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Don’t worry… you’re average

Posted Jan 02 2010 12:00am

I’ve been giving a lot of thought, lately, to how I’ve been managing my issues. I’ve got a host of them, ranging from sleep issues, to temper problems, to chronic pain, to headaches, to constant ringing in my ears. Impusivity is a problem, as well as distractability. And completing what I start has always been a challenge — one which I intend to take on, head-on, this year.

Over the course of my 40-some years, I’ve developed a bunch of coping mechanisms, as well as camouflage. I’ve figured out how I can at least simulate full functionality when others are looking. When they’re not looking, I tend to get into trouble… and then I spend a lot of time trying to cover my tracks to make sure I don’t look bad or others don’t figure out that I’ve got problems.

And it’s a double-edged sword, because on the one hand, if I allow others to see my issues, they often end up treating me like an impaired idiot, jumping in to do things for me, or giving up hope that I’ll ever amount to anything. It works against me in many ways. On the other hand, if I hide my issues, then I can’t get help for them, and I end up stewing in my own brew, which keeps me from living up to all my potential.

I’ve been coming up against this double-whammy in both therapy and in my neuropsych rehab work. I tried being really straightforward with my therapist about how many issues I have, the depth of them, and how they affect my life. But rather than appreciating how hard I’ve worked to get where I am, and  appreciating the degree to which I’ve recovered (and continue to recover) they ended up treating me like I’m impaired and cannot be left to my own devices. They also ended up talking down to me and treating me like some sort of idiot. They seem to be impaired by the two-headed hydra of not knowing how to listen very well, and thinking they’ve got all the answers figured out. They seem to have arrived at a conclusion about me that is not at all comfortable — namely, that I’m permanently impaired. And their responses to my talking about my life has been oriented towards reassuring me that I am still a good person and I can still have a good life, even though I’ve had all those concussions.

It’s okay for me to be two standard deviations below the level I should be operating at, because that puts me in the average range. It makes me just like the majority of people walking around out there.

Okay, here’s the thing, though — I’ve got nothing against being average or being normal. But only if that average is actually true to who I am and what I’m capable of doing. Some of my test scores came back extremely high. At the 99.5th percentile. The vast majority of my test scores come back in the mid to high 90th percentile. I’m built for operating at a very high level. So, compared to myself, being average is not normal. It’s sub-normal. And being sub-normal, relative to myself, is a loss.

I think that measuring ourselves by others’ yardsticks is always problematic. It’s easy to do — especially when you’re measuring against very common criteria, like height or weight or hair color. But when it comes to our individual gifts, our individual talents, and our individual shortcomings, using others as a measure is just no good.

That’s like telling someone who has recently gone blind that there are lots of blind people in the world, and a lot of them get along just fine. Or telling an amputee that they should be grateful they have at least one good leg. People get along just fine without both legs. Or telling someone who has lost a dear and cherished loved one that some people go through life without any love in their life, so they should be glad they ever had it in the first place, and quit crying about not having that person with them anymore.

Downplaying the losses experienced through mild traumatic brain injury because the losses don’t represent an “average” loss — they just put you in the company of normal people — is not only insensitive, but also completely overlooks the real issue — the loss of part of the self. The loss of abilities that are part of a person’s core being. The loss of capabilities that make one unique and individual and make the full expression of one’s individual gifts and talents possible.

By asking me to give up my remorse over the loss of some of my abilities — like information processing speed, attentional abilities and capacity, my ability to interrelate verbal information, and my unreliable, swiss-cheesey short-term memory — my therapist was asking me to give up wanting to fully be myself. When they told me I shouldn’t worry about my deficits, because they just put me in the “average” range, they were asking me to abandon my hope of uniqueness, my ability to distinguish myself from the rest of the world. They were asking me to give up on myself.

And I’m just not going to do that.

It’s a new year. It’s a new decade. I have been re-orienting myself to my new understandings of myself for a couple of years, now. There is much that I still must do, to achieve the level of functioning that I desire. There are still many aspects of my life that are in disarray and need to be brought into line. My monthly insurance costs will be more than doubling in a month, and I need to arrange for new coverage that meets the specific needs of my household, and that intimidates me intensely. I have to get my time-management habits in better order. And I MUST complete the tasks I set out to do, years ago, which are still languishing on my to-do list.

This is a new year, a new decade. And I am more committed than ever to restoring myself to full functionality on the level I desire, not what others prescribe for me. I will simply not be told, “Don’t expect too much… You can’t do it… Don’t ask too much of life… Just be grateful for what (little) you can get.” And I will not engage in working relationships with people who refuse to entertain the possibility of miracles.

All of life is a miracle. The fact that any of us develops properly and is born in one piece is a miracle. The fact that we grow and learn and experience all that we do, is a miracle. And the fact that any of us can go through all that we must, as living, breathing human beings, and still remain psychologically and emotionally intact, is one as well… not to mention the fact that we can — and do — heal from some terrible, terrible things.

2010 is here. This is no time for dwelling on despair and what can’t be fixed. I’m here, I’m alive, and I feel in my bones that distinct possibility of… possibility. I’m not average. None of us are, really, if we look closely at ourselves. We are all wonders, in some distinct way. We all have seeds of greatness in us, be those seeds public or private, vast or intimate. And the true purpose of processing and rehabbing in the wake of mtbi is, in my opinion, not finding normal ways to settle for less, but finding extraordinary ways to fully realize our true potential, even in spite of our difficulties.

I’m not worried. And I’m not average. Now, to get some work done…

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