It’s 5pm and I’m about ready to fall asleep. Yesterday was the same, as was the day before. I think you get the idea.
Some people think it’s laziness…I mean, we all get tired after a gruelling day at work, right? So how am I so much more tired than anyone else? Some go to the extent of talking slowly as if to a child, or in a condescending tone with obvious references so as to insinuate a misunderstanding. No, I’m not lazy. No, I’m not simple. I have a brain injury. I become tired more easily because I have to consciously “turn on my brain” to hold focus on anything for more than two seconds. And then anytime I have to change focus or move from one activity to the next, that change alone takes another conscious effort and consequently another bout of energy (as does the planning of said activities, deciding which to do when – heaven forbid that plan not work out, which it rarely does). It’s called executive functioning.
“Executive function refers to a set of mental skills that are coordinated in the brain’s frontal lobe. Executive functions work together to help a person achieve goals.
Executive function includes the ability to:
- manage time and attention
- switch focus
- plan and organize
- remember details
- curb inappropriate speech or behavior
- integrate past experience with present action
When executive function breaks down, behavior becomes poorly controlled. This can affect a person’s ability to:
- work or go to school
- function independently
- maintain appropriate social relationships
Types of Executive Function
Executive function can be divided into two categories:
Organization involves gathering information and structuring it for evaluation. Regulation involves taking stock of the environment and changing behavior in response to it.”
So we (with my type of injury) are taught to create as much routine as possible in life so as to minimize the effort required, given that the brain power involved in just remembering to brush my teeth in the morning is overwhelming. LOL. I laugh because I get how ridiculous it sounds. And I laugh so as not to cry at the thought of how pathetic my life seems sometimes.
Every time I leave the house I consciously go through my list (did I lock the doors? did I turn off the flat iron? did I remember to brush my teeth?) And sometimes, because I can’t remember and to make sure I’ve done it, I go back and do it again. (Obsessive compulsive much?) Talk about exhausting!!
But a friend reminded me the other day…you are not pathetic! You own your own house! You lift weights at the gym three times a week! You volunteer with dogs, support others with brain injuries, you play the clarinet in a band every Saturday morning and you’re learning to play guitar! How is that pathetic?!
And yes…I have to actually remind myself of these things on a daily basis. Because if I don’t, I will be eaten up by the cloud of negativity that swarms. I liked this saying I saw on Facebook once: “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, surrounded by assholes.” 🙂 I’ve learned to eliminate these people from my life as much as possible, and to stand up to the ones I don’t want to fully eliminate. But, again…it takes effort. It takes effort to control my emotions, to objectify the situation, and to be the mature one who speaks about the situation intellectually rather than getting caught up in the fact that the other person is treating me like garbage. If I don’t, I will get sucked into the vortex of intense emotion. I will try to soothe that intense emotion with unrealistic coping mechanisms, and I will hate myself because of it. And, yes, that too is exhausting. But the benefit far outweighs the costs involved.
So, having said all of that, I get to the crux of my discussion. In reference to the title: Do people honestly think I have it easy? That I’m being lazy with my lifestyle (because I’m not working at the moment)? or that with all my positive social networking posts, my life must be hunky dory? It sometimes comes across that way.
First of all, hopefully from the above introduction, people realize that there is nothing “easy” about my life. Everything from feeding my cat to brushing my teeth, planning my meals, grocery shopping, cooking my meals, planning my route, driving my car, getting to the gym class on time, lifting the weights properly…everything takes effortful energy to turn on my brain to that particular activity, remain focussed throughout, and change attention to the next thing. How does that seem easy to anyone?
Secondly, I am not working right now only because I overextended myself in both of my last jobs over the past three years and I essentially went crazy – couldn’t be in public without breaking down crying at the drop of a hat, was experiencing extreme OCD and wasn’t looking after myself AT ALL (slept all day, no shower for a week, etc). And due to my now very limited income I have had to make some very serious budget cuts (including food intake some days) to be able to still pay my bills and meet financial obligations. Do people actually think I WANT to have no money?! Sure, not working allows me a few extra hours in the day, but I still have a house to look after, volunteer commitments to keep and self-betterment to think about. Oh yes….and that talk we had earlier about energy and exhaustion? Having limited finances takes a LOT of planning.
Thirdly, most of what I post on my social networking sites are quotes and affirmations that I need to see to be reminded that I am going to make it through this day, that my life matters, and that I too can find success in life. I have a lot of days when I am grateful for my circumstances, for special people in my life, and for the “little” and not-so-little ways in which I am blessed. I also have many days when the negativity overcomes me and I feel like an unaccomplished so-and-so with a pathetic existence. But I know that’s not true. I know that because I’ve had many experiences and known many people that have affirmed my existential value.
So whether I feel it on any given day or not, the reality is: I have a pretty great life. I am blessed and accomplished with strengths and talents that make me happy and bring joy to those around me. I am not lazy, I am not simple. I have a brain injury that makes me more tired than most people, and it sometimes makes me more emotional and/or reflective. That is all.
…this is my life…and I really do love it.