I am here in the new year

Good day. It has been six months since I last wrote, and three years since my TBI. Three years ago I woke up in the hospital, and when I say “woke up” I mean “regained my senses.” During the last three years I have continued to regain my senses, it has been a bumpy ride and there is no reason to believe it will ever end, the most difficult part of “recovery” is acknowledging it can never be complete.

As I look over my records, I have written fifty one articles for this blog during those three years, many of which I have no memory of writing, which is a large part of why I stopped. I could not remember what I had already written, and even at the exceptionally slow rate I was writing I felt I was repeating myself. I intend to thoughtfully chronicle my recovery process, and maybe turn it into a book. That sells. My last book didn’t sell very well, but its purpose was not to make money.

I can look back clearly enough to see I have had ups and downs during recovery, I have been better than I am now and have been much worse. It has not been a linear journey. There were times I was almost my “old self,” I know I have cooked meals for gatherings  and can see the words I have written, but I have been unable to do either for at least six months, I can’t recall the last time I prepared a meal.

One exceptionally positive thing I learned in the last round of therapy is that I am retaining information, my difficulty is retrieving it, finding where it is stored in my brain. One test was a panel of twenty items, drawn simply in black and white. After looking at the page of items for sixty seconds, I was asked to remember them. I remembered seventeen. We went on to other tests and then thirty minutes later the therapist asked me which items I remembered, and I was able to name sixteen of them. But it wasn’t the first seventeen minus one, I forgot some and remembered others. Ten minutes later she presented me with a series of cards, each containing an item, but this time there were forty, and my goal was to identify which ones were on the original page. I was able to identify all twenty, with no errors. The information was all in there, I was just unable to identify it all at once.

Among the things I have written off forever are the languages in which I was fluent, but every now and then a phrase slips out in one of them, usually unexpectedly. I still have fun trying to decipher words written in Cyrillic, but I cannot understand a word spoken by my Russian friends. They still presented me with a beautiful ushanka, for which I found a proper pin.

They did refer to it as a “Soviet” hat

A great deal has happened in the last three years, I have been observing but rarely commenting. The national election of 2016, which I had tried to avoid by emigrating to Belgium, was all I had expected it to be. The situation that foiled my “escape” from America has found my forgiveness. Folks are still running about spreading their version of hate and calling it love. I’ve been to a fair number of concerts, and can remember most of them without prompting; and I traveled a bit, visiting both parents with Sam, who had never seen Texas and very little of California before. The problem with my inner ear has been corrected, however, in return I lost a bit cognitively. I am no longer the smartest kid in the room, and I no longer need to be. Some strengths never faded, my sense of direction has remained, at least according to Sam, superior. My technical abilities remained intact, I have driven to a friend’s home over an hour away to repair her copier, and have done some small things in the local community. I have retained the ability to see through the fog of misdirection, which may or may not be a blessing.

I was exposed to so much kindness after my injury that I feel natural helping others out now. I gave an acoustic guitar to a young man in a rehabilitation facility who is suffering a TBI much more severe than mine, and just the other day someone in town asked on the community page if anyone knew how to assemble IKEA, and I volunteered, repairing the drawers in a dresser.

Today I look at a new year, and try not to laugh about the attention paid to a specific date. Every day is a new beginning, every day we are new people, so there is no reason to mourn the person I was before 1 January 2016. My ability to not worry about things I cannot change has been a benefit as I recognize how few things I can change today. It will be little things, creating ripples which hopefully are strengthened  by other ripples of the same frequency.

No promises on how often I’ll be writing, it would be lovely to once again write every day, perhaps that will happen some day. Three years ago I woke up as an old man, I have since been certified as disabled, but I feel neither old nor disabled today.

 

 

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Man of mystery

From what I hear, I am improving rapidly. I don’t see the improvements themselves, but I see the results of the improvements. I have learned a good deal through this brain injury, one more counter intuitive duality of TBI.

I am more thoughtful, slowly forming opinions about everything. Being less sure of reality has benefits. I am not certain of my own history, so I am a man of mystery to myself. I have far more memories than should fit into a normal life, but most of them suggest my life was anything but normal. The ones I can verify are less concrete than the ones I cannot, so I lean toward believing all of them. My sense of caution tells me not to discuss a past I cannot verify, so for the most part I’m sticking with my cover story.

I know I am impaired, but impairment is relative. I would ever so much like to accept my present condition, there is no reason to believe I will be who I once was (whoever that may be), and frustration over my loss is allegedly  detrimental to progress. Of late my frustration has been over recognizing my disability. I am better than I was a few months ago, I may be better than the average person, but I am still not functioning as I once did, so people who expect that level of performance become frustrated with me, and in turn I become frustrated. I am the one with the brain injury, yet I am the one who is supposed to be understanding of others.

I received a letter from Social Security telling me I have been approved for Disability payments. Page two lists the amount of the past due payments, and the percentage that will be paid to my attorney. Page six states I have no past due benefits. I called the attorney for clarification, but they had not received the letter. I emailed a copy of the letter, and their response was “You have been approved for disability.” I knew that. No response to my question about past due benefits. But I’m the one with the brain injury. Apparently they finally received the letter, and I received a letter from the attorney, which included “I feel you should have received your past due benefits by now, if you have not, please contact the office.”  I contacted the office again, and was told I have been approved for disability payments and the letter from the attorney was a form letter. Thank you for keeping me in the loop. But I’m the one with the brain injury and all these wacky ideas about proper communication.

I feel compelled to meet new people, but my old habits of closing bars do not fit my current abilities. I can still drink more than the average American, but even sober I am uncomfortable driving in the dark. At Samantha’s suggestion, I have become involved in a couple of “Meetup” groups, and created a profile on OKCupid. A friend, who “tunes” dating profiles professionally asked if I was ready to date. I had not given it a thought, so I guess the fearlessness is returning, I may be the only person who values that return. I’m ready to be rejected again, and opening more of myself to attack. In one of my Meetup groups, “Beer Fridays,” I met a woman who does not drink beer. She wasn’t sure what the group was about. But I’m the one with the brain injury.

I have noticed a peculiar group developing. There is a small number of people who wish to overthrow the recent election. At first I thought they were Democrats, but I have friends who are Democrats, and these folks have little in common with polite society. A few of them have asked to be friends, which at first I found admirable. My heart remains open, I still enjoy intelligent discussion with those of opposing views. Apparently, I’m pretty gullible, they had no interest in conversation, only in someone to spew their hatred towards. Their aims seem to aligned with Daesh, the Intel specialist in me is a bit alarmed. I hope they learned, from my polite goodbyes, that grace is an admirable quality, but I strongly doubt it. This is one in which I can say “Yes, you do have a brain injury. Be careful, the world is not filled with nice people.”

Today, my Tecfidera, the medicine I take for Multiple Sclerosis, was delivered four days late, by United Parcel Service. My door is not easy to find, but that was not the problem as the driver left notes on my door. Right under the heavy knocker which he must have thought was ornamental, and across from the doorbell which eluded him. I’ve worked around UPS drivers in the past and know to require a signature on deliveries, their “loss” rate is phenomenal. I saw the truck pulling away, and went out to find another note. No contact information on the note, they really don’t want you to call. Sam found a way to contact them, and they sent him back; she went to the door when I saw the truck pulling in. He said to her “Well, if you’re going to have an attitude, I won’t deliver here anymore.” I cannot imagine why I was charged extra to have a driver come to my door and insult me, apparently that is the point of the notes, to avoid the driver. I know these drivers are under immense pressure, I saw one crack over a wrong address when I worked at the Police Station. This incident was inexcusable. I got a call from the local office wondering why I didn’t just go to their office and pick the package up. Apparently they only drive the trucks around as advertising. They said they would talk to the driver and get back to me. In the 90s I watched a driver walk through security at a UPS hub smoking a joint, the security guard just said “you’re not supposed to smoke in here.” You were not supposed to smoke in the entire multi building facility, and they allegedly had routine drug tests.  I will be specifying FedEx for future deliveries, and will lobby to drop UPS from the preferred carriers list, but I’m just an unreasonable crank. That guy with the brain injury.

Part of the difficulty in finding who I am is discovering what planet I am on. I have memories of a place where people strove to communicate with each other. It would be easy, and from what I have read from other TBI survivors quite common, to feel alienated. I am either an alien or severely confused about proper behavior, are these memories of a civil society false? When I was told that people with brain injuries often are irritable and cranky, I thought it was frustration about inabilities. Then I thought it was from frustration about the processes we have to go through, with a brain injury, to be accepted as having a disability. At this point, as I become increasingly irritable and cranky, I can see it is due to frustration about the inabilities of the world in general.

I have a brain injury, and am keenly aware of my impairments. I may even overcompensate in order to appear “normal.” The more I interact with people, the more I realize I’m trying too hard. “Normal” is nothing to be proud of. I am a stranger to this world, and rather happy to discover that fact. It is kind of cool being a Man of Mystery.