharging my duties… feeling like I was falling farther and farther behind… In the meantime, I’d get in a car accident, and/or my neurological issues would flare up again under the stress of increasing responsibility and pressure, and that combination would set me back again big-time.

And I’d totally screw up what I was doing — or at least become so agitated and anxious that I thought I was screwing up — and I’d have to find another job to keep sane. And keep afloat.

In the meantime, I met the love my life and married… didn’t (dare) have any kids — my intense emotional lability and violent temper of 15 years ago might have led me to seriously injure my children, I’m not happy to say. (But I am happy to say, I’ve improved tremendously over the past decade.) And I just kept working. I had to keep food on the table. I had to keep a roof over our heads. I thought about finishing school a bunch of times, but I barely had the energy to crawl home at the end of each day. Take on college coursework on top of that? How?

Well, now I find myself wishing that I’d been able to figure that one out. Twice in the past year, I’ve either been passed over for consideration for a good job or I’ve been docked 10% of the base salary offer because of my incomplete degree.  Nobody I talk to has any idea what I’ve had to overcome, and they never will. No way am I going to play that card. Maybe I’m too proud. Or maybe I just want to be on the same playing field as everyone else. But it does take a bit out of you to be brushed off because of what I consider a formality – that academic piece of paper.

I suspect the intensified requirement for a degree is the result of our increasingly global job market. How can global companies know you’re good, just by glancing at your resume? They need to see evidence of a degree. It’s nobody’s fault — it’s just a sign of the times.

But it is pretty troubling to not get a chance at jobs I know I could do — and I could them well — and earn accordingly, because of my troubled past. Nobody really cares that I’ve gotten my act together. Like my parents, they probably think I never should have gotten in trouble to begin with, and it’s my own damned fault for ending up where I am. Brain injuries mean nothing to most folks — other than that you’re “permanently” impaired, and you’ll need special assistance all your days.

Oh, what the hell. People are going to do and think what they want, but I’m not giving up. I’m not like my parents, who gave up on me when I was in college. They shelled out two grand, then they cut me off when I went to Europe. So what? I made it through. Just barely, but I did make it. I’m still here, and I’m still a contender. I’m still here, and I think there’s a reason I keep hearing Tom Petty sing “and I won’t back down” on the radio, as I’m driving to and from work.

It’s important to not give up. It’s vital to keep believing, to keep the faith. That’s true, whether you’re a TBI survivor or you know someone who is. If you’re a survivor, depending on the nature of your injury, you may be predisposed to depression and negativity. I seem to have “lucked out” in that regard and been “blessed” with injuries that make me more inclined to minimize or disregard imminent danger — for better or for worse. Or maybe I’ve just been through so much crap over the years, I’ve gotten used to everything looking like it’s going to hell, and I know from past experience, that that doesn’t always hold true.

In any case, I’m sure I’ll find something. Even in a job market flooded with young noobs who think (and act like) they know everything and have the paperwork I lack — that coveted Bachelor’s. Somewhere, somehow, someone must have a place for an adventurous soul who never gives up and refuses to quit till they get to the goal.

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Dangerously dizzy… but life won’t wait

I’ve been increasingly dizzy, the past few days. My left ear is squishy and has been making its presence felt. Pressure in my head, and fatigue… I haven’t had good sleep hygiene, for the past few weeks, and it’s catching up with me.

It’s a scary thing, because it’s so disruptive for my daily life. I have things to do and stuff to accomplish, but if I stand up too quickly or move too suddenly, the whole world starts to rush and spin and I get very sick on my stomach. It also makes me extremely irritable, so I snap out at every little thing, which makes me very difficult to deal with at times.

The only thing that really saves me, is being totally focused on what I’m doing, and not moving much while I’m doing it. Working at the computer is a perfect solution for me, because I have to sit up straight and stay focused on the screen in front of me.

The only problem is, it’s Saturday… a few days before I take off on my marathon trip to see family… and I have a whole lot to get done. Dizziness puts me in more danger of falling or having an accident. If I’m not careful, I can get in a lot of trouble. The last thing I need this holiday season is another concussion — most of my adulthood injuries have coincided with holidays, when I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off and wasn’t paying proper attention. I was fatigued and disoriented… and I fell or had a car accident. Not good.

Yes,  I need to be very, very careful, in everything I do.

I think a big part of the problem I’m having right now is the impending holiday rush. The prospect of driving through several states to see multiple families, over the course of nearly a week is making me a little nervous, and that’s setting off my schedule and my focus.

I have been doing really well with keeping to my daily exercise, which helps.  I just finished my morning workout, in fact, and I feel noticeably better than I did before it. I worked up a sweat and got my heart pumping, which in turn moved the lymph through my system to clear out the grunge. I love lymph. So basic, so essential, so useful. Without it, I’d be in a heap of trouble, and I count my blessings that I don’t have lymph drainag problems, like folks with edema do.

Anyway, I’m feeling better, and I have a full day ahead of me. But I’m pacing myself. And I’ve blocked off time this afternoon to sleep. I haven’t had a good afternoon nap in weeks, and it’s taking its toll. If I don’t nap at least once over the weekend, it catches up with me — and that’s what’s been happening.

And now I’m really dizzy, with a lot of stuff to do, and I regret doing chores last Sunday, instead of taking my nap. I had three solid hours to myself, to use as I pleased, and I frittered away the time on futzing around and doing little chores that took longer than I expected.

Ah, well,  so it goes. At least I’m aware of my dizziness, so I can accommodate it and work with it. When I’m really, really dizzy, I find that keeping my posture ramrod straight and moving very slowly and deliberately helps tremendously. Also, if I sleep a lot and drink plenty of fluids and avoid sugar, that helps, too. I’ve taken medicine for vertigo, but it didn’t help a bit. Anyway, it turns out the medicine is really just for nausea that results from vertigo, not the vertigo itself — at least that’s what the PCP I had at the time told me. Come to think of it, they could have been wrong. They were a bit of an idiot, by average standards. (And it was a scary six months in my life, when they were my primary doctor.)

But now I’ve got a pretty good PCP, and I trust them a whole lot more than the last several I went to. Trusting your doctor is good. It simplifies a lot of things, in many ways, not least of which is the office visit experience.

But more on that later. Right now, I need to stay focused on my dizziness.

Tracking back over the past week, as it’s gotten steadily worse, I have been looking for what I’ve been doing differently that has contributed to this. The one thing that I’ve been doing regularly, that is very different from before, is that I’ve been eating pieces of chocolate to keep myself going. Not just chocolate, mind you, but those little Dove chocolates with peanut butter in the middle. I thought that the peanut butter would give them more staying power, but what I’ve noticed over the past week is how much sugar is in those little puppies.

Zoinks! Who eats this stuff regularly?! They’re dangerous! Sure, they give me a little pick-me-up when I need it — like driving home late from work when it’s very dark, I’m very tired, and I’m having a hard time seeing. But I’m finding that when I eat one, I crave another one about 10 minutes later — like I spike, and then I crash and am worse off than before, so I need another “little” piece of candy to keep me going… and my system gets totally fried by all the sudden, extreme ups and downs.

Which contributes to my fatigue… and apparently my dizziness.

Not good.

So, while I’m doing my errands today, I’m going to remove the chocolates from my car — just throw them out — drink more water, eat more fruit, and be very, very careful when I’m out and about.

The last thing I need is another accident or fall.

Back from the holidays, back to work

Of course, the holidays are really just beginning, but the holiday travel piece is over.

I will not be traveling over the December holidays… it’s just too much energy, too much exertion, and it completely overwhelms me far past the level that I’m comfortable with.

Once upon a time, it was fine and dandy for me to constantly push the envelope… travel throughout November and December… push myself to do-do-do for the holidays, doing all the shopping, all the driving, all the travel, all the social maneuvering… just putting my head down and soldiering through, regardless of the toll it took on me.

No more. This year, I am seriously taking care of myself. I did my family duty for Thanksgiving, and it really tested me in some scary ways. Ways that I don’t care to repeat in another month or so. I was able to get periodic naps in, and (for the most part) I was able to watch what I was eating and doing and saying and thinking, so that I didn’t get too far out ahead of myself. But the few times where I did lose track of what I was doing, how much I was sleeping, what I was eating… I melted down in some sad and sometimes scary ways.

One of the times, I was visiting an old friend who had company drop in to visit for a little while, and the shift to lots of social interaction really threw me off and triggered a major meltdown after they left. I had anticipated — and desperately needed — a quiet evening with this person, just catching up about what’s been going on in my life for last couple of years, but I was unexpectedly thrust into the midst of a lot of very happy, very gregarious people who had no idea how loud they were, and had no comprehension of what the effect of their noise was on my sleep-deprived head. I held it together for the hour or so they were there — I didn’t feel I had the right to chase them away, and I didn’t want to spoil their fun, just because I was having auditory processing issues. But when they left, I just fell apart — tried to hold it together and have a pleasant conversation, but ended up in tears.

Feeling damaged. Feeling deficient. Feeling unfit to be around people. Because I just couldn’t follow what they were saying, I was so tired, so overwhelmed, so unprepared. I hate it when I get like that — it ruins the simplest of times, the happiest of times, and I have a hell of a time dealing with the fact that I’m affected this way.

Fortunately, this friend of mine has seen a wide range of human behavior in the world, and they’re not easily intimidated — especially by me, who they know better than I know myself, in some ways. They have an uncanny ability to discern who is really inside the person they’re interacting with, and when I broke down in mortifying uncontrollable tears and couldn’t talk for half an hour, they let me be, rubbed my back, brought me a glass of water and a blanket to wrap around me, and just let me be, till I got my bearings and could be human again.

The other time I started to lose it, was when I was behind the wheel of my car, which was not good. It was raining and dark, and I was having a hell of a time seeing my way through the night. On top of it, I made some poor choices about how to avoid the parking-lot traffic on the freeway, and I ended up taking long back roads that didn’t have a whole lot of human presence nearby. A little scary… not terribly frightening, but what might have happened is haunting me a little today.

I was okay company in the car, until near the end of the trip, when my traveling companion started to talk to me, and I started to flip out — yelling and saying unkind things and generally being a really difficult person to deal with. It was a really shitty way to end up what was otherwise a mostly okay Thanksgiving, and I really regret having said the things I did. It’s like these words were coming out of my mouth, and I couldn’t stop them. I think the talking got to me — the auditory processing stuff, again.

Thankfully, as I drove through the night being a total asshole, I was able to dimly perceive that I was in no condition to be indulging the rage that was coming up in me… that I was operating on diminished resources, to begin with, and I needed to just shut the hell up, which I did.

The last half hour of the trip was no friggin’ fun, and my outburst(s) made a taxing time even more troubling. But at least I was able to shut up, eventually. And my traveling companion may yet forgive me for saying what I said before I dropped them at their place.

Just one more thing I need to make amends for. Thankfully — and I mean thankfully!!! — I am NOT traveling any more for the next six months, at least, I will not be dealing with family up close and personal for at least another 6-9 months, and I will have plenty of opportunities to clean up my act with regard to the person I roasted the other night.

Plus, I’ll be getting my neuropsych results back in the next month, so I’ll be able to explain myself better… and take steps to:

A) Fix what can be fixed

B) Compensate for what can’t be turned around

C) Avoid like the plague those things that cannot at all be helped

If nothing else, there’s always tomorrow, always another lesson to learn, always another chance to make good on the promise I have, as well as more chances to make up for the parts of me that are not cooperating the way I and/or others want/need them to behave.

Onward and upward…

What is it about Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving (the US version) is right around the corner, and with it comes two anniversaries of different head injuries I sustained. At least, two that I can remember;)

The first of the two happened back in 1996 or so, when I was headed out to visit family several states away. I had gotten off to a late start, and I was driving on the day before Thanksgiving, which was a very poor choice (… and in itself could be seen as a sign of impaired cognitive ability 😉 ) Anyway, I was in the fast lane on a multi-lane freeway, and traffic was stop-and-go. The fast lane was the most erratic of all four lanes, as a lot of really impatient people (myself included) were weaving in and out, trying to get past one another, so they could just get down the road.

I was getting really tweaked by all the stop-and-go, but I steeled my nerves and hung in there. I was driving a fairly new rental car, and I was comfortable. I adjusted the radio and focused my attention on just getting down the road, keeping an eye out for what was going on around me. The fast lane started to pick up speed — to about 40-45 mph, which wasn’t mach speed, but was a lot faster than we’d been driving.

Suddenly, I sensed something was wrong. The distance between my car and the car ahead of me was quickly closing. I didn’t see any brake lights… I couldn’t see anything other than the rear end of the car in front of me quickly approaching. In a split second, I flashed on the ABS (anti-lock braking system) logo I’d seen on the hubcaps of the rental as I was getting in, and I hit the brakes quickly.

Not quickly enough, though. As though in a dream, I saw the gap between my car and the one in front of me disappear, and my front bumper bounced off the rear bumper of the car in front of me. Still no brake lights of the car in front of me. I breathed a sigh of relief, as it didn’t look like there was any damage. I could see the back of the car in front — I’d bounced back about a foot — and I hadn’t heard any breaking glass or crunching steel or fiberglass.

Then came the rear-end collision. SLAM! Behind me, another car and smashed into me with much more force than I’d hit the car in front of me. My car bumped forward, amid the sickening sound of a splintering impact. I held very still, listening for anything else, bracing for another possible impact. None came. Everything went eerily silent.

I was dazed for a minute… frozen in place… I saw the person in the car in front of me jump out of their car, walk to the back, see if there was any damage, and then drive away quickly. I didn’t have time to get their license plate, and I didn’t have time to talk to them. They were just out of the car — around to the back — and then they hopped back in their vehicle, pulled out of the line of cars that had all run into each other — and took off.

At my side window, I heard someone tapping. It was the person who’d hit me from behind. They were checking to see if I was okay, and I nodded that I was. I got out of the car and walked around to the back, and I found lots of pieces of their front grille lying on the road between their front bumper and my back bumper. My own car seemed to be unscathed. There was no sign of any impact at all — just some smears of paint from the car behind me.

The sight of the car that rear-ended me was pretty unnerving, though. The grille was smashed and lying on the ground, and the front hood was buckled and splintered and smashed. The headlights were — from what I could tell — stilli intact, but the front was otherwise creamed. I wasn’t sure if it was driveable, but that was not the thought that stuck most in my mind.

I traded insurance and car rental info with the person who’d hit me — they were driving a rental, too — and after a few minutes of each of us checking that the other was okay, I drove on, while they stayed. I’m not sure if they were waiting for a tow, or if their car was driveable. I remember very little from the rest of the trip — just that when I got to my relatives’ place, I got on the phone with the rental agency and told them what had happened.

They told me to fill out the form in the rental agreement and report any damage. So, I read through the form — which made no sense to me at all. No matter how often I re-read it, I couldn’t make head or tail of the words. They all jumbled together, and I couldn’t understand them at all. I looked over the car — from top to bottom, I thought — looking for any signs of damage. I could see nothing other than some cosmetic issues — little smears of paint and a little scratch, but nothing else.

I finally just signed my name and checked the “no damage” box and put it aside to mail when I got home.

And I had Thanksgiving with my family, which was a blur. It often is, so it’s hard for me to tell if I had some immediate after-effects of the accident.

I did notice after-effects later on, though. Like the fact that I’d missed finding the absent reflector on the back left side of the car. It may have popped out on impact, but I hadn’t noticed it was even missing, until it was time to go back home.

Also, when I got back to work, I found myself having increased difficulty following what was said to me, keeping my tasks straight, navigating the political landscape of my administrative job… things really fell apart for me at work, after the accident. I was clumsy and hurt myself by bumping into things. I was disorganized. I was irritable. I couldn’t articulate the way I’d once been able to. And within a few months, I had left that job — hopelessly lost — and started on a new career that involved computers, not office politics.

Ultimately, it was a good move, and it vastly improved my life. I hated that job by the time I left it. But I would have liked to have made the move to a different job out of pro-active choice, rather than re-active avoidance of problems I didn’t realize I was having.

Thinking back now, I can see how the first months of my new job were pretty slow going and very painstaking in many ways, probably because of that accident. I couldn’t follow instructions very well, I had trouble understanding what people were saying to me, and the one saving grace was that I was new, so people could blame it on me being green and a newcomer to a company that by its own admission is a bit of a confusing maze for the newly initiated.

I do believe that working with computers and being basically sequestered in my cubicle to sort things out, did help me recover. I was all alone, and I was quite happy that way.

So, that’s my first Thanksgiving TBI anniversary story.

The first of two that changed my life.