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Freedom is not free

Posted Nov 10 2012 10:11am

At the risk of sounding like a bumper sticker or a political slogan, I just need to say it out loud

Freedom Isn’t Free.

Getting (back) to work

That is to say, I need to work for everything I have, and I must work to preserve it, if I want to keep it.

I cannot expect others to:

A) Read my mind and know what I want/need/desire

B) Be at the ready to provide it to me, without my asking

C) Make sure that I am always well-provided-for and that I always have what I need and am not left out in the cold

As much as I would like a world that works like that, I just don’t see that happening. What I do see is everyone trying to get by, everyone with their own points of view and their own priorities, based on what they believe and expect from life. I see a lot of people deluded about what life has to offer the — and what it should offer them. I see a lot of people getting angry and frustrated and hateful because life didn’t turn out the way they expected or wanted. And I see people striking out at others — verbally or physically or politically — when those others don’t agree with them.

Over the past 20 years, I have experienced a real change in my attitude towards life — especially in the past 8 years since my TBI in 2004. I hesitate to say that my brain injury changed everything, but it actually has… though more accurately, I would have to say that learning to live my life in spite of brain injuries has changed everything. I guess I just reached a “bottom” that taught me that I couldn’t screw around anymore, I had to get my act together, and I had to DO something, or I was going to be totally lost.

I’ve been forced to make hard decisions about what is most important to me. I’ve been forced to grow up, really. The multiple concussions/TBIs I’ve had over the years layered on different sorts of difficulties over time, but none of them were so obvious or dramatic, that I was forced to change everything about how I lived and approached the details of my life.

What’s more, over the years, my “idiosyncracies” went largely unquestioned and unchallenged by others, because

A) I never let anyone get close enough to see that there was something amiss with me

B) I was surrounded by people who were either unsparing in their criticisms and ignorant of how TBI can affect a person, or who were overly indulgent and “supported” me, no matter what — and the mix of these two kinds of people was a great recipe for enabling and reinforcing a victim mentality

In truth, my neuropsych is the only individual I’ve ever met who has been able to walk the fine line between acknowledging my issues and refusing to accept them as set in stone. They push me and keep me on my toes, and along with my constant work on myself and push to understand and better master my own life and “inner landscape”, they have been incredibly helpful — moreso than just about anyone I’ve ever dealt with. They are definitely the only person I’ve been this honest with, because I can be. They don’t turn into a harpie or a berserker when I screw up or am thinking crazy. They just hang in there with me and help me work through everything.

But I do need to work harder on refining those kinds of thinking processes outside of their office, so I can be more self-sufficient. As much as I appreciate their help, the fact of the matter is, I have gotten a little too comfortable having them as a sounding board, and in some ways it has held me back, because I haven’t been forced to do for myself. In the grand scheme of things, if they go away next week — like I thought my job was going to go away, this past week — I could very well be screwed. And that’s no good.

Because I have a lot of responsibility on me, and I need to hold my own — on my own. Making my mental health dependent on my neuropsych is like making my financial future dependent on my employer. They can help me get where I’m going, but the loss of either of them should not be catastrophic for me. There are no guarantees in life, and the more steps I take to get my act together and fend for myself, the better off I will be — literally and figuratively.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, because a friend of ours has been distancing themself from me and my spouse, after having been around for a couple of years. They always seemed like a decent sort, and they were always there when we needed them. But over the past several months, they have been increasingly distant and argumentative, even obnoxious and at times verbally abusive to my spouse (I have wanted/offered to step in, but I would probably do more harm than good, and my spouse says they’ve got this covered).

The thing is, they have been coming around more and more over the past months. And the more time they spend with us — at our house, at events we go to, sharing activities with us — the weirder they get, each time. We think it’s a class thing — a money thing. They are on public assistance because of disabilities (and a number of other things), and they apparently think that because we have a pretty good house in a nice town, that we are rich. We are not. We are rich in love and friends and purpose, I do have a good job (still, fortunately) with a big corporation, and we do have a good house with a great view on a fine piece of land, but we are struggling terribly, financially speaking. We are literally on the verge of losing everything, and it’s just a day-to-day thing to keep it all together.

But they don’t see that. They just see what we’ve got, and they’ve made up some story in their head about what that means — which (as far as I can tell) is all about us being “rich” and them being “poor”.

They also seem to think — like so many of our less-advantaged friends — that this has been given to us, that we have some secret connections with people in power, or some-such. While it is true that my job and our zip code open doors for us, the fact of the matter is, I have worked my ASS off for all this, I have made substantial sacrifices for this, I get up each and every day and go out and do my best for someone else (while this friend stays in bed and feels sorry for themself), and this did not happen overnight. It’s been a long time coming, and it takes constant work to keep things going, to keep things running and in decent condition. The years I was not able to do as much upkeep as the house needed, are really showing, now, but I’m taking steps to address that, and it’s coming together.

Again, they don’t see this. They only see what we have — not what it’s taken get here. Not what it takes to stay here. And with their marginal life, where they’re always keeping under the table and below the radar, they probably cannot imagine the level of effort required to keep going.

What’s more, I suspect that they have a history of head trauma, and that’s clouding their judgment. But when I try to talk things through with them in a way that works around the blather that a traumatic brain injury can spout, they can’t/won’t hear it.  They’re just… stuck. And there’s not a lot I can do about it. I try to be encouraging, I try to be positive and hopeful, but they won’t hear it.

Again, with the stories. Again, with the bla-bla-blather about how disadvantaged they are and how everything is stacked against them, and people who “have” are somehow different from them. But the exact opposite is true. They only hold themself back — in large part because they think that they should be compensated for their suffering by a world that is stacked against them. They think that the universe should read their mind and give them what they want, even before they ask for it. And they seem to think that it can and will happen with/for them.

What a load of crap. They could take specific, concrete steps to dramatically improve their life. They don’t have to be on the verge of homelessness. They don’t have to be cold and lonely. They don’t have to do any of that – life is presenting them with new options every single day, but they just screw around and make excuses. It’s so f*cking frustrating, because it doesn’t need to be that way. But they won’t take responsibility for their choices. They won’t do what needs to be done, no matter how small that might be. Their impoverishment is a clear choice, and I’ve had it with trying to help them, when they will not help themself.

Make no mistake, it is a great gift and a luxury to have the kind of support I have, these days. There are lots of people who don’t have this, and I am profoundly grateful for what I have received. I have been truly blessed, and I can never lose sight of that.

At the same time, I have worked for all the things I have. I have made sacrifices and had to do without a lot in life, to come this far, and I have even more to make in my future. I need to keep steady and continue on my path — even bump up my game a bit. And even if the support I receive — in particular the job, the neuropsych — went away, I would continue to work, and I would line up something else that served me and my purpose in life.

Because, well, that’s what I do.

I work. I work for what I want. And I need to work for what I have, as well.

Being on the verge of getting laid off this past week was a wake-up call. And in fact being caught off-guard by it, was an even bigger wake-up call. It’s a call to grow the *$#^& up and get on with making myself stronger and more resourceful than ever. Watching this friend implode for no good reason is another wake-up call for me to keep on the straight and narrow and not let down my guard.  It’s no good to “settle in”, get too comfortable, and take things for granted. I must take action. On my own behalf. I must be the person I can be right now, and become the person I intend to become.

Each and every day.

Because in life and in general, we tend to get what we pay for.


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