This Too Shall Pass

In Recovery by Emerson Jane Browne1 Comment

I feel so very confused as to who I am, who I am not, and who I should be, and who I can be.  I want to know where the brain holes are so I can avoid them.  I want something like a map to a mine field.  I want to know exactly what is not working.  I want to know exactly what I need to avoid.  I want to know what I can do, and do well.

In reality that is what this time period is about: finding the holes, labeling them clearly so I can avoid them and mapping out new routes to still get to the desired destinations.  The thing is I want this time period to be over!  I want to be on the other side of it.

It is a painful place to be because it is scary, frightening, and also fairly lonely.  I know friends are very tired of hearing me talk about trying to figure the MTBI out.  I apologize to all and any of you about that.  (I do not apologize for writing about it because this is what the blog is about and it is your choice to be reading this!)

I look normal.  I seem normal.  Not only to my friends but to me too!  I keep expecting myself to be normal just as they do.  The confusing thing is that often I am “normal” and sometimes I am not.

The inconsistency is part of the difficulty.  It is confusing to me as well as to everyone else.  And for those who do not know much about MTBIs I think it may even look like I am pretending to have difficulties or maybe exagerating them to get attention or that I am faking it.  But that may also just be my critical internal voices being noisy.

To give an example of the inconsistency, I have been part of a seven member steering committee for over a year.  I think in that time I only missed one meeting due to forgetting it and even in that instance I came late.  This past Monday we went out for a celebratory dinner.  I almost missed it.  I have had the dinner plans on my calendar and looked forward to it for a couple of weeks.  But I was having a bad brain day and completely forgot about it and I forgot to check my calendar.  At the end of the day I went uptown for two things: pick up a prescription and some printing.   just as I was leaving the pharmacy one of the other steering committee members walked up to the counter, saw me and said “I’ll be right there.”  I looked at her blankly for a picosecond and then remembered our dinner date.  I hightailed it over to the restaurant and had a great time with everyone.

Can you see how strange it seemed to them that I almost missed it.  “Why didn’t you check your calendar?” I forgot.  “Well why don’t you just check it every morning?”  Right!  I can’t explain to myself why I can stay organized enough to check my calendar some days and not others. I sure as heck can’t explain it to someone else.

This has turned out to be an entirely bad brain week.  On Wednesday I was supposed to pick someone up at the ferry in the late evening.  I had thought about it and remembered it all day.  But by late evening I was tired.  I was on the phone long distance with a friend when my cell phone rang.  I missed the call just because I did not get to my cell phone fast enough but then I looked at the number, saw it was local and decided not to call the number back.  Of course, it was the person I was supposed to pick up trying to reach me.  (Luckily that all worked out because she was actually calling me to let me know that she had decided to stay overnight at her daughters since her plane had been so late.)

The inconsistencies are not all about memory!  I can sit down on Tuesday and write proposed bylaws for an education foundation.  I can put out a good product.  I can then attend two involved meetings the next day and perform well.

But then Thursday morning when my truck is dinging because the keys are in the ignition I can get totally confused.  It is like my brain suddenly starts thinking thru mud or thick insulation.  First I have to register that there is a dinging sound.  The initial response is confusion.  Then I figure out the dinging is coming from somewhere in my truck.  (Mind you, I am still in the driver seat with the door open while this is going on.)  Then I realize it is coming from the truck itself up around the dash.  Finally I realize that the dinging is coming from the truck because the keys are still in the ignition and I pull them out.

Now in reality that thought train still took probably under a minute.  And the friend who was with me at the time probably did not notice any hesitation.  However, it is exhausting when I have a day like that where every single thought has to be laboriously thought out instead of being automatic.

Another thing that is frightening or confusing to me about all of this is that I TRULY do not know what I can do and what I can’t.  Now as I am learning more about TBIs I am also seeing how many compensatory techniques I have already developed.  The compensatory techniques are a good thing.  I am not knocking them.  They are also part of the silver lining that I have talked about in previous posts.  But all the compensatory techniques I am now identifying are also pointing to the number and depth of holes that currently exist.  What I need to do is develop more compensatory techniques but first, as I explained above, I have to find and define the holes.

An example of a comensatory technique is that for years now I have put all written matter into columns.  I go to a lot of extra work to copy and paste long documents from the web into Word so that I can then put it into columns.  I know that columns are easier for everyone to read; that is why magazines and newspapers use them.  But I have been going to extremes; way beyond the extra mile without ever questioning why I was doing it.  I even journal by drawing a line down the middle of each page and write in two narrow columns.  The reason of course turns out to be that with a shorter return distance I can land on the correct line each time I complete reading one line and move my eyes over to the left to start reading the next line.  If I do not have things in short columns I need to use my finger to read.

People knowledgeable about brain injuries are sort of being my life-ring right now.  I recently have picked up a few books on the subject too.  All of that is helpful.  But I still feel pretty lost . . . well not lost actually; that is not the right word.

It is sort of like I am in this very long hallway.  I am in between the me that I have been and the me that I will be.  Yes!  That is silly to say because that is true for every person and every second.  What makes this different is the very long hallway.  There really is no way out till I reach the very end.  There are no other options here.  I have to go through this process of figuring me out.  I have to go through the process of finding out what I can do consistently for work now.  (That is hard enough for anyone in this economy but even harder when one has not worked for a long while and is approaching the whole thing with a different brain than before.)

I know I will get through this. I know that I will figure this all out.

I know that it is just a matter of time. And I know there is nothing I can really do to speed it up. Or, at least I am already doing everything I can think of to speed it up.

I know that not only is there an end to the tunnel, but that end opens up to a whole new chapter of my life. I truly think it will be a good chapter. I am get to bring a lot of good things into that life. I just wish I could be there now!

Emerson Jane Browne

I am Emerson Jane Browne. I write about Brains, Apps, & Productivity, and many other aspects of Life. I speak to TBI support groups, speak and teach workshops at tech, music, and writer conferences. I consult with organizations on strategic planning and building a strong community.


  • ResilientHeart

    I am enjoying your writing, you do write very well.
    I’m thinking one of the things you’re dealing with is the limitations of the ‘brain budget’. The intellect is still all there, it’s just the brain fatigue kicks in and, well, the brain goes and takes a ‘brain hike!’ (As a fellow TBIer calls it.)
    I’m glad you posted a comment on my blog! 🙂
    Here is something that has been helpful to me and many others:
    http://thefightofmylife.blogspot.com/2009/02/brain-budget.html
    Blessings, Love & Peace,
    RH