Monday, October 29, 2012
Start of another week. I plan on running to Midland and work on the tree we are cutting for firewood. It would be nice if I can finish it up today but I know from experience that I often overestimate my abilities and seldom get things done as quick or as well as I think I can.
What should I write about this morning? Often there are many things on my mind and it’s requires I choose what to express. Not so this morning. Oh, I have lots on my mind for sure but nothing springs out with a sense of importance. We watch the news about the storm and understand there will be great pains and maybe even death from that, so I pray that God will bring good from the bad, something He is good at.
The corn is growing well. I am not sure if we will get a harvest before a freeze wipes it out but I knew that when I planted it late. What I know is that sweet corn stays sweeter when the weather is cooler and have been trying to grow some for six years without much success. However each year I do better and this year I harvested enough as seed to plant a significant amount when spring arrives.
Part of what I am trying to figure out is what I will plant, and were I will plant it. I know that it is not good to plant the same things in the same place each year. What I read is that doing so amplifies the diseases and bugs that prey on those particular plants, plus it uses up the nutrients those plants take out of the soil. So it is good to rotate your crops.
A lot of the winter wheat has reseeded itself. That is a good thing for sure and at least I got that benefit out of it, because I was unable to harvest anything significant from it. The rye did not reseed well, thought there are a few spots that did come up. You can barely see the green coming up like little blades of grass in this picture.
When I first started growing stuff I would plant all kinds of stuff, everything that hit my fancy. Of course with the bad memory I would then wonder what was planted where. Most of what I tried to grow didn’t, but that is part of me learning how to do this. But I would forget what I did and how I did it so learning was, and still is, difficult. But I have learned some of the things that can grow in this harsh environment and thus will focus on them more. I will however still plant stuff just because it sounds good.
I have spent much time replacing drip irrigation lines. I hope to put in some new lines along some fencing that will work well as trellises. In these areas I plan on planting stuff that needs to be supported and is vine, like some kinds of peas and beans.
We discovered two areas in the house that need to be addressed. Both are where water has leaked in and caused damage and both are in the area of the house we call the office. It was added on by my grandfather decades ago. Part of the problem is a roof leak that showed up when we had one of those torrential rain storms. The other area is from where the wood sill on a window has rotted away. We have several areas of major rot around this house but I do not have the means or skill to fix them. Regardless it must be addressed. There is evidence of mold on one area and that is bad news.
Seeing as how this is mostly journaling what has and is going on here I suppose I will put in another of those memory issues I must fight with. The reason I do this is because we continue to get people who can’t seem to comprehend that I do have not one but multiple brain injuries, and they do cause lasting problems that exist whether I like it or not. The widow we had been so happy to help snapped that I was just using this as an excuse, that I had no reason for not remembering what she told me. She shot this angrily at me 7 times during the short conversation we had before I was told to never show up there again.
Here you can see the damage from a roof leak. You can also see the top of our door frame, another project I haven't finished. Had bought trim and it sat out in the weather so is not in good shape. You can see how the wind blows in sand and stains the wall.
I was heading to Sam’s Club with the specific task of buying bottled drinking water being the only reason I was going there. Cherie called and asked if I could pick up something for dinner while there. “Sure, I’d be glad to” I replied and asked what she had in mind. She described an area in the store that has premade meals that only have to be warmed up. I went, I saw, I picked one out, I tasted the many samples being offered in the store, and then I paid for it and left. Getting water had escaped my mind the moment Cherie asked me to get food. It wasn’t till the next day, when Cherie asked “didn’t you get water?” that I realized I forgot. That is how it is. This seems to be hard to explain and hard for some to understand. You see, I do remember, I remember a lot of things, but it is the momentary distractions that mess me up. It is like a child, who is focused on whatever is in front of them and thus forgetting whatever else they were told to do. I focused on getting dinner, and then focused on getting free samples, so water was out the window of my mind.
You can only imagine how frustrating this is for me. Day in and day out I wander, able to do a good job on what I am focused on. We all have those moments when we go into a room and can’t remember what we came in for, but for me those moments are every minute of every day. Sometimes I do better and sometimes I don’t. This only adds to the misunderstanding of others, who then can’t comprehend and suspect I use this as an excuse to be lazy or whatever judgment they choose to have at the moment.
My world is one filled with unfinished projects, things started and never finished because something else caught my attention. It is hard on the wife and frustrating to me. I would do much better if I had help to stay focused but I am a grown man and the idea of needing a nanny to supervise me does not sit well. When I built my companies I had the same issues, though they were not as pronounced as they are now. But then I could afford to pay a full time secretary, whose job it was to keep me focused, remind me of where I needed to be and what I needed to do, and let me know who a person was because I could not recognize faces well. I don’t have that luxury now but will do the best I can with what I have.
That is it for now. I had to do some work on the diesel pickup we just had repaired. It stopped running on me four or five times yesterday as I was driving in Midland. The battery connection had long been bad and even melted the plastic manufactured on it from the heat generated. I pulled that off, cut the melted plastic away, twisted some copper wire on it to make a better connection, and hope that will work. Will find out today for sure as I head out to cut that tree.
Still waiting to learn what will happen on the other truck. The mechanic was supposed to have the radiator tested and verify it was the problem. He has been dancing around that and if the radiator is good it means his guy did not flush the transmission fluid like he was supposed to. That would mean he is responsible to replace the transmission and I am sure he does not want to do that. This could be messy for sure.
Friday, October 26, 2012
I’m in for a pain break. Been out welding on the disc we were blessed with by the widow we had cared for. It brings up sadness in my heart every time I see these reminders of a good relationship turned bad. Was it her age or was it the influence of those who desired to destroy instead of build up? I suspect it was a little of both but ultimately the fault lays at the feet of our enemy, that spiritual being who wishes only to steal kill and destroy all things good.
But meantime I am working to repair this potentially valuable piece of farm equipment. We had borrowed a wire welder from one of our friends at church and last Sunday he said we can keep it for he really doesn’t have a use for it. It is one of those cheap Harbor Freight wire welders that are often on sale for $99.00, like the other rod welder I bought. They are not made for big jobs but should work for what I am doing today. Unfortunately it is windy today and that makes welding hard as it blows away the gaseous cover provided by the flux in both the wire and rod welders. I am not pleased with the results so far so will go out and grind it down and do it over.
This part looked good till I took the grinder to it and then saw the huge gap where it should have been solid metal. Nuts. Will have to practice using these small little welders. When my welding job broke on our plow I called a friend, who is professional welder, and he came in with his rig and did it up good. Thanks Mark. Much appreciated. I hope I can do a better job on this as it is thin metal.
You know I don’t waste anything. This was the old lawnmower blade I had just replaced. Lost count of how many blades we have worn out but it is quite a few. I mowed over at the widows house with it for almost a year, until I fixed her mowers, and there was some seriously heavy weeds to plow through. Anyway, this should work to hold the end disc blade on. What had been there was long gone by the time we got the disc so, not having funds or even knowing the brand or type of disc it is, buying a replacement part is not feasible. Thus it is fabrication time.
I took my pill and have been laying down so the pain is easing up some. I will fix a quick lunch and get back to work. We had a cold front that just blew in so the temperature has dropped. It will drop into the mid thirty degree range tonight so we may be firing up the wood burner for the first time this season. Fortunately we were able to get some firewood from a tree I saw dead on someone’s yard in Midland. Could only get one load before the truck had to go back to the shop.
Speaking of the truck, it is fixed now. I stopped by Tuesday and they were done with it. Had to replace the starter, which should have been done the first time, so that was an additional $405.00 dollars. We called the nice people who had paid for the first repair and let them know it was done, but also said that we would be able to make arrangements if they did not want to pay this extra repair fee. I just got a call from the shop and Bill had stopped in and paid for it. We are always grateful for the many people who are willing to help us and others in times of need. God will bless them for it.
Monday, October 22, 2012
It is the start of another week. The truck is back in the shop as the repair work done did not last 4 days before the starter started chewing up the new flywheel again. The service manager tried to tell me it was my fault. This is frustrating as someone we know paid over $700.00 for this repair and we now wonder if they will charge us more money for not doing it right in the first place. Meanwhile the other truck sits here without a radiator and with a possibly ruined transmission as the shop owner (a different shop than the other one) dances and is not at all excited about even getting the radiator inspected to verify the radiator is bad. I talked with Auto Zone, who said their policy is I have to work through the shop owner as he was the one who purchased the radiator. So we are stuck between the shop owner and Auto Zone, none of whom seems anxious to do something. I have a tree to cut down for firewood and will earn two hundred dollars doing so but without a truck am unable to do it.
The front of our house. Needs lots of work and some paint. It may not be pretty but it is home.
We continue to pray for the widow who appears to have been influenced to great anger against me and has said I am no longer welcome on her property. It is sad to us as all we ever did and wanted to do was help and love her. We wonder if her age, and the several falls she has endured, are big contributors to this sudden change in attitude. I was asked by another widow we help why God has allowed this to happen. That is a good question but one there is no easy answer to. I firmly believe there are no accidents in our life and understand that much of what we see and experience will help us to help others who go through similar things. But let me address this whole thought of God allowing things to happen.
There is a common belief that God is involved in every little thing, that He micromanages the world. That is not the way it is. Certainly God, the creator of the universe, could micromanage every little detail, like directing every bug and germ where to go, but He chose not to do this from the foundation of the universe. God set up His laws of how things work and one of those laws is that we will reap what we sow. The rule over the earth was originally given to Adam and Eve, who were the caretakers of this creation at first. A central key in this is the fact that they (and the rest of mankind) were given a free will. That means they had the ability to choose any direction they wanted to go and they chose to do the one thing God told them not to do. They chose to rebel against God and to do what they wanted, instead of what they knew God wanted.
The back blade that the widow gave us. It has become an increasingly valuable tool as I work to create a farm from scratch.
We live now in a world that still follows that pattern, with a majority of the earth’s population choosing to do what they want and ignoring, thus rebelling against, what God desires. So where is God then? God has a long term plan that will culminate in the end of the world as we know it and His goal is that as many as possible come to understand His love, repent of their rebellion, submit to Him, and thus have eternal life. In the meantime, here on earth today, God is always there, and is with those who have decided to become followers of Christ. But we all still live in a rebellious world where everyone does what they want. If someone decides to go off and kill others there is little to be done to stop that. But God will intervene and answer the prayers of His children and work things out for the good of those who are His. “But Christians get killed and hurt” someone will protest and that is true. God thinks eternally and we worry about what will happen an hour from now. When you really understand that we who follow the Lord have an eternal reward in heaven, where God will wipe every tear from our eyes and there is no more pain then you realize that the trials here on earth pale in comparison to eternity in heaven. So where is God? He is always there, ready to help when you decide to accept His love and turn from rebellious ways.
Here's a before picture showing the drip tape laid in the trenches I made.
So we pray for that widow, and hope for the best for her. The sadness caused by her anger is mixed with understanding of the forces that are at work in her life. The price of caring is often this sadness but I would rather care and be hurt than not care at all. I do worry that the way I seem to have been misconstrued will be an excuse for others to think less of Jesus and those who follow Him. There has always been that excuse out there “I don’t go to church because of all the hypocrites” but it is just an excuse to continue in rebellion against God. There will always be hypocrites but that does not make God bad, just the hypocrites. However I work hard to make sure Christ is not looked down on because of what I have done, for I know I will answer to God for that.
We had some rain this morning. Always a welcome thing. The sun is out now so it will be humid. I must fire up the tractor then and work this ground while it is wet and pliable. We hope to do something serious with this farm come next year so I am working hard to prepare for an early spring planting. This year I ended up working in Odessa and as a result sacrificed much of the potential for the farm. It paid some short term bills but did not help with long term plans.
and here is the after picture after I used the back blade to cover them up. Next I will carefully create raised rows over where the irrigation tape is. That will be lots of hand work with a rake and hoe
I will borrow Cherie’s car and run to Midland this afternoon. Have to wash towels, check on getting movement with both trucks being repaired, and pick up some groceries. So it will be a busy day for sure.
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
It will be a warm day, 90 degrees predicted. As I pondered what to write to the daughter of that that sweet little old lady we have watched go through an apparent drastic personality change, wondering what to write knowing that odds are she has been told all kinds of bad things regarding me, I recalled that the PBS program, NOVA, had contacted me regarding brain injuries. But I could not remember what I had done, if anything, so I googled it to see what came up. Wow, I was surprised to see what a long piece I wrote that they posted on their website. Reading it was an eye opener as it helped me remember things I forgot. If you google Nova, bob westbrook, brain injury it will take you to their page. My story is at the end of the line of several testimonies regarding brain injuries, all of which will help you understand the many variables and aspects of TBI. I thought you all would find it interesting to read what I wrote several years ago. One of the things the widow was flinging at me was the accusation “That’s an excuse” when I tried to explain the memory problems I have. She apparently didn’t remember telling me recently that she was having serious memory problems herself. Part of what happens with memory loss is that people often fill in the blanks with stories that aren’t true, but are then seen as valid memories. That is a hard one to deal with sometimes. So here is what I found on NOVA’s website.
Note: when I read this I can tell that it was written before the 2008 date it was published by NOVA. Much of the description of my life found at the end has changed. We have found fantastic church friends and I stopped having seizures five or six years ago and no longer take medication. Overall I am much improved, and get better every year. I have worked with Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) for four years now. They have done extensive testing and repeated those tests 3 times, each showing an improvement, with my IQ going from below average to now above average. The weakest area remains my memory. It has shown improvement but at a much slower pace than other areas of my brain.
Life with multiple undiagnosed traumatic brain injuries
by Bob Westbrook
(a survivor of Traumatic Brain Injury)
I think it started with the unhappy and sometimes violent marriage I was born into. When it was discovered that my mother had placed me in a 24-hour day care, my grandmother "bought" me from her, gaining legal custody. There were great concerns because my right side didn't seem to work well and I didn't communicate or socialize well either. Yet I was highly intelligent, learning to read in a matter of weeks when told the balloons on the comic books told what the figures said and able to solve complex puzzles at six years old. There is a strong possibility I had or have Asberger's Syndrome. Regardless, I never got along, never had friends, was physically awkward, and was the kid everyone picked on. I had serious emotional-control issues, with an anger that would rage in a heartbeat.
At 14, tired of being beat by my father, who took custody of me when I was five years old, I ran away. When found I was sent to my maternal grandmother, who took on the challenge of raising a very rebellious boy. I found acceptance in the drug culture of high school and, for the first time feeling like I belonged, jumped in with both feet. I was still socially inept and never dated or had a girlfriend. I was also the kid who was most gullible, easily talked into doing anything.
At 16 I ran into the side of a car at 40 miles an hour on the off-road motorcycle I commonly drove illegally all over the small West Texas town I lived in. Unbeknownst to me, I broke my neck; that would be discovered years later. Whether this caused additional injury to my brain I'll never know, but my behavior escalated to include greater illegal activity. On my 17th birthday I was placed on a bus for basic training by a judge after stealing a car. Despite having only completed the ninth grade I passed my GED and scored so high on my military entrance exams that I was scheduled to be trained as a crew chief on B-52s. My tested IQ was 136, putting me in the top 98 percent of this country.
Military life didn't work well with me, and I continued being a social outcast. With the Vietnam War just ending, I was strongly encouraged to take an honorable discharge after serving only one year of the four-year enlistment. With that I returned to the drug culture I was familiar with, and at 19 was sentenced to prison for drug possession. Texas prison was a shock, to say the least. Upon my release two and a half years later, I enrolled in a Bible college to pursue becoming a pastor, definitely determined to avoid the previous mistakes of my life.
There I met the first woman I fell in love with and shortly after we got married. Graduating, I was ordained and moved to Toledo, Ohio, where my wife was from. Then I fell out of a tree. I broke my neck and back and received a concussion. This was when it was discovered I had broken my neck before. The doctor came in with the X-rays and asked when I had broken it before, showing me where the vertebra had healed after being splintered.
The recovery process was long and painful but the hardest part was the drastic personality change. There was no explanation for this from any of the doctors; no one seemed to have a clue what was going on or why. Here I was, a pastor, flying off in anger and calling waitresses "Honey" in a flirty manner with my wife next to me. This scared her and her family so much that they encouraged her to file for divorce. What a wrenching, heart-breaking time this was. Just tore us both up.
I remarried, too quickly, a woman who was unfaithful to her husband, divorcing him to marry me. Poor judgment would be an understatement. It was the beginning of a rough 17 years, but I became a successful businessman, founding two companies that at one time had 127 employees. The first one was a marketing company that provided services to area corporations, and I also was a consultant teaching them how to find and sell to customers as well as develop their corporate image. Not bad for someone with no business college education at all.
Then I fell 20 feet from the pallet racking in my warehouse. This brought another drastic personality change. My secretary later told me I became an instant assxxxx. It was the start of everything unraveling. I began making poor business decisions, my already shaky marriage really fell apart with me catching her with another man, deep depression set in, and I returned to drugs and drinking, which just made everything worse. I got in trouble with the law again and was placed on probation.
The day after I signed my divorce from my second wife, I loaded what I could in my car and headed back to Texas. I made it as far as Oklahoma, where I fell asleep at the wheel. It was a horrible wreck, and I was pronounced dead at the scene. In fact, I am still listed as a fatality on Oklahoma's computer. This was November 11, 2001.
I began to wake up from the coma just before Christmas of that year. It was a slow process, like coming out of a fog. Gradually things became clearer, and I was a little bit more aware during these periods of consciousness. I was in a hospital bed with something wrapped around my neck that prevented me from moving it. My hands were strapped down to the sides of the bed. The bed had a netting surrounding it to keep me from falling out. I saw a nurse come in and tried to talk to her. When that happened, there was a commotion. I heard someone say he's awake, and then others came running in. A doctor asked me if I knew my name. As I tried to answer the voice I heard was high-pitched like a child's. It added to my confusion as I wondered whose voice it was.
I knew my first name, and after some effort I think I recalled my last name. Then I was left alone and laid there trying to comprehend what was going on. Where was I? How did I get here? What was wrong with me? Why am I tied down? I knew I was in a hospital, but that was it. Nurses would come in to change my diapers or check the I.V.'s that seemed to be stuck in every vein I had. They told me I was in Oklahoma City and that I had been in a car wreck. I was later told that while in a coma I was cussing and would tear out the tubes and I.V.'s requiring the restraints.
There was a TV in the room and I was given a remote control to it, which I could sometimes operate when it didn't fall or disappear where I couldn't find or reach it. Sometimes I wouldn't remember I had a remote and would ask a nurse to turn on the TV. I would just watch it for hours and wonder about what I saw. Much of it was new, and there was this sweet lady named Oprah. I admired how much she would help people. What I saw stirred me in strange ways, and I would cry often. Then some of my memories began to return.
They weren't good, a confusing patchwork of bits and pieces that I couldn't put together. None of them seemed to be pleasant. There was an intense sadness attached to most of them, along with anger. I knew that I had been running away to Texas, I had been in trouble with the law, and I had been using drugs. I remembered owning three companies. I remembered a wife.
I could remember my home phone number but not my home address. It was one of the first of the strange gaps in my memory that I began to be aware of. One of the nurses helped me to call home to my wife and her two kids, whom I had raised and who called me dad. When her boyfriend answered the phone, a flood of memories rushed in. I remembered catching her having sex with him and knew we had been in the process of a divorce. For a while I had said the divorce had been finalized while I was in a coma, but I now know that it had been settled prior to the accident. That night after the call, as grief overcame me, I began crying so hard that everyone could hear me down the hall. It was almost like the wailing cry of an injured animal.
I was soon allowed to eat real food but seemed to be full after only a few bites. My taste and smell no longer seem to work very well. There is nothing like having your diapers changed when you are 46 to teach you humility. I began to insist that I be allowed to walk so I could use the bathroom. At one point two nurses came in and pretty much carried me into the bathroom and even had to help lower me down onto the toilet. This is when I began to understand just how weak I was. I found out that my weight was only 160 lbs, a far cry from the 240 I had once weighed.
Now that I was awake and slowly becoming cognizant, the hospital began the therapy. There was a speech therapist, who would help me learn how to talk so others could understand what I said. She would also bring up puzzles and things to test my comprehension.
Without insurance the hospital was in a hurry to get me functional enough to justify my release. Now began the process of learning how to walk. I learned that I was partially paralyzed, which would explain why my right leg was always numb and had that tingling feeling you get when your leg falls asleep. It was strange that, as I was being supported, my left leg would move when my brain told it to but not my right leg. I was told that this was due to brain damage and that with time and hard work my brain would rewire itself. I had at first thought that my paralysis was due to my neck being broken, and this was the first I heard of brain damage, which it turns out is my real problem.
The hospital was going to simply escort me out the door with nothing but a hospital gown and have me taken to the Salvation Army, but they located my brother, who agreed to take me. I was released to my brother's care, and he took me to St. Louis where he lived. The hospital gave him clear instructions on the care I needed, including rehabilitation, but he was an alcoholic and had no interest in doing any of it. Instead he put me in a dilapidated building with broken windows and gave me $20 a week to live on.
When I wandered into a hospital months later they were shocked. Upon learning of my condition and situation I was taken to the social worker, who got me enrolled for food stamps and also put me in contact with the Brain Injury Institute. They began working with me, teaching me how to compensate for the effects of my brain injury. Things were starting to look up.
Unfortunately, I had violated the terms of my probation by leaving the state of Ohio. I was extradited back to Toledo. The judge took one look at me and sent me out for medical evaluation. They decided to reinstate my probation instead of revoking it, I suspect to avoid the high medical cost of caring for me. So I ended up on the street wandering homeless. The streets I had driven for over 20 years were all strange and unrecognizable to me. I would walk for hours looking for anything familiar. I found the warehouse where my businesses were housed and after five days of searching found my former secretary's house. I came to find out I use to live next door. She had heard I died in the accident, so it was quite a shock when she answered my knock on her door.
I would spend many hours at the library downtown where, after being taught how to use the computers, I would research who I was. There were articles in the paper about my companies, along with my picture. I knew I had friends but couldn't remember who they were, so I e-mailed the local television stations. One of them (Channel 13, ABC) picked up the story and ran a piece on me called "Toledo's John Doe." When it aired, lots of people called in who knew me and offered to help. Thus it was I got off the streets and was able to greatly reduce the stress that debilitated me. When highly stressed, my brain would freeze up, making it hard for me to even talk.
One of the callers was my first wife, Cherie. It was a shock for her to see me on television, her former husband a disheveled homeless man with amnesia. We hadn't seen or spoken to each other since the divorce over 17 years earlier. Cherie immediately picked up the phone to offer help, for she knew a lot about my past. I even had my age wrong on the program.
When we finally met again we realized we had never stopped loving each other and soon remarried. It's been seven years since the wreck now, and I am doing much better. I inherited my grandmother's farm in Texas, where we work to build a life on my disability check. It's nice because things move slow here, with much less stress. I still have problems socially but found a group that is understanding of my issues and that helps a lot. Cherie is patient and has learned how to help me get things done.
Hope this is helpful.
Every morning I wake up and I don't know what to expect. There is nothing resembling stability, nothing I can rely on regarding my perception and cognizance. Much of the time I do not know what day it is till I look at the calendar or ask my wife Cherie. Then I often forget and need to check the calendar several times during the day. I sometimes wake early with my mind racing and lucid. At those times, which I call prime time, I try to write what is on my mind because I can always go back and read, thereby recovering those thoughts.
You see, my biggest drawback or what has been labeled as my disability is my memory. As much as I despise the label of being disabled, I must resign myself to the reality of it. My mind wanders between something resembling my former above-average intelligence to being confused and unable to make a decision. There seems to be no predictability in this, which drives me crazy.
What is reliable is that when under pressure and stress my mind will degrade, and I will have a greatly reduced ability to process information. Trying to apply humor in this uncomfortable and awkward condition my joke has been, "I am either the dumbest smart person or the smartest dumb person you will ever meet; it just depends on the moment you meet me." Everyone I talk to says they have the same memory problems I do, so it is not so unusual or they understand. I know as we age this is a common problem and that they are trying to relate or be nice or something, but I dearly hope they are not as bad as I am.
Let me describe what it is like for me with the hope of understanding.
When I shower, I often can't remember if I washed my hair so I do it again. I require a written list of things I need to do or they will not happen. If I get distracted while in the middle of a task, I move on to the distraction and the task is forgotten. My life is full of started projects that have never been completed. Some of them are simple tasks that need to be done to enable agencies to help me, such as filling out requests for medical records. I forget where I am going as I go there.
I also lost the ability to time-sequence. What that means is I can be visiting a friend and be there 20 minutes and think it has been hours or be there hours and think I have only been there 20 minutes. In addition, what I remember I have a hard time placing in a time line—whether the event happened last week or six months ago.
I must keep a journal to remember what I did yesterday, last week, and last year. With the journal I can sometimes go back and unlock the memories. The little reminders are like keys that allow me to access the recesses of my mind. It doesn't always work and some memories just vanish. Again it is the unpredictability that drives me crazy. Sometimes I remember things clearly, sometimes not. I suspect this is a factor in people shying away from me or their being uncomfortable, but I don't know.
Despite having been an avid reader who devoured books, it is a great regret that I can now only do so with great difficulty. Every time I pick a book back up I have to start over, for I can't remember what I read before. I have several books I have gotten over the last year or so that remain unfinished. I have just not picked them back up out of frustration. I do occasionally read them with the hope that the information received will come to mind when needed. A vain hope but it occasionally works. I can retain information when I work hard at it. Bible study is one of the few areas in which retention works, for I transcribe it and write thoughts as I study on the computer. I then go back and reread it. Thus it is one area I can speak comfortably on without the freeze-up I go through when stressed and having to process information.
Preseveration is a word I found as I researched brain injury, for it describes a common behavior with TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) patients. We repeat statements over and over. The main cause of this is simply we forget having made the statement before, so when we repeat it we think it is the first time. Another underlying reason I have this issue is I tend to mentally focus tightly on things, and when I do all else fades. Regardless of the reasons it occurs, it appears to be one of the factors in others avoiding me. Unfortunately, what I tend to remember is the things that bother me, because I mull them over in my mind and with the repetition those things become ingrained in my memory banks. It is hard to have a positive mental attitude when most of what you recall is the bad things.
Because of the memory problem I am always unsure of myself. There have been times in the past, as I worked on rebuilding this mind, that I have said and done things that were not appropriate. As I look back over the early writings that I made shortly after waking from the coma I see a scary disconnection from reality. It is comforting to know that as time passed this came into balance. But this past experience has been a great contributor to my insecurity. In those first two years, control of my emotions was a big problem. Consequently, I now always watch those around me, wondering as I study their reactions if I said or did something to offend them.
Without clear memories of even yesterday, every day is like walking into a new and strange world. I constantly have people who obviously know me say hi, and I don't have a clue who they are. As I walk through a crowd, many faces seem familiar to me, but I don't know if I know them. I have introduced myself to a few to learn I did not know them, and then on occasion I do. When I first came back to Toledo, there were several who would approach me. It became a standard question for me to ask. "Do you know me?" This would surprise them, as few are aware I had the accident.
Here is another aspect of this few will consider. When most think of memory loss, they think only of the recollections of events and places, but there is much more to it than that. Consider that your ability to judge and interact in social situations comes from the sum total of your life experience. Thus you know when to laugh because you can recognize a joke is being told. You know how to read those around you because of the memories of past experiences.
Imagine then that slate being wiped clean. When I woke up, all the world was strange to me. My first experience in this new world was watching TV from the hospital bed and interacting with the nurses. Then I went through many terrible experiences as I began to learn how to act in what was to me a strange new world. These experiences gave me the only background I could tap into, to kind of guess what was to come and what to expect of those I met. It was a strange mix of my unstable alcoholic brother, gangbangers, drug addicts, church people who were both good and some not so good, bureaucrats, bar people, corrupt representatives of the court, and medical professionals. It has been a time of much confusion for me as I tried to understand and function as my mind and body repaired itself.
With only those first experiences since waking up and broken memory fragments of life prior to the accident, it is no wonder I am lost in social situations. Add to that my inability to catch "hints" or understand nuances. I remember one guy who, when I told him my perception of an earlier conversation, looked at me incredulously and stated he was just kidding and could not believe I took what he said literally. This is a problem I will find hard to correct. I do normally take what is said literally, and I try to listen carefully so I don't make mistakes. I often have to ask for simple instructions on how to accomplish a task set before me after having gotten lost trying to process the instructions just given, during which the person giving the instructions assumed I could fill in the blanks.
In my desperate search for something I could rely on, a solid rock I could stand on, a measuring rod I could use to help me understand others and know the correct way to think, I turned to the Bible I had once known so well. I figured that in the Christian realm I could find an atmosphere in which everyone was on the same page. Here I thought I could find friends who could understand and at least hold out their hand for me to grab on the bad days. Here I hoped I would be in a realm where I understood the rules.
But this was not to be. I tried to explain what it is like to be me and was told I talk about it too much. When I asked for help it felt like everywhere I walked many of those I had hoped would bring moral support would distance themselves from me. I could go through a crowd at church and watch some duck away as they saw me approach. I thought it was my imagination and asked Cherie about it to double-check myself as I so often do now. She also noticed this, so I had a sad confirmation that I was not mistaken. I would have rather been wrong. I asked some about this, if I had in some way offended them, and was told by one of the church leaders I made her uncomfortable and she would not talk now. She thought I was mad, so I explained I was just confused.
Part of the problem I have is I no longer possess many of the communication skills most take for granted and seldom recognize because they have had them their whole life. I have a difficult time reading expressions and do not recognize hints and subtleties. I need things explained in simple, clear terms like a child. A child is a good analogy, for children too are developing their social skills and learning to communicate. Another problem I have is my face is usually not very expressive, which some have interpreted as being serious or angry. Guile is an art I lost and have no desire to recover. Unfortunately, it appears in this culture that not having those skills, not pretending to think or act in a way that makes you more acceptable, regardless of the truth, makes one an outcast. Honesty and telling others exactly what I think has caused much discomfort, so I try not to say anything. I'm just not good at putting on a false face, and I don't care to be.
Here are some of the positive parts of the short-term memory loss. I can watch a movie for the first time several times before I recall enough to not be surprised. An old friend has a satellite dish and gets many movies that we watch together. I will go visit and a movie will come on and I will say "Wow, I wanted to see this one," and Allen will tell me I had just watched it a week or so ago with him. So I watch it again, and it still has all the impact and surprises it did the first time.
For me, many moments are like the very first time in my life. I made a list of the "firsts" I have experienced since the awakening. With some of those firsts often come an unlocking of memories long buried or inaccessible because of the TBI. This sometimes comes in a flood of recollection that includes vivid tangible smells, sounds, and emotions. Imagine falling in love for the first time again, with all the overwhelming feelings and emotions. Now add to that a flood of returning memories from a door just unlocked in my mind. Memories of falling in love with the same woman 25 years earlier. My first love ever, our hopes, our dreams, and then our sadness. Now you have a glimpse of what it was like for me to meet my first wife after 20 years of separation, whom I recently remarried.
Unfortunately, as I explore my past and enjoy the floods of returning memories they often fade away into obscurity as fast as they returned, which is why I purchased a recording device to document these memories. I have been interviewing those I can find from my past with this recorder.
Now that we've covered some of the mental aspects, what are the physical issues? I get tired easily and usually have to take a couple of naps during the day. With my neck being broken three times and my back once and a body that has experienced multiple traumas, I live with pain daily, pain that is as unpredictable as everything else. My paralysis is evident during times of slowed mental function, for then I limp badly. I have migraines that vary in intensity; sometimes they are so bad I must darken the room and turn everything off because of increased sensitivity to light and sounds.
My senses also come and go at a whim, so much of the time I have a greatly reduced sense of taste or smell. But then it is so enhanced I feel like a German shepherd able to detect nuances normally lost to most. The smells and flavors I used to take for granted are now at times wondrously intense and bright. Of course, there are times when these moments of enhanced senses are not so wondrous. Things don't always smell good.
Because I rarely experience the sensation of being hungry and can't remember if I ate, I must schedule meals, and Cherie has learned to make sure I have eaten. I can go for days without food and not know it.
I have seizures, which I take medication for now. I experience what I call fading in and out. At these times I mentally slow down, in some cases dramatically. An outward sign of this is found in my speech. I begin to stutter badly and have to search for words. Stress coupled with having to make decisions or answer questions are big factors in bringing this on, but there are times I wake up like this. This I can often hide but not always. What is frustrating is that I have periods of lucidity in which my mind operates at something resembling my former intellect. I am sure this throws others off who see me when I am doing well and then don't understand the change. It is not uncommon for those with TBI to be suspected of using drugs because of this instability. During the slow periods I can get so bad I must be led as a child. Fortunately, I don't get this bad often.
Most of us have filters that allow our minds to weed out all the distracting sights and sounds and allows us to focus on what is before us. These filters are damaged in me, and at times I am overwhelmed by a flood of sensory input. In order for me to accomplish a task I must turn off all distractions. There are times when I'm in a public place I must leave because I am being overwhelmed with this flood of sound and activity. Even the sounds of ventilation, the hum of lights, my computer hard drive, the things you normally can filter, are right at the forefront during these times. When I am going through a slow phase, I tend to brighten up when around others, for stimulus helps activate my mind.
Like all people I want to belong and feel accepted, but this seems difficult for me. Hopefully with understanding will come acceptance. I face a staggering task of rebuilding a shattered life, while at the same time learning how to overcome this injury. I often feel alone, isolated, shunned, and that I am incapable of accomplishing anything. Depression is a big obstacle and is fed by these feelings. Imagine what it would be like to have been on top of the world, running three companies you built from scratch, being able to juggle multiple tasks and issues in your mind, and having friends and respect. Then waking up to what I have described above, to being lost and confused. I would gladly trade off this body and be confined to a wheelchair in exchange for a reliable mind. It is frustrating to experience the lucidity and intelligence I once had and then to slow down and get confused with little warning.
While I can't recall the thoughts and motivation I had when I started writing this, I do know it is a cry for understanding and some simple emotional support. I think the lady I work with at the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation suggested I write this, but I can't remember. As I look at the e-mails I have sent over the last two years, I see me apologizing a lot. If this is redundant or not appropriate I apologize in advance but ask that you talk to me about it, which will help me figure things out and not feel isolated.
My blog is walkedwithangels.blogspot.com
Bob Westbrook, Stanton, Texas