The things I need to know, to move forward

two rock climbers on climbing wall

So, the session with my neuropsych (NP) went well yesterday. We actually sat down and went through the data from my prior two evaluations, and I got to refresh my memory about what’s going on with me behind the scenes.

The things that jumped out, which are measurable problems are:

  • processing speed
  • visual memory problems
  • resistance to short-term interference

We talked a bit about these issues, and I got a clearer view of what actual difficulties I have. I struggle with certain things all the time, but I don’t always have a clear view of why that is. Maybe it’s my processing speed. I don’t seem to put things together right away, so I often don’t even realize that I’m struggling till later.

The idea that I’m slow doesn’t make me very happy. I’ve got “superior” intelligence, but my speed can be glacial at times. That puts me at a disadvantage in the speed-addicted world, where everything happens at high speed. It also doesn’t help me in social situations, where people gauge your intelligence by how quick you are. Obviously, that’s not a fair comparison. But that seems to be the public bias.

The thing that bothers me more is the visual memory thing. I tend to think of myself as a visual thinker, but maybe that’s not the case. My memory was the worst, when I was trying to remember pictures. I forgot things pretty quickly. Like they’d never even existed. Compared to my verbal memory (which also kind of trailed off at times — I lost track of important details), it was a lot worse.

I need to dig into this more, because I think this may be why I struggle with some things I really, really love. I’m an “anatomy geek”.  I love to study pictures of human anatomy — feet, hands, shoulders, backs, legs, torsos, internal organs, the nervous system, even the musculature of the head. But for some reason, no matter how hard I study, no matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to keep the images in my head. I tried to become a personal trainer, years ago, and the reading materials were fine. But I couldn’t get the anatomy piece.

Maybe that’s why. If that’s the case, I need to either stop getting all these atlases of the human body, thinking I’m going to memorize them all… or I need to find another way to study. I’m not willing to let go of my love of the human system, so I’m not going to give up my atlases. I just need to find a new way to memorize. And not just memorize, but really understand how things are put together, using all the tricks in my toolbox.

My first NP was pretty intent on making sure I didn’t get down on myself and think less of my abilities. I have a tendency to focus on the things I do wrong (I was raised that way, actually), and that can really drag me down.

Now I really need to work with my issues in a more focused way. I know the numbers I’m looking at are old — the last eval I had was about 5 years ago. I should really get a new eval, but it costs a lot of money, and my insurance won’t cover it. So, unless I come across an extra $5K that I don’t need for something else (and wouldn’t that be wonderful), I’ve got to work with what I have. Too bad. I’m stuck.

Then again, I’m not that stuck. I can still observe what’s going in my life, see what’s causing me problems, and deal with that. I have a lot going on, so it can be a bit of a “dust storm” with lots of competing information, and I may not always be able to make distinctions. But at least with the handful of issues that my NP eval has identified, it gives me a handhold.

All of this can be like standing in front of a rock wall, trying to figure out where to grab onto first, to start climbing. All I need is a few tips and hints.

Then I can get started.

Moving up.



A New Glimpse Into Working Memory

When you hold in mind a sentence you have just read or a phone number you’re about to dial, you’re engaging a critical brain system known as working memory. For the past several decades, neuroscientists have believed that as information is held in working memory, brain cells associated with that information fire continuously. However, a new study from MIT has upended that theory, instead finding that as information is held in working memory, neurons fire in sporadic, coordinated bursts. These cyclical bursts could help the brain to hold multiple items in working memory at the same time, according to the

Source: A New Glimpse Into Working Memory

A big bunch of boxes

My situation is not quite this extreme, but sometimes it feels like it

I went a little off the rails, a couple of weeks ago. I decided I needed some new computer equipment, and I bought a couple of items I’d had my eye on at Amazon for some time. I knew I had the money, and I got a deal, so I went for it.

The only problem was, I forgot that A) My spouse had just paid off a bunch of bills that drained our bank balance, and B) I had moved money into our savings account. Saving occasionally is on my to-do list. I used to direct deposit $50 into savings each month, but then things got very tight for a few years,and I had to stop even that.

Yes, we were living close to the bone. Since getting back, I still have this sinking sense of dread that catastrophe is just around the corner. It’s not true, but I feel like I need to be constantly prepared for disaster. So, I haven’t done the regular direct deposit, recently. Even a little bit helps. … Actually, let me fix that now.

Okay, I’m back. I’m putting a little bit aside with each paycheck, now. That feels better. It’s not a ton of money, but it can add up.

Anyway, as it turned out, last week, I really miscalculated about how much money I had on hand. Not only did I spend more than I had on that equipment, but I also spent more than I should have on a couple of side projects I’ve been doing. For some reason, I was convinced that I had $5,000 more to my name, than I did. And the bank was kind enough to inform me of my miscalculation.

I fixed the problem, then it happened again.

More overdraft charges from the bank. Good grief.

A series of confused choices commenced, with me transferring money to and from the wrong accounts, and completely screwing up my mortgage payment. My susceptibility to short-term interference really bit me in the ass, in the space of only a few minutes. It’s crazy. Unless I write stuff down and keep referring to it, it might as well have never even entered my mind. It can evaporate in a matter of minutes — sometimes seconds.

Thanks to the magic of online transfers and a 30-day grace period, I eventually managed to sort things out, but it was a comedy of errors there for a while. I got so confused about which account was which, even though I was looking right at everything on the screen in front of me, and I thought I was 100% clear, each time I set up a transfer. I did it wrong three or four times, before I was able to get it right. And just now, when I looked at my pending transactions, I realized that I’d actually cancelled the mortgage payment transfer. So, I set that up again.

It wasn’t that difficult, but for some reason, my head got completely turned around. I’m still a little fuzzy about it. I’ll check again later this week, when I’ve gotten some more sleep.

It’s all sorted out, now. At least, I hope so. And … getting back to my original subject… I have the new computer equipment I have been needing. And I now have a bunch of boxes I have to figure out what to do with.

The equipment was shipped to me as boxes within boxes. And a bunch of packing stuff to go with it. What the heck? How many boxes do you need? I have them stacked in in front of my bookcases, awaiting their fate.

Not that this is a bad problem. I have shelves full of crap books and papers that I have not used or looked at for years. I’ve moved things around a bit, but I haven’t actually used them. Not the way I used to, years ago. But fortunately, with these boxes, I have a solution – at least in part. I can put some of that stuff under my bed in the narrower cartons. It’s an elegant solution, really. Space is at a premium in this house, and I’ve long felt that space under beds is best used for things other than gathering dust.

So, there’s one solution.

Now I just have to choose what goes there. That’s another question.

As you can probably tell, I’m still in quandary-mode over how best to organize my workspace in my study. I’m incredibly fortunate to even have a study.  It’s mine, all mine, and it’s my sanctuary. It’s a cluttered sanctuary, but I’m not convinced that’s necessarily a bad thing. But with freedom comes responsibility, and I’ve been so caught up in all my projects for the past six months (if not more), that I’ve ditched a lot of the responsibility and let things slide.

With the end result being that I have a lot of stuff that needs to be rearranged and put in proper order – stat. So, I’m working at it a little bit at a time. Not making myself nuts over it, but trying to be smart. A little goes a long way, actually, and that’s a good thing.

Enough talk. Time to solve some stuff. And go for a long walk on this beautiful day. And get a nap.


TBI Holiday Survival Tip: Make a danged list

Keeps me sane
Keeps me sane

If you want to make yourself crazy, this holiday season, try keeping everything in your head.

It will work like a charm.

But if you want to take the pressure off and actually enjoy yourself, making lists of things you need to do, can work wonders.

Making lists has the following advantages:

  1. It stops you from running around like a chicken with your head cut off. It tells you what you need to do next, every step of the way, so you can focus on the steps, instead of trying to remember what’s next. TBI can make it very difficult to focus, especially when tired. If you’re like me, you can end up bouncing around from one thing to the next, and finish the day with nothing much done. That’s anxiety-producing and bugs the crap out of me. A list keeps me on track.
  2. It saves your brain from needing to store everything in reserve. It’s stressful to hold everything in your head, and it’s even more stressful to wonder if you’re going to remember everything you need to. TBI can do a number on your short-term working memory, so if you’re like me, you can forget things in the space of minutes. Sometimes those things are important and shouldn’t be forgotten. We only have so  much “cognitive reserve” of thinking power, so using a list to store things instead of your brain can be a big help.
  3. It lets you think things through ahead of time and do a “practice run” of your steps before hand. Visualization and practicing motions in your head has been used by athletes and top performers for many, many years. And it works. When you make a list, you can “step through” everything you need to do, see yourself doing it well, and prepare mentally for what’s ahead of you. TBI can complicate even the simplest things, introducing distractions from your mind and your body, so when I run through my list of things to do in my head, ahead of time, it points me in the right direction early.
  4. It lets you weed out things you don’t really need to do. If you see your list getting really long, you can remove things that aren’t really all that essential, or move them to a different day. This saves your energy for the stuff that’s really critical. TBI can make your head think that everything is important, and compel you to DO IT ALL… or else. Putting things down on paper, lets you see just what matters, and what doesn’t.
  5. It can be very calming. It’s reassuring for me to have a list with me, when I’m going about my errands and chores. I know I’m not alone on my quest to get stuff done — I’ve got a tool to help me through. Just holding the piece of paper in my hands is a welcome sign that I’m doing something smart about my day.

Obviously, not everything can be listed out, and things will probably come up that you didn’t think of. But having a list of the things you  do know about can go a long way towards making your life — and your holidays — much more enjoyable.

So yes – enjoy!


Memento – Part 2

Making that list… to take action

A few weeks back, I saw the first half of the movie “Memento” starring Guy Pearce, who has no short-term memory and has to keep writing notes to remind himself of things. It seemed eerily familiar to me, although I wondered about him actually remembering what the notes really meant. I didn’t get a chance to see how the movie ended — it was a bit of a challenge for me to follow. I think it’s one of those things you have to have a good memory to enjoy — keeping track of who did what and all the different pieces of it was pretty challenging for me, and I wasn’t following as well as I wanted to.

The movie was actually pretty difficult work for me, but I stuck with it as long as I could.

Anyway, I had my second round of neuropsych testing yesterday afternoon, and I thought it went pretty well. Then again, that’s what I thought the first time around … we’ll find out. A lot has been going on with me — the uber-boss from hell has given notice and will be gone from the company in another week. Praise be. Now maybe I can actually do my friggin’ job, instead of constantly dealing with their interference, undermining, and trash talking. There is hope, and now I need to do a reset on my attitude about work. Because I realize that a lot of the pain and suffering that this job has held for me, has been due to this uber-boss’es interference… along with the undermining and generally unprofessional demeanor of other coworkers and management types who are not on the same page as me (or the parent company), and who have been pretty poorly behaved over the past two years, if I say so myself.

I could go on, but why waste the time?

Anyway, now is the time when I need to reset my attitude and see if I can rekindle that original excitement I felt at joining the company 2-1/2 years ago. Once upon a time, I really felt like everything was wide open and possible… then the sabotage by my managers started, the bad behavior kicked in, and half my battles turned out to be fighting upper management about he right thing to do. I don’t doubt for a moment that there will be new fights and new struggles with the Overlords in the future, but these will be different ones, and at least I won’t have to fight them on a daily basis right in my own back yard. If anything, the battles I’ll be fighting could bring me closer together with others who are struggling with the same issues — which will be good for individual connections, even if it doesn’t do much for the overall spirit of the place.

The company is changing dramatically from being a mid-sized (under 1,000 employees) to being part of a major multinational corporation (over 10,000 employees), and it’s not going to be easy for a lot of folks. For me, it’s very familiar. I’ve done this a number of times, and I am accustomed to the shenanigans.

So, now is the time to remember my old coping mechanisms and rekindle that old sense of hope I once had, before things became so clear to me.

It’s interesting – in my testing yesterday, I found some things easy and some things difficult. Who can say which ones really WERE easy or difficult for me? I will find out when the testing results come back. I also have a “backlog” of personal and professional issues to discuss with my NP – I can really use their feedback on some things, to get a reality check. It’s interesting that out of all my friends and family, they seem to have the only truly independent view of the things I tell them, without an agenda other than helping me think through things logically and with common sense. They also recognize the neurological issues that get in my way, so while others fan my indignation into hot, raging flames, they talk me back from that edge and get me using the more sensible parts of my brain to work through it all.

Now, I just need to remember what to discuss with them.

Which is what I’m doing this weekend. I have made a list of the things I’m dealing with these days. I just started the list, and there are 12 “biggies” right off the bat that come to mind. That’s not even the little everyday crap that is getting to me, like my not being able to complete tasks on time, and my failure to follow through on important things at work. I am thinking that once management changes, and I am out from under the uber-boss’es sabotaging influence, things will loosen up for me a bit. I have a good rapport with the “overlords” thus far, and I think we’re going to continue to work well together. I have a lot of great “street cred” in other parts of the company, so there are a lot of people on my side, which is always good.

But good or not, it’s still additional stress. It’s still additional energy I have to put into things. And the additional things are personal as well as professional. I need to really focus in on keeping rested and taking good care of myself. I haven’t done such a great job of that, in the past months — I’m sure at least in part because of all the stresses at work, and wondering if there is really any future for me, under the current regime. Well, news flash – the current regime is going away, and it’s being replaced by something else. And in the end, sticking things out and letting the chips fall as they will, is probably the best strategy I could have in a situation like this.

Sticking things out, having endurance. And of course getting good rest, eating right, and getting good exercise as well.

It all fits together. I still pretty much hate my commute. I still don’t see a long-term future at this job. And who knows if the new boss will be any better than the old boss? … I hear that “Who” song playing in the background… “meet the new boss… same as the old boss…”

But at the very least, I’ll get some relief from that uber-boss who is disrespectful, obnoxious, cryptic, and always has to be the smartest person in the room… or else.

And that’s something. That’s a lot, actually.

Exercising the muscle of attention

Exercise is good

Use it or lose it. We’ve all heard it said, and it’s often true. I’d like to add another thought to that, specifically with regard to mTBI and attention difficulties — which often go together.

I’d like to also say — Even if you lose it, use it… and you may get it back.

I’ve been reading this article: Mild traumatic brain injury in persons with multiple trauma: the problem of delayed diagnosis and the author cites some scientific findings, namely

“Memory, attention deficits, and speed of processing information have been identified as some of the longer lasting and more pervasive neuropsychological symptoms seen in head injured adults (Kay et al., 1994; Telzrow, 1990),” and ” Deficits in higher cognitive functions can occur in the face of relatively normal performance on other more basic tasks (Cullum et al., 1990), explaining the improvement in intelligence tests scores without a comparable improvement in function. Wood (1987) showed that attention, which is often impaired by MTBI, is more important than intelligence (measured by IQ) during the learning of a simple discrimination task, and suggests that attention permeates all aspects of behavior. This helps to clarify why functional deficits continue in the face of intellectual recovery. Deficits in attention are particularly serious because there is little evidence for success of attention training procedures (Bigler, 1990).”

That last sentence caught my eye: Deficits in attention are particularly serious because there is little evidence for success of attention training procedures. Really… That’s a downer.  Especially because my attentional issues became abundantly clear during my neuropsych testing… and thinking back over my life, attention (or lack thereof) has been a major contributing factor to the difficulties I’ve had.

If there is little evidence for success of attention training procedures, what does that mean?

Well, personally, I have to wonder about

A) the type of evidence they’re talking about and when/where did they look for it?

B) what their measure of success is?

C) what attention training procedures they were using?

It seems to me that the lack of evidence is more about the lack of attention they’re paying to… attention. The attention deficits seem to be on the clinical side, as well as the TBI side. And the possibility that people aren’t measuring this on a regular basis under special scientific conditions that give the results scientific credibility, means that this sentence is instantly suspect.

What’s more, who can say what attention training procedures were being used? Seems to me, there’s more than one way to train your attention, and the best ways may be 100% incompatible with a clinical setting or an environment set up to gather data.

So, I really can’t worry too much about this statement, which dates back to 1990, as well. A lot can change in 21 years. So, this may just be old information.

But anyway, back to the idea of exercising your attention and making it stronger — practicing attention exercises after mTBI, with the intention of improving your ability to sustain focus and attend to what’s in front of you. I truly believe — and we have found more and more evidence in the past years — that the brain can and does rewire itself, and neurons that fire together wire together. What it takes is intention and determination and consistency. Truly, consistency may be the biggest element in all of this. For no matter how good your intentions and no matter how determined you are, if you’re not consistent in what you do, you’re going to have a harder time making progress, than if you stay on track and on target throughout the weeks and months, even years.

It’s worth it, however. Well worth it. I have to say that in the past three years, my ability to attend to things has dramatically improved. That improvement started with first learning that I had deficits and I needed to take action. It really commenced in earnest when I decided that no matter where I was at the moment or how I felt, I was going to change this for the better. I wasn’t going to settle for “what is” and “what isn’t” — I was going to dwell in the land of “what isn’t — yet”…and  “what will be”. I can’t say that I achieved every one of my goals I had in mind. I’m still not quite where I’d like to be with my short-term memory, and I may not ever get exactly back where I used to be. But then again, I might be able to find ways to be even better at the short-term remembering thing, using other tools than I had before, when I was wholly dependent on my memory alone.

I’ve known a number of people over the years who have informed me that they had attentional problems, and that’s just how they were. They resigned themselves to being less than they could have been — and I am quite certain they could have improved their performance, had they simply applied themselves. But they decided, years ago, that they were how they were, and that was that. No room for growth. No room for expansion. No room for change. Sad. 😦

The thing is, they basically disabled themselves. They spent a whole lot of time feeling bad about themselves and telling themselves that they sucked at what they did, etc. etc. And they just didn’t try harder. They didn’t change how they did things. They didn’t extend themselves. They didn’t suspend judgment about themselves. They just decided that they were how they were, and that was the hand they’d been dealt in life.

And they lived these half lives filled with anger and frustration and defeat.

What a waste.

I tried encouraging them to try different things, to do things in different ways, but they just wouldn’t. They’d made up their minds. Perhaps because the people they turned to for guidance had not seen enough clinical data that demonstrated that attentional issues can be resolved through practice and deliberate action.

See, this is one of the things that gets me about all this scientific information — it’s subject to change.  And it’s open to interpretation. And so many times, there is no follow up over the years that shows that their original assumptions did not pan out over time. And people like me, who have a thirst for knowledge and a trust in experts, see them saying things like, “There’s no recovery for people with mTBI — they may improve, but they can never recover,” and they give up. Because some expert somewhere decided something, based on their own limited information and experience.

Let me say this — TBI cannot and should not define you. You may have been hurt, you may have gotten injured. You may have a rough time for a while, and it may be rocky going, finding your footing again. You may end up with “souvenirs” of your injury that follow you the rest of  your life. But that doesn’t mean the story is over for you. It doesn’t mean that’s all there is, and the proverbial fat lady has sang.

Oh, no. See, experiencing a brain injury is like moving to a different locale. There are some things you have to leave behind, because they no longer serve you. If you move from Sweden to Miami, chances are, you’re not going to need your heavy winter clothing, and you won’t have to concern yourself with limited sunlight during the winter. But that doesn’t make Miami any less good than Sweden. It also doesn’t make it any better. It just makes it different. For me, my series of injuries have chipped away at my working memory, until I sometimes can’t remember stuff that gets said to me, 15 minutes after someone says it. I can’t remember unfamiliar number sequences longer than 4 digits. But I can sure as hell write stuff down, and I have ways of making a note of the information I know I’ll need to use later. I may not have as much of certain abilities as I did before, but I have plenty of others to fill in those gaps – and in some cases, the new ways of doing things may be even better than the old ones were.

This is not to make light of TBI. It’s disruptive. It destroys lives. It seriously messes with your sense of who you are. But what if recovery from TBI were about recovering a quality of life – the sense of it, the experience of it – rather than the specifics? And what if we actually were able to restore what we’d once lost, through hard work, effort, determination, and consistency? What if that were the case?

Well, I’ve gotta run. I’m at the public library, and I’m parked four blocks away from my car, which has another 20 minutes on the parking meter, by my calculations. I’d like to have a leisurely walk back, then get on with my day.

Life awaits.

It helps if you talk to people

Well, I’ve had a very eventful 24 hours or so. Last night I stayed up later than I should have, and I decided to take a long, hot shower before I went to bed. Odd thing was, the water wouldn’t get very warm, and needless to say, the shower was neither long, nor hot. At the same time, I heard my spouse calling that the heat wouldn’t turn on. Last night was a chilly one, and just when we thought we were in the clear, sure enough, we needed to turn the heat on a little.

Not to be. Turns out, we ran out of oil. Bummer. The tank was empty. M-T. And when I called the heating oil folks (they have a 24-hour line), they kinda bitched me out for not paying in full on time. They said they’d send someone over, but not till morning.

It’s true. I have done a piss-poor job of keeping on top of paying the people who help me heat my house. Mostly because I’ve been very low on funds all winter, and I haven’t had enough money on hand at any one time make a decent payment. Until recently. My employer paid out our bonuses a month late, so we were waiting around for that…

Anyway, the real issue was not just the late payments. The real issue was that I hadn’t communicated with them about my situation. I had a little talk with the service guy this morning about it – he said that plenty of folks are in my same situation, and that the oil company can work with me, if need be. But I do need to communicate with them.

This is an area where I am really working hard, these days, and I’ve come an amazingly long way, in the past three years. Time was, I really didn’t discuss anything with anyone. Not my friends, not my family, not my co-workers. I just kept my head down and worked. Or pretended I knew what people were talking about and faked my way through everything. And when in doubt, I did nothing. I never asked anyone for clarification, I never engaged anyone in back-and-forth communication. I either just acted like I knew what was going on, or I pretended nothing was going on at all.

Why? Because I felt stupid. Because  I felt dense and inept and I had a hard time following conversations. It’s tough to keep a conversation going, when your short-term working memory is for shit, and you never stop in mid-dialogue to make sure you know what the hell is going on.

But I never stopped to ask for clarification, and I never let on that I was confused or had gotten turned around. It was just too much for my pride to take. And all the while that I was acting like I had it together, I was struggling and beating myself up for not knowing what was going on.

This is changing. Big-time. I can even remember the first time I asked anyone to clarify what they were saying to me. It was my neuropsych — about 2 years ago. And the first time I ever stopped someone to ask them to clarify what they were saying, it was terrifying for me. A milestone. Because my neuropsych didn’t call me an idiot or treat me like I was stupid. They just clarified, and the conversation moved on.

It’s pretty amazing how that works. And it’s pretty amazing that I even took that first step. Admit that I didn’t know what was going on? Not me! Ask for help in understanding what someone was saying to me? Never! But that day, things changed.

Now they have to change again. I need to start talking to people and ask them for help when I’m in a jam. I realize that I just didn’t trust myself to discuss my situation. I kept waiting for it to change, hoping it would change. But time got away from me. And I realize that what I really need to do is trust others to be willing to work with me — and not expect that they’re going to rip me a new one, if I fall short.

I wrote a check for the oil and gave it to the service guy. Then, later, I called the oil company and told them I’d done it. They were so nice to me…

Funny, that.

Writing lots to keep things simple

I had an epiphany today during my morning exercise. I realized that one of the reasons my life tends to fill up with all sorts of activities and I get swamped by so much to do – and spread so thin, I can’t focus fully on what’s in front of me… is because I forget what I am supposed to be doing. Not only that, but I forget why I am supposed to be doing it.

Someone wrote to me the other day that they used to feel like the guy in “Memento” who has to write everything down, because he can’t remember, from day to day, moment to moment, what he’s supposed to be doing.

It got me thinking… and I realized that I’m like that to — not on so extreme a scale, but this Swiss cheese memory of mine is problematic. And with my constant restlessness, I have so much energy, that I have to be doing something, but I don’t remember what exactly I’m supposed to be doing, or why, so I end up launching into another bunch of activities without realizing I’m forgetting something.

It’s like I have a rushing river in my head, and the gaps in my memory are like big boulders in the river. I’m in a boat that’s headed down river, and because all these boulders are in the way, I can’t go in a straight line. I end up flying downstream at top speed, but I get spun around, I bump into things, I go way out of my way on tangents, and I have to paddle like crazy to keep upright.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is paddling downstream in rivers with far fewer rocks, they are better able to keep upright, and they arrive at their destinations a lot less exhausted and bedraggled and frazzled than I do.

Literally, when I get up in the morning, it’s like I’m starting a whole new day. That’s great for my optimism and general cheerfulness, but it’s not so great for my effectiveness. I tend to not think about what I was doing the day before, and how it ties in to what I’m supposed to do today. And if I’m not careful, I can get caught up in a whole lot of stuff that I don’t need to be doing, and which keep me from finishing what I’m working on, but which seem so interesting at the moment…

It’s been a huge problem for almost as long as I can remember — and even more so, since my fall in 2004. It’s impacted my work and my family life and my self-esteem, and I can hardly believe it’s taken me this long to realize this fact and the impact that it’s had on me.  No wonder I can’t get anything done in a timely manner — I keep forgetting what I’m supposed to be doing. But at least now I am aware of it. (It’s amazing what happens, when you communicate with another human being.) And now that I’m aware of the problem, I can devise a strategy for dealing with this.

My strategy is:

Keep a running list of the really important things I’m supposed to be doing, and make sure it is in easy view of me each and every morning. Keep that master list with me throughout the course of the day, and keep checking back with it.

I have to refine this, certainly. I have to figure out how to prioritize and manage my items, so I don’t get completely overwhelmed. A spreadsheet will probably help. I have one that I use for the Big Things I Need To Fix in my life. Now I need to come up with a way to record and track the everyday things I’m working on. I may also use a handwritten list. I’m still working it out, as I learn more about how my brain does — and doesn’t — work.

I do know that the more I write down about what I’m supposed to be doing, the simpler it becomes to get things done. My writing (especially in my journals) extends beyond the list-making and into the story-telling aspects of my life. When I write things down in detail (tho’ I have to be careful of getting swamped in the details), it helps me envision where I want to go and what I want to achieve — and why. The more I can work out in my mind, ahead of time, what I want to do, the less I have to think about it later. I can just look at my list and, step by step, get things done that need to be done. It’s important. Very, very important.

Well, it is a process, and it’s one that keeps evolving, as I get more and more information. The bottom line is, now I realize that having holes and weaknesses in my memory is one of the root causes of my ineffectiveness over the years. It’s not because I’m a loser or lazy. It’s because I literally forget what I’m supposed to be doing, but I have so much energy, I can’t just sit there, so I start other things… and then forget to complete them. It can be maddening. But that’s where tools and strategies come in.

It’s all a process. I’m just relieved I’ve realized how this aspect has impacted me. After all, you can’t fix something if you don’t know it’s broken.

What if I have nothing to prove?

I’ve been spending a fair amount of time tracking my experiences, the past week or so. I haven’t been quite as diligent as I could be, but I’ve been really caught up in learning new skills for work that are as interesting as they are essential.

I’ve also been looking back at my experiences tracking from about a year ago, and I can see that I’ve really come a long way. A year ago, I was painfully conflicted about just about everything in my life. My work situation was in flux to an almost perilous degree, my internal landscape was pretty torn up by emotional storms, my outbursts and meltdowns were intense and fairly frequent, and I was not communicating well at all — with anyone.

I can’t say that I’ve completely righted my life, but the seas I’m sailing are a lot less stormy than they were this time last year. I’ve learned how to not only handle myself better in a storm, but how to tell if a storm is coming, and steer clear of those waters. All in all, I have to say that I’m doing a whole lot better now, than I was before. I’m probably doing better than I have in my entire life.

A big part of that process has involved getting to know the ways in which I’m limited, or the ways in which my brain functions in a non-standard way. There are a select few (but fairly significant) ways that my brain differs from what’s expected. I tend to memorize things from rote, rather than grouping ideas or things into thematic categories. My processing speed is slower than would be expected of someone with my level of intelligence. And I have a dickens of a time with working memory — I tend to lose hold of new ideas and information after only a short bit of interruption, or if I shift my attention to something else and then try to come back to it.

All my life, these things have been a problem. And they’ve given rise to a whole raft of other issues, which I’ve really struggled with for as long as I can remember. Ironically, I haven’t had a really clear understanding about the nature of my problems. I knew — vaguely — that something wasn’t right, but I didn’t understand exactly what was wrong… or why. I always just figured I was some kind of idiot or I wasn’t trying hard enough or I was just being lazy or I was being a bad person. And that belief was reinforced by countless people around me who couldn’t figure out why someone as smart as me could be so dumb at times. So, I thought there was something really wrong with ME, and I told myself I had to work really, really hard to redeem myself.

Thinking that there was a problem with me gave rise to an inner drive and intensity that’s been fueled by guilt and shame and a deep need for some sort of redemption or salvation. I’m not talking about the religious type, rather, a daily striving to make up for the things I thought I was doing wrong… for the ways I thought I was living wrong… for the ways I was being wrong… which led to my screw-ups, misunderstandings, faux pas, clumsiness, forgetfulness, confabulation, etc. I’ve had this monkey on my back for decades, hopping up and down on my head, driving me to fix what I’d messed up, to make right what I’d mucked up, and work really, really hard to prove to the rest of the world — and myself — that I was not a loser, that I was not a slacker, that I was worthy of being an equal member of society.

All my life, I’ve been driven to prove I can do it, because there was a constant voice in the back of my head that told me I couldn’t. We all have this little voice in the back of our head, repeating to use both truths and lies about ourselves, based on what we’ve experienced and been told about ourselves.

This voice told me I would mess everything up — because that’s what I generally did. So, I had to work twice as hard to make up for my messes.

This voice told me I would get turned around and lose my way — because that’s what always seemed to happen. So, I had to bend over backwards to figure things out ahead of time to prove to myself that I wouldn’t get lost.

This voice told me that I would never be able to do the most important things, like have a good job and own a house and be able to pay my bills, and be a productive member of society. So, I had to drive myself to take on the biggest tasks, make the most money, have the best house, and get involved in the most worthy causes, to show that it wasn’t true.

Now, I can’t say I dislike having a good job and a nice house and being involved in worthy causes. I really enjoy having a clear view of where I’m going in life. And I enjoy working hard, so pushing to achieve suits me just fine.  I also need to maintain what I’ve worked so hard to build up.

The thing is, now that I know so much more about what makes me tick, I need to find new reasons for doing these things — and doing them well. Now that I can see how so many of my problems have stemmed from my brain injuries, rather than fundamental character flaws, I’m finding that I’m a lot less driven to do everything in order to prove myself. The intensity of my past is mellowing, and that edginess that pushed-pushed-pushed me is on the wane.

In many ways, the pressure is off. Because I’m not a bad person — I’m an injured person. I’m not lazy or crazy or defiant. I’m in possession of a brain that works more slowly than would be expected… that gets bits and pieces of information instead of the whole shootin’ match… and that has a genuine need to question statements and orders, because I honestly don’t understand everything when it’s presented to me in one whole package.

And that’s a good thing. How long can a person be reasonably expected to function at such a high pressure level? I’m not sure I could have lasted much longer, personally.

But it’s also a problematic thing.  Because I’ve built this life which I really enjoy, I really like, I really value. And I have to keep it going. I have to maintain it all — and it’s a lot — without the guilt-and-shame-and-panic-driven engine in my head and gut chug-chug-chugging away.

I have to find another reason to do things, other than simply proving that I CAN DO IT. I know I can. I’ve proved to myself and everyone around me that I can. And now that I know better why things in the past got messed up, I can warn myself away from recurring dangers and not run into those proverbial ditches along the road of my life. But without the same level of self-recriminatory redemption obsession driving me forward, what’s going to drive me now?

I was afraid this would happen…

I am tired. I am so tired, in fact, that I cannot rest. It’s not good. I haven’t had 8 uninterrupted hours of sleep in I don’t know how long. I haven’t had seven hours at a time in a while, either. Right now, I’m averaging about 6 to 6-1/2 hours of sleep a night, which is not good.

I’ve been going on adrenaline for a week, now, but it’s taking a toll. I spent the long weekend — all three beautiful days of it — laid up in the house, fighting off an infection that really dragged me down. What a waste. Then again, I did need to rest, so it was probably my body’s way of getting me off my feet.

Things have been going pretty well at work. It’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, I’m pretty freaked out at how much I have to learn. A lot of this is new to me — the aspects of this advanced technology I have to master are specific to the company I’m at, so I have to learn it even more specifically. And there’s a lot going on, so I have to learn a wide range of of specifics. Part of me is petrified. I really want to do my best at this job, and I will. But what if my best is not enough? What if I’m not nearly as proficient as I think I am?

It’s happened before. Lots of times. My brain has told the rest of me that it “got it” just fine, when it was way out in left field. It’s been a recurring problem.

Another issue is that I’m not following what people are saying to me. I’ll be sitting with someone, going over issues with them, and all of a sudden, I’ll notice that I am not understanding a word they’re saying to me. Somewhere, back a few minutes before (and I can’t remember when), I stopped listening. My brain quit on me. It just dropped out and ceased to function. Bye-bye. This is not good. I need to be able to pay attention when I’m talking to people. I need to be able to listen to them the whole way through. And I need to remember what they said to me later on.

This has me very concerned. Very worried. Very uptight. I’m getting that sick, sinking feeling in my stomach around my inadequacies and shortcomings. And I’m starting to get really worried that this is going to impact my ability to do my job — and my reputation. It feels like people I’m working with are noticing that I’m spacing out… that I’m getting lost. And my interactions with them are faltering, especially later in the day.

The people who brought me on board took a bit of a gamble with me, when they hired me. They brought me on based on what they knew of me in the late 1990’s. It’s now almost 10 years later, and I’m trading on a ten-year-old reputation. I can’t let these people down. I can’t let these people down. I can’t embarrass myself. I just can’t.

What to do…

Ah-ha! I’ve got it! I’m brilliant! I have a solution! It’s so common-sense, it’s almost frightening — use “assistive technoloy” I have (literally) at my fingertips, every day: My laptop.

My laptop is my lifeline at work. It plugs me into the network, it connects me with people near and far, so I can do my job. It’s my soother — the rhythmic action of typing really chills me out. And it also paces me, makes me do things systematically. And it’s a great prop for me to hold onto, whenever I’m getting tweaked and nervous and agitated.

I’m going to take my laptop with me, whenever I go out and consult with people who need my assistance, and I’ll use it to record what’s going on in our conversation. I’ll take my laptop with me to meetings, and I’ll have it logged into the network to check on various pieces of information that come up. I’ll always have it with me, and I’ll make a point of “capturing information” at the time I’m meeting with people, whether it’s one-on-one, or in a meeting. This is brilliant on a number of levels.

First, it makes me look like I mean business. I do mean business, but having my laptop with me bumps up my appearance by several orders. It makes me look like I take the situation seriously, by getting a computer involved. It’s true — I do take the situation(s) very seriously, and this communiates that to others.

Second, it slows down the action. Typing takes time to do. The computer has to run its programs, which tend to slow things down. Reviewing my notes in the moment also takes time. It basically keeps the action from getting way out of hand, and when it does, it gives me a great reason to circle back and recap. I’ve noticed that when I’m talking to people, I’ve been losing information, which is not good — and they’re smart, so they see it. Now, if I can type while I’m talking, I can find some middle way to keep up and get others to slow down. So many people I work with are very verbal, very interactive, and when we start writing things up, they have to slow down.

In a way, we’re inversely speedy — They’re as fast when they’re talking, as I am fast when I’m typing. They’re as slow when I’m typing, as I am when they’re talking. So, if I can type things up, I force them to slow down, which has to start happening.

Third, it speeds up my interaction. For some reason, when I’m typing things up and “thinking on paper or on-screen” I’m better able to collect my thoughts and communicate. I see issues and come up with ideas that are buried in the information. Writing things up and typing them out helps my brain organize the ideas that just get jumbled around when I’m talking and listening to people talk. I can really fly. And I type very fast, which makes me look good. I look even faster than I am, because I’m typing as I talk — highlighting my skills and abilities, rather than getting bogged down in my limitations.

Fourth, it creates a record for me to refer to. I can not only keep up while I’m meeting with someone, but it captures what we discuss, so I can come back to it later. This is huge with me. I lose so much, when I’m talking to people, and what I do retain, tends to get “filed” in different places in my brain.

The inside of my head feels a bit like my home office looks — papers and books all over the place, artwork and supplies and various items left here and there, in no particular order. Some of the mess is hygienic — just plain laziness keeping me from putting things in order. But some of it is necessary — one of my vexations is “out of sight, out of mind” where I literally lose things I cannot see. I forget that they exist, and then they get lost for long times, when I really need to keep them in mind. Like one of my W2’s that went missing in the past month. I distinctly remember getting it in the mail and putting it with my tax forms. But now it’s gone. And I have to file for an extension and request another copy. I searched high and low for it, but it’s nowhere to be seen, and I may have accidentally thrown it away. There’s a very good chance I did just that.

To avoid completely screwing up my new job and pissing everyone off and wrecking my future chances at employment, I’m going to just write everything up for myself — and others, so I have it to refer to. Just because my working memory is for sh*t, doesn’t mean my career needs to be trashed

Fifth, it chills me out with the typing. Something about the rhythmic tap-tap-tap soothes me and quiets my nerves. It’s an outlet for my nervous energy, I suppose. And I’m notorious “tapper”, anyway. For some reason, I tend to tap away at things, when I’m nervous. So, typing gives me a way to get that out of my system in a productive and positive way.

Sixth, it helps me think better. I do so much better in writing, than in speaking, so why not make that work for me? Writing things down lets me process information more quickly. And my typing is way faster than my handwriting — and it’s easier to read — so what I come up with is shareable. I can seriously come up with some great solutions when I’m working on-screen. I don’t know what I did before I had computers to help me out. Actually, I do know what I did — I floundered and foundered and made a mess of things. I made plenty of notes that were no use to anyone, including myself. Something about the keyboard helps me think more clearly. That’s a good thing.

So, I don’t need to get all tweaked and freaked out over the difficulties I’ve been having with listening to people. I work in technology, with computers. I use a laptop at work. I can use that laptop over and above its customary use by others. And I can make it work for me in lots of new ways.

This is good. This is so very good. Not only is it a workable, pragmatic solution, but it takes the pressure off my worried brain that has been sweating big-time over these difficulties. One less thing to worry about. Lots less things to worry about.

Now, I just need to take care of my wrists.

And make sure I start getting to bed sooner each night. That part is critical.

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