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Letting This New Year Be Happy

Posted Jan 01 2011 12:00am

2011 is upon us. Happy New Year to everyone. I have a good feeling about this year, and there are a number of things I want to accomplish. I’ve got a bunch of new, more complex responsibilities at work, and there are things I want to accomplish in my life this year that really matter to me. As with every year, I want to improve. I think it’s just human nature, that we want to improve and what better time to make a fresh start than the New Year?

In the interest of making good progress and keeping up the good work one of my intentions this year is to consciously pace myself. Take more time to rest. Take more time to think through what I’m doing, before I do it. Deepen my sense of what I’m doing in the world, and why. Make sure that I have the energy and reserves to do the things that are most important to me.

I was talking to a friend a few weeks back who was telling me how they were planning on going to grad school to become a counselor. That path is fraught with personal peril for them. It’s definitely a stretch that will challenge them. They come from a rough family background, and they were living on the streets for a while. They’ve had their brushes with debilitating depression, and their self-image tends to lag. They also don’t have a whole lot of money, and going back to school is going to put them deeply into debt. After working hourly jobs for most of their 35 years, they are now working in a salaried position, which makes them feel rich, although it’s far below what a lot of folks who earn salaries make.

This person knows what they want to do they’ve really been called to this line of work. But doing so is going to be an enormous challenge for them. Initially, I was a little worried about their plans how will they do it? How will they manage? They’ve been having issues with even simple things, so how can they possibly take this on? But as we talked, I heard them saying that they knew it was going to be a huge undertaking, and they were going to have to make some pretty clear, lasered choices about what they did with their time and energy.

This person knows their limits. They know their difficulties. They’ve been dealing with them, up close and personal, for over 3 decades. And they have a plan and an orientation that can help keep them on track. They’re following a “call” that they can’t deny. And they’re planning on making choices about what they do with their time and their energy, in order to follow that call.

These are good lessons. Every time I talk to this friend, I learn something new about them, and about myself. This is a good kind of friend to have.

In contrast, I have another friend who’s been going through a truckload of difficulty lately. Their difficulties are coming from outside of their psyche, but they’re threatening their personal way of life as much as my other friend’s depression does. They nearly died from an undiagnosed and untreated infection that flared up after Thanksgiving time, and they’ve been struggling to get back, bit by bit, ever since.

It’s going to take a while before they’re even close to 100% again, and it’s been an enormous personal challenge, to deal with their physical illness. They’re not the most physically fit person, but their body has never actually failed them on this level before. I keep telling them it’s not their fault, these things just happen, and they’ll be able to get back. But they’re having a hell of a time getting their head around the fact that they’re tired all the time, that they can’t do the things they always did and took for granted, and they are scared.

They’ve never been this scared before, and that’s probably concerning them even more than their physical problems. They just don’t feel like themself, and they can’t seem to locate the inner resources they need, in order to recover their health all across the board.

And as I watch my two friends struggle to both understand and evolve themselves, I’m struck by the similarities between their situations and my own. One of whom knows about my history of TBI, and the other of whom doesn’t. I can relate tales of my own recovery process to one, while with the other, I keep more general and less condition-specific.

With my physically struggling friend (the one who knows about my head injuries), I can talk about the confusion and frustration and physical problems that came in the aftermath of my fall in 2004. I can talk about the fatigue, the malaise, the fogginess, the frustration at how there are so many things I want to do, but can’t. This works with them, because it traces my difficulties back to a specific event that and had that event never taken place, I might not be having all the problems I’m having these days. The difficulties I’ve had over the past 6 years are resolving at least in part, and it’s encouraging for them to hear how I’m overcoming things, how I’m dealing with things, how I’m reconstructing my understanding of myself based on the work that I’m doing, in light of my brain injuries.

With my psychologically challenged friend (who knows nothing of my TBIs and probably never will), I can talk about how I feel in the world, how I interact with it, how I experience things. I often talk about the TBI-related issues, like pain and not being particularly enthused about getting on with my life, in general terms in terms of them just being part of being human. And that works for them. They get that. I suspect that they have a history of head injury, themself, but it’s not something I care to go into with them. They’re much more “cosmic” anyway less scientific detail, more wonder of the mysteries of life and incorporating diversity as … well… diversity (rather than pathology).

But in either case, we have much in common and can and do learn much from each other.

What a miracle and a mystery this human experience is. It’s pretty friggin’ amazing, from where I’m sitting. The deeper we get into it, the deeper we realize it actually goes. The more details we get our heads around, the more details elude us. Funny, how that works. It’s either tremendously exciting, or exasperating in the extreme.

If nothing else, it’s never boring.

It’s also never-ending the work, I mean. Or, should I say The Work (with a capital W). Sitting here in my living room on New Year’s Day, with the Christmas tree still lit and my spouse upstairs asleep in bed (they can sleep in, I can’t), thinking about the last year, I’m struck by how much has changed, how much has opened up for me, how much has, well, evolved. I’ve been through significant job changes, and I’ve landed on my feet (all the while keeping in mind that I need to pay attention to what the hell I’m doing). I’ve gone through some intense changes in my marriage, wondering at times if it was going to last (for the record, it is, because we’re both newly committed to seeing this through and not giving up on the last 20 years together). I’ve said good-bye to friends, and I’ve made new friends. I’ve opened up to others in ways I never did before, and I’ve actually learned that I can talk to people, understand and be understood, and connect in ways that I had all but given up on. It’s been a banner year, that 2010, and now I look forward to the future with a mixed sense of hope and trepidation.

How are things going to go in 2011? Who can say? I’ve got my plate full at work, with some significant activities on the horizon. I’ve got my hands full at home, with some serious financial issues to sort out, as well as repairs to make to the house. I’ve also got a very challenging marriage going through major changes, with both my spouse and myself branching out in whole new ways that develop parts of ourselves that have lain dormant for decades.

Plus, I’ve got my continued, ongoing recovery to consider. Just simple logistics like getting enough sleep (and wanting to get enough sleep), eating right and making sure I take my vitamins and supplements in a timely manner, and living each day in a mindful, present way. This part of my life is probably the most challenging the restoration of my ability to function in ways that are uniquely mine because it’s largely a solitary activity. The other things I do handling work and home life involve others (which can be a problem as well as a plus), and I’m not alone in that. But the inner logistics fine-tuning business… even with help from my neuropsych that’s the sort of activity that I have to do by myself.

But do it, I will. Because it matters to me. Because I’m utterly seized with a fascination with What Else Is Possible, a keen sense of adventure and discovery, even though the jungles I’m going into are full of snakes and quicksand and bandits and bears, all of which seem pretty intent on waylaying me and taking from me the things that matter most: my sense of self, my confidence, my understanding of who I am and where I fit in the world.

I’ve taken hits in that area so much, over the course of my life, I can’t bear the thought of losing any more. I’ve worked so very hard to get to where I am right now; the idea that I could lose more ground… no, that’s not how I want to spend my life. That’s not how I want to live this coming year.

The thing is, I can’t spend my time just doing damage control and patching up the things that went wrong. I need to step up and move in a more positive, pro-active direction, and do more than try to put the pieces back in the way they used to be ordered in my life. I’ve talked here many times about recovering… getting back… restoring my old functionality. And to some extent, I’ve been successful with that.

But now that I’m in more stable ground than I’ve been in a long time, I realize there’s more to this “recovery” business than getting back what was lost. There’s Way more than that.

Indeed. I have a whole new self to reconstruct, I’m realizing. The more closely I look at my life, the clearer I see that the self I think of as “me”, is capable of far more than I have ever allowed them to do. I have intentionally held myself back, time after time, thinking I was “protecting” myself or being “prudent” or “wise” to not do simple things like ask for directions when lost, ask for clarification when I was confused, ask for assistance when I didn’t understand. I really have held myself back a great deal, and as a result, tons of talent and ability have gotten lost along the way, undeveloped and unused. What a waste.

Why? Why would I do this to myself?

A big part of it, I think, has been the reactions of people around me, when I didn’t come through the way they expected me to. I was a smart kid, yet I couldn’t seem to get things right in a consistent manner. The light that I had, the abilities I had, were interspersed with intense darkness and failures to complete. It was never safe for me to ask for help, frankly, because nobody thought I needed help. It was a whole lot easier and more fun to goof off, give teachers a hard time, fool around, get into drugs and alcohol, and “buck the system”, than admit that I was having trouble following what people were saying or what the homework assignment was. Defying my parents and being a trouble-maker let me take control of my own life in ways that I couldn’t when I wasn’t following what was being said to me, or I couldn’t get the rationale behind what I was told to do.

By the time I got out of high school, I was pretty convinced that for all my innate intelligence, I was still an idiot and a loser. The fact that I was “so smart” was just salt in the wound of my memory and attentional difficulties. And I used all sorts of trouble to keep my energy up and keep at least somewhat engaged with life, which just led to more issues. Police and vindictive judges and bad company… Not fun.

For being so smart, I was convinced I was an idiot and a loser who was lucky to just have a job. And that has stayed with me through the years all the long years of having issues and problems and difficulties that I couldn’t put my finger on, but which were a potent, ever-present subtext in my life.

In a very real way, I was handicapped. Emotionally and behaviorally, and to some extent mentally. And to at least some extent, I did it to myself.

Part of this handicap was also pure logistics just not having my act together. I was prone to getting tired pretty quickly, and that fogginess and slowed processing often resulted in me putting things off till almost too late, resulting in me being terribly disorganized and distractable. And irritable. The thing is, I never realized that that was a problem with me. I thought it was everybody else. I didn’t have the understanding or the safe context, where I was allowed to get my head around the fact of my difficulties.

There are more aspects to this developmental delay, of course, but the sum total has resulted in a legacy of hits to my sense of self that I’ve taken, time after time, over the course of my lfe. From the time I was a young child to the present, I’ve been ramming up against invisible walls of unanticipated difficulty that put serious dents in my sense of who I am and what I’m about, and that’s been probably more debilitating in some ways, disabling than anything else.

But it’s a whole new year, and the good news is, now I do know about these issues I have. They may be with me for the rest of my life, and I may need to actively manage them for the rest of my born days. But at least I know about them. I’ve got limitations, yes. I’ve got issues, yes. They may or may not go away. But you know what? I don’t care. Because I am aware of them, I can be mindful of them, and even though they might seem like limitations at first, I can certainly find ways to work around them. And if I can’t work around them, maybe there are other things I can do with myself and my life, other than tilt against the windmills of permanent issues.

And the Work I have ahead of me seems clearer than ever reconstructing my Self in the new year. Finding those ways that work for me, and discovering the ones that don’t. Working around the ones that aren’t going to budge. And discovering new ways of living that are actually completely new and different for me ways I never before imagined I could live or act or work.

Those new ways are out there. I’m convinced of it. And part of me wants focus on them, rather than continually focus on the damage control around the old ways, patching up the leaky boat I used to row around the harbor.

It’s time for me to let that old leaky boat go, and start building a new and better boat one that can get out of the harbor and head out on the open seas. Thousands upon tens (even hundreds) of thousands of people have done this before me setting sail for new lands, despite their injuries or limits or faults or sins.

Why shoud I be any different?

I have a good feeling about 2011 I’m about to find out What Else is Possible for me in this one precious life I’ve been given. Of course, I need to pace myself, respect the true limits I do have, and not impose artificial limits on myself for the sake of “safety” or “prudence”. I need to be smart about this, save my energy like my friend who’s becoming a counselor for the things that matter most to me. And be diligent about it like my friend who’s recovering from physical illness taking care of my body and my spirit so they can be whole together. But I can feel the limits I’ve imposed on myself for the past 45 1/2 years falling away, giving way to something far greater and more inspiring than safety and prudence alone. There is a whole world out there to discover. And a whole new world in here to develop.

I’m off to a good start, and I have every confidence it’s just going to get better.

Now, I’m off to bed for my New Year’s Day nap.

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