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Fighting what kills

Posted May 04 2012 10:59am

The past few days have been pretty much of a roller coaster. I’ve been working 12-14 hour days, trying to get my work done before some major deadlines, and I haven’t been sleeping much. I have also made some changes with how I interact with my neuropsych and now when things are not good, I just go ahead and say so. If things are rough for me, no matter how much I may think I should be able to handle things, I have to speak up. And I can’t let them dismiss me and my difficulties — I can’t let them “talk me out of them” when things like sleep and balance problems, fuzzy thinking, and emotional fluctuations are kicking the crap out of me.

I guess I got back into the habit of covering those things up, telling myself I can just push through… and it’s cost me considerably. It’s cutting into my ability to do my job — and my ability to believe I can do my job. It’s also cutting into my ability to see the big picture and get up out of the mire and swamp of details and stimuli and distractions that constantly swirl around me.

It’s taking a toll, and I have to really get honest about what is going on with me and get help. Even if I do think it “shouldn’t” be that way.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle I face is recognizing when things are not going well, and then admitting that they are just not exactly in order. It’s something I just cannot do on my own as well as I’d like — and the people in my life aren’t the most helpful in this respect. They do NOT respond well to me being less than 100% ON all the time, 100% responsive, 100% engaged, 100%… well, everything.  It’s been my bread-and-butter for years — decades, really — and people are used to me being hyper-functional. So, when I’m not, that doesn’t go over all that well.

Somehow, not being 100% ON and aware and together and collected and all that goes along with that, is just not allowed. And not only in my world, but in the world in general. It’s like we have this weird all-consuming need to have no doubts, to have no hesitation, to have no insecurities or ineffectiveness or other sorts of fragmentation and partial realization of our full potential.

On the one hand, I do feel it’s a worthy thing to be constantly striving to improve and better understand and perform and excel. Where would we be, if we didn’t bother? I’m not sure.

At the same time, though, there are inherent problems with that. And I’ve been coming up against those problems over the past 6 months to a year, when I’ve been so intent on performing better and doing better and achieving and putting myself together. I’ve been so intent on coming across well around others, keeping my game face on, and proving to myself, my boss, my coworkers my neuropsych, and anyone else who is within earshot, that I’ve got it all together, that I’ve lost a lot of ground in actually BEING all together.

I’ve been slipping. I’ve fallen off on my work, I’ve fallen behind on my deliverables, and I’ve fallen behind in my sense of who I am and what I’m about in this world. I’ve felt like I’m just treading water, barely able to get from one day to the next in one piece. And I’ve all but give up on having any sense of being caught up, of being involved in my own life. It’s just one thing after another that pulls at me and pushes at me and drives me in circles.

And now Junior Seau has died.

I saw it on a news website very soon after it happened, and it stopped me in my tracks. Like many people, it was about the last thing I expected to see. And like many others, no matter how terrible this news, there was something about it that didn’t shock me, when the initial jolt had passed. Junior Seau was a football player. A professional football player who spent years of his life colliding with other massive players and in the process set the bar that much higher for his peers. I don’t know much about him, outside of seeing him play over the years, but like many others, he was the last person I expected to shoot himself in the chest at age 43.

Nobody seems to know what could drive a person to kill themself “when their life should have been great” as I heard one of Seau’s good friends describing this time in his cut-short life. Nobody seems to understand what can go on in the heart and mind of someone, which could be so well concealed from others, that their death takes everyone completely by surprise — devastating, crushing, heartbreaking surprise.

What surprises me even more, is that this should be a mystery. Those of us who are tasked with carrying the banner of top performance have this one goal — to not let others down, when they are depending on us. If that means putting aside our own well-being for the sake of the team, for the sake of others’ comfort and confidence, then so be it. If that means putting ourselves in harm’s way again and again, so that others may benefit, then so be it. For those of us who are on the Type A, self-sacrifice, take-one-for-the-gipper track, our devotion to our leading role and our protection of the ones we love — including protecting them from having to see us struggle and battle and flounder — well, that trumps everything. Including our own well-being. And we are well-rewarded for it… as well as penalized when we fall short.

I can’t speak for Junior Seau. I’m not sure anyone can. But I can certainly understand how he would go through life in the past years, possibly struggling cognitively, emotionally, behaviorally… doing his utmost to keep it together to spare his family the pain of seeing his struggles… and feeling that ground slipping away underneath him, as the memory starts to fade and fail, the storms of emotion and unchecked turmoil boil increasingly close to the surface… endangering all that he worked so hard for in his life.

I have thought many times about what I might do, if I ever get to that point — my brain giving out before my body, without any real hope of reversing the damage that’s been done, both to my brain and to my relationships with those I love the most. And in all honesty, I think I will have to remove myself from the company of those I love, if it ever comes to that. I don’t intend to commit suicide — no, something else would be preferable. Something like signing on with the Foreign Legion or signing up as a military contractor/mercenary (no joke)… or hiking into the wilderness of the North Country, and staying there, with only wildlife to witness the progression of whatever had a hold on me. I think of the Incredible Hulk movie scene where the Hulk retires to a cabin by a lake to work things out, and I think of myself.

Suicide… no, it’s not for me. Rather, removing myself from the company of those I might harm IS an option… To get myself away from those who depend on me to be a certain way… those who either have no tolerance for me being “sub-optimal” or who would be too pained to watch me become something other than I once was… those whom I love with all my heart and cannot stand to see harmed by progression degeneration of my cognitive and behavioral capacity.

I guess I’ve gotten old enough to start thinking about how “the end” will be. That thought started coming to mind, this past summer when I had some medical issues, and it’s never entirely gone away. I’m pushing 50, and in all honesty, I’m looking at the possibility I’ve got fewer years ahead of me than behind me, and it’s a strange, strange feeling.

It’s not like I thought I’d live forever, but the fact that I won’t just never sank in. Till this past year.

The thing is, when I think about “how the end will be”, I realize that I’m not past the point of no return yet. And I may never be. You never know how things will go. It could be that I end up lasting for another 50 years, and because I’m taking excellent care of myself, I stay pretty with-it and I don’t have the same level of cognitive/behavioral decline that I see others around me experiencing. (Then again, maybe everyone around me will lose it, so I’ll have to into the woods to spare myself from them). Who can say?

All I know is, I’m still here, and I really truly need to fight for what matters to me, what I want, what I need. I need to fight for myself. I need to fight what kills. I need to own up to what is not right and seek help for that as best I can. And this applies to not only the neurological condition, but also the attitude I have towards it. Because nothing makes concussion and post-concussive symptoms so lethal, as the attitude that it means there’s something wrong with *you* and that there is no room for you to develop as a person, aside from the way you’ve always been and the way that everyone around you sees you.

Nothing kills so much as rigidity and the inflexibility that comes from never exercising the different parts of your life, the different parts of your personality, the different parts of your body. Getting caught in the straightjacket of others’ expectations and the need to always live up to what others want you to do — even if that need comes from love and concern for them — can be murder. In fact, living only by others’ expectations is a great way to dig yourself a hole that you can’t climb out of… because everyone is standing around looking at you being down there, very comfortable with your position in life. Will the people who are happy with you being in that hold reach down and offer a hand for you to get out? No chance. Unless they themselves see that they are in a hole and they need to get out, as well.

And when I think of Junior Seau, I think of what a deep hole he must have been dug down into. He did a lot of good. He was a light in the world, from what everyone has said about him. He was a leader and an example, and now he’s gone. I wonder what the hole he was stuck in looked like in the past few years. He had a restaurant, yes. He was inducted into the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame, yes. But was it enough, after the years of being at the top? And did he see the writing on the wall, with certain little things that started to go awry when they shouldn’t have? Or maybe there were certain big things, but everyone was so intent on seeing him at his best, that they never guessed…?

Who can say? Whatever the truth, I sincerely doubt that in his shoes, I would have done anything different. With a certain position to uphold in life and a role to play in society…. with family and friends you love and don’t want to disappoint… what’s the prospect for someone who secretly feels that they’re losing it? What are the alternatives? Our society does not make room for people with TBI or other cognitive-behavioral conditions. Hidden injuries are routinely mocked and dismissed. There is hardly any help for people like me, and what help there is, is few and far between and you’re damned lucky if you can find it to begin with. What are the alternatives? Really? You have to get real self-sufficient real quick, or else.

And there are tens of thousands of “what else” cases in jails and institutions and lying around on the couch watching movies and watching life pass them by, day in and day out.

I have no idea if Junior Seau was losing it. It could be that he had completely different reasons for doing what he did — business problems, money problems, family problems, all of which may have seemed inescapable. It’s pointless to guess, I know, but I’m just saying there could be a million different reasons why he did what he did. And concussion might have had nothing at all to do with any of it.

But as someone for whom concussion does have something to do with just about everything, this is another wake-up call for me to keep fighting. To not give up. To keep battling — tooth and nail — the thing that seems like it’s trying to kill me.

Yes, I did work out this morning. And had my breakfast and vitamins. And I sat and breathed. And now it’s time to get to work.

Onward. Always.


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