I’ve always been a pretty self-confident adult. I’ve managed to get done things that needed doing, even when someone else should’ve done them. If something needed saying, I usually said it. If I saw a pair of ridiculous shoes that needed wearing, I wore them.
Living with brain injury is all about compensatory mechanisms, finding ways to get around the missing abilities. It does require, however, the knowledge and acceptance of the missing abilities. Some of those things are easier identified and accepted than others. One of my missing strengths is my strong self-confidence. It has taken hits because of newly absent abilities I used to rely upon. I’m now starting to recognize and acknowledge, if not always completely accept, the gaps in my skill sets.
One acknowledged and grudgingly accepted example, is my internal calendar. I never used to use my daily planner, really. I could just always remember when events were or what I was doing that day. Now, I spend a lot of time with a calendar. Even though I often really do know what is going on that day or what events are approaching, I don’t trust my knowledge. And, It isn’t just a struggle with memory, but also that my grasp on time has changed. I’m not always sure of the day, or the date, or where exactly the 15th of the month is in relationship to the 18th of the month, or how many days there are between Wednesday and Friday. Yes, intellectually I know these things, but that internal calendar I used to use got all crooked. Even when I’m looking at in on paper, sometimes I just can’t “get” that Friday is in only 2 days. So, I compensate for my lost internal calendar by frequent use of a physical, external one, much to my annoyance and frustration. Lots of people can easily say, “Oh, I have the same problem.” Ok, but it’s new to me, so it isn’t the same because I can no longer rely on what used to be innate, and I don’t know how you people have survived all this time without it. ugh.
There are also many other much more individual frustrations. So many things have changed in my life and my career. The “life” stuff I actually do a pretty good job at holding my ground and knowing what is doable and what isn’t. But, I’m not always sure of what is in my reach at work. So, I continue to look for compensations for when my confidence is low or when I know I cannot get done the thing that needs doing. Those compensations are harder to come by. Sometimes, it’s hard to recognize I need a compensation. I’ll get bogged down in something and I can’t figure out why because I used to be able to do it so easily. Once I’ve realized I need to do something differently, I still have to acknowledge and accept it. That accepting thing is pretty tough sometimes, even if I acknowledge the need for help.
I think the most annoying compensation is planning out conversations. I can no longer rely on my words to come with me to crucial discussions. I can no longer rely on my critical thinking and memory to come, either. So, I have to strategize like I was attending the Summit 8. And I don’t mean just making a bullet list of talking points. Yeah, that’s necessary but the bullet points have bullet points which have bullet points. A list of the talking points isn’t sufficient. I might look at an item on the list and draw a complete blank on what I needed to say about it. Or, I’ll debate myself on what I’m supposed to say, so after a long weird pause in conversation I end up saying, “Oh, never mind”, and I say nothing instead. So, when I can, I plan out my half of a critical discussion as much as possible, and not just the words, but my whole presence. It’s like I’m convincing my words to come with me by showing them how prepared the rest of me is..
I also have to consciously choose my mood, my tone, my posture, and my attitude. These are things I used to do as second nature with no fore-thought or intention. i just did them. Now, I have to plan. My smile will be scripted. My tone of voice, scripted. My body posture, scripted. And, of course, the outfit is also chosen with intention. All new experience for me. I’ve always said that teaching is performance art. Now my play has to be less improv. I need to stick to the script or it’s just me wandering around on stage in confused silence.
I think the compensation most common to most people for boosting self-esteem is “dress the part”. If I dress better, I usually feel better. If I dress like the accomplished, experienced, confident teacher I should be, then fewer people will see the chinks in my armor (I hope). When I wear my jeans and school t-shirts I am comfy and showing school spirit and all that, but I often feel like I look weak, unprepared, not ready. I don’t know if my teaching pays a price, but I am left wondering if I could have done better. Most of us do the “dress the part” thing at different times, but it isn’t something I’ve ever needed to rely on before. So, — it’s new to me.
Another strange compensation for self-doubt is having to remind myself, and sometimes I have to have Stew remind me, that just because I can’t do X or don’t like X, doesn’t mean that the only reason I don’t like it or can’t do it is because TBI is in my way. Sometimes, X is genuinely wrong, unfair, inappropriate, excessive, or inaccurate. So, when I doubt myself, I have to run a check to see if I’m reading the situation right. Sometimes, I can’t do something because it’s just not something I can do, and I couldn’t ve done it before either. I don’t always remember that though. I am quick to blame TBI. I forget that sometimes, things are just stupid and out of my control. So, I guess my compensation is checking my opinion of X against reality.
Then there are those things that I used to just shrug my shoulders and do whatever it is that needs done because I could do it and it needed to be done and doing it was easier than not. But, now I can’t just do everything that needs doing. So instead of working around the thing that’s frustrating me by just doing it and letting it go and forgetting about it, I have to confront the unfairness, or inappropriateness or inaccuracy because I can’t just do the “whatever” that needs doing. Before, I could afford others’ expectation that I would do “it”. If other people would ask, “why don’t you say something and tell them you don’t want to do that?” I would just say, “it’s not that big a deal” and do it just move on. Even if I was annoyed, doing the thing was less trouble than confronting it. Now, it is that big a deal, and doing it is more trouble and harder than confronting it, but in saying “no, I won’t do that” my pride pays a price. I pay a price for others’ expectations. Multi-layered compensation here. Slow down long enough to examine the thing, and check it against my what-I-can-do chart, and then, if it isn’t on the chart, I put on the right outfit, plan the conversation, and go tell whomever, “not me.”
One of my favorite books to read to my amazing daughter is Neil Gaiman’s Blueberry Girl. One of the lines wishes for Blueberry Girl to have “brave days, and truth.” It is entirely possible that I read the book to her for her, AND that I’m reading it to her for me. Often, I find myself needing brave days, and I needing truth. (And the right shoes to match my outfit.)