First I hear the crackle of the radio, then a voice. “One-zero-zero-niner. Jeff, do you read me? You out there? Come in Jeff!!”
That’s someone calling me, but I’m not sure what to do. I’m stuck. Stuck in another situation that
doesn’t make sense. I’m in a room full of people I know, but I feel out of place and disconnected; like I’m not part of their world. Then there’s all this noise and the commotion…and bright lights…too bright.
Some people try to reach out to me, but I feel so separate and I don’t know how to respond.
I’m in the famous TBI-ozone.
A smokey fog hovers over my head, a dark cloud from which I can’t escape. What makes this difficult is that I know the way I am thinking is all in my head. I need to find that switch I can flip that would make me feel comfortable and present. I want to be here with everyone, having fun, living my life.
Instead of living my life, I watch as others participate in theirs’, and I stay strangely passive as things happen around me. It is the damnedest thing, to be right in the middle of what is happening, and yet to be so far away, mentally and emotionally.
When I am in one of those states of disconnection or passivity, out in the ozone, I don’t become involved, and instead I just wander on the periphery. I become accepting of what others say or do and I stay expressionless. Or I nod and I shrug politely.
Afterwards, with the dust still settling around me, I begin to recover my wits and I reflect on what happened. Most times I wish I could live that little piece of life over again, only this time with the wherewithal to participate or even just to make my wishes known.
When “being lost in the ozone” happens to me in a social situation, sometimes I deal with it by removing myself, but that doesn’t solve anything. I might try and blend in by using my non-sensical sense of humor; perfect for that kind of situation, but that is only a short term solution, and not really satisfying.
I can also become disconnected from situations when I am doing a task. I might be doing fine one moment, and then, “BLAM!” I get confused or overwhelmed, even when it’s something I’ve done a bunch of times. Nothing seems to make any sense, and I sit dumbfounded, unable to put two and two together, thinking, “What the hell just happened?”
The answer for me seems to be, as with so many other TBI related issues; preparation. I do my best to prepare for situations that I know I’m going to find myself in, and my preparations include planning ahead for different conversations, outcomes and eventualities. Those things make me feel more comfortable and participatory, but they are not always enough. So, I also remind myself that the way I am feeling is all in my head, and I shouldn’t blame my brain injury. Sure, I have a reason for the way I am, and I think being in a coma for a month is a good reason, but forever blaming something for the way I am acting or feeling is letting myself off the hook. In reality, there is no reason to blame anyone or anything; the focus should be on moving forward, and blaming my injury, even if it’s valid, just keeps me stuck in the past.
Instead of placing blame, let’s do the hard work; the work it takes to not be disconnected, some of which we might not like. In addition to preparation-type work; getting yourself ready for different eventualities, there is the work it takes to just be present, like when you’re with people who are talking too fast or talking about things you don’t care about. In cases like those it takes a lot of work to stay in the present by controlling your thoughts and emotions. These are situations where you just want to throw your hands up and leave, but there has to be a better solution.
It is both easy and tempting to get on your own case and blame yourself, or laugh at yourself for something you did or didn’t do, but it is work to just accept it as reality, move on, and find a way to stay in the present. It’s work to keep on trying to be present when you are screaming inside, and you are angry at the world. It’s hard in social situations when you really don’t want to participate. However, if you are physically present, you owe it to yourself to look for a way to be present mentally. Put your ego aside, stop looking to place blame and do your best.
It may not happen for you at once, but it will get better over time. Eventually, when you hear that crackly voice coming over the radio, calling you, you can answer, “Right here!! I’m right here!!!”
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