A Good Job Done Well

Conquering brain injury one step at a time

Brain injury or not, I just want the satisfaction of a good job done well. Is that too much to ask?

For the past 14 years I’ve been living a reasonably productive life with a brain injury. All things considered, I’ve done pretty well except for one big stumbling block. Some of the most fundamental problems I faced early on just won’t go away. Isn’t it enough already? After coming so far, I’d expect to have gotten over them by now. Maybe I’m not trying hard enough.

I could give you plenty of examples but I’ll get right to the heart of the matter. Early in rehabilitation when I was asked a question, my response may have started on topic but I was quickly distracted by another thought and changed direction. That only lasted until my next distraction which sent me off on another tangent, then another, until I was so far from the original subject I had no idea where I’d started, or where I was going.

The problem was, I just couldn’t get to the point. Sad to say, I still can’t. I was taught strategies to self-monitor: delay, breathe, think before I speak. I try to catch myself before digressing but it rarely works. At least by now I know when I’m screwing up and stop before I get too far. That’s when I say, “sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you,” or “what was I talking about?” It works in a conversation, but not when I’m writing my blog.

That’s a whole other story, although in many ways it’s the same. I start with an idea, the computer, and the determination to stay on task. However once I write my first draft the process starts to unravel. One rewrite after another and I’m headed down the rabbit hole. I go round in circles trying to figure out what I am really talking about. Sometimes I edit so much that I find myself back where I began. Other times I throw it all out and start something entirely different. The process can take weeks… and weeks.

The same issue messes me up in other ways. A few years ago I started churning out far too many ideas, far too quickly—my mind was in overdrive. I came up with projects to raise brain injury awareness, programs to engage our brain injury community, and I don’t remember what else. Every one was a huge undertaking, each more exciting and urgent than the last. I dove in to one after another—reaching out, making connections but never following through. I think I was trying to save the world. Instead, I was digging myself deeper and deeper into a hole of my own making. I got frantic, overwhelmed, and felt like a failure. What is wrong with me? How could I forget everything I learned? Can’t I see where I’m headed? I guess not.

The thing is, I know I can’t do it all but something inside compels me to try. Maybe it’s because before brain injury I had a lifetime of habits and a self-image I still can’t shake. I was an idea person, taking on everything that was thrown at me and able to see it through. I rarely said “no” and always got a kick out of a good job done well.

I don’t yearn for my past or hate my present. I know I have limits and try hard to work within them. So why do I continue to pile things on, say “yes” to anyone asking for help, or stay up until 1am working? Is it perseveration or disinhibition? Am I trying to sabotage myself? Who knows. But maybe… just maybe I do it because I need a purpose, because it makes me feel good about myself, productive, searching for the kick of a good job done well.

I’m sure all these problems are manifestations of the same executive function glitch. If so, I should stop beating myself up. My brain injury’s not going anywhere, so I know I’ll always have to be vigilant, especially in the moment. I also know that I’m still making progress and am getting a deeper understanding of my vulnerabilities and triggers. I must be on the right track.

I practice strategies, try to pay attention, and give myself a thumbs up when I do. Although I still can’t say “no” to someone needing help, I can stop myself from going overboard (most of the time). Writing is really the toughest nut to crack. It’s so satisfying when I get it right, hear good feedback, or when someone’s been touched by my words. For me, that’s success—having done what I set out to do. But meanwhile, the process to get there is demoralizing and incredibly frustrating. I just hope I’ll figure it out eventually.

I think it still feels as if I’ve lost what I used to be most proud of. I want it back and can’t stop myself from reaching for the ring, as if my pre-injury abilities were still at my beck and call. So I have to adjust what it is I’m reaching for. I won’t lower my standards, but I can change my expectations.

Slowly, I’m getting used to setting goals I can meet and taking as much pride in my accomplishments as I always did. Frustration boils over at times but when I get it right I can see it for what it is—a good job done well.  I just want to remember that going around in circles is my reality, one I have to live with it and work on every day. And that changing how I approach challenges and define success is the only way I’ll be able to reconcile my “before” and my “after,” and let go of that sense of loss.


Photo credit: Human brain, tractography (detail). Credit: Henrietta Howells, NatBrainLab. Retrieved from https://wellcomecollection.org/works/gqxb3v3s (CC BY 4.0). 

#tbi #braininjury #abi #concussion #rehabilitation #neuropsychology, #neurorehabilitation #strategies #abraininjurylife

5 thoughts on “A Good Job Done Well

  1. Julia Fernandez March 27, 2019 / 2:36 pm

    Dear Laurie,

    I thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings about living with a brain injury. It is so helpful to me! You said a lot of things that I totally identify with.

    I understand and share the problem with digressing. I have this problem mostly with talking and that is why I always prefer written communication, so I can take all the time that I need (and that is A LOT) to be able to make my point without going on tangents.. But that is a laborious process that people just have no idea how long it takes me. All they see is my words on the paper and they probably assume I wrote them in the same amount of time they would.

    I also identify with you when you talk about how before your injury you had a self-image you still can´t shake, that of a very active person who enjoyed accomplishing goals. And that now you still need a purpose, being productive, feeling good about a job well done. I have all these feelings and needs as well, dear Laurie.

    With regards to your lost abilities, you write that you believe that by changing how you define success you’ll be able to let go of that sense of loss. In this respect, I am not sure I feel the same way. I am not sure I will ever be able to let go of my sense of loss.

    Thank you, dear Laurie, for the laughter you gifted me with when recounting your experience from a few years ago “trying to save the world.” I am touched by your words every time you write even though I may not always let you know. Please, continue helping us with your words.

    Many blessings,
    Julia Maria

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    • laurienyc March 28, 2019 / 2:14 pm

      Thank you so much, Julia. I do believe everyone has much to offer, even tho it often feels we’ve lost everything. You haven’t, I promise you. I have searched (with help) what I Have not lost. I know I have no choice. Not quite “acceptance” but as close as I can go now. We all have something to offer or find pleasure in, no matter how small. Try it.

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  2. Silvina Cassinelli March 5, 2019 / 9:03 pm

    Laurie…and yet another good job done well! What you wrote (and write) and how you wrote (and write) it really touches me. Your writing is very clear and complete; one that always touches me because it either resonates with me in one way or another and/or leads me to self-discovery, as you have utmost clarity when expressing yourself. Thank you, Laurie, for your help in this process of self-discovery!

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    • laurienyc March 5, 2019 / 9:41 pm

      Silvina, thank you. Comments like yours make it worth the struggle to continue writing. I started because I wanted to touch others, and kept going as a way to give back. But your words help me see how the blog is more than that – it’s my own process of self-discovery.

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