I sit drinking coffee with my friend.
She tells me about her job working with people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries. She details how, for many of her clients, they cannot do simple routine tasks. And not so much that they can’t do them but that they don’t remember to do them. The logical, sequential ability of ordering and accomplishing tasks is lost.
Some know they need groceries but forget to go to the store. Some will get to the store and return without anything they actually needed to get. Some need to take medication but can’t remember what time to take it at. Some don’t know where their mailbox is and can’t even establish a plan for finding it.
My friend’s job is to develop plans and strategies for her clients that will enable them to live their lives as self-sufficiently as possible. She doesn’t aim to do things for her clients, to accomplish their tasks for them. No, her job is to do just enough that will allow them to do what they need to do themselves. Whether it be Post-It note reminders around the house or to-do/get lists (and other strategies far beyond what I know about), she helps her clients help themselves.
To myself, I shake my head, almost unable to imagine what it would be like to not remember such basic functioning for daily life.
But, I am absolutely and humbly aware that I, we, the general population without traumatic brain injuries, are not so different.
My friend and I switch topics and we’re now discussing the state of her apartment and how she feels overwhelmed by the mess of it. She then tells me about a broken filing cabinet that is taking up space and adding to her feelings of a life of clutter.
It’s a humorous conversation. We’re grown adults commiserating about the miseries and annoyances of daily living. I finally suggest to her that one day, today after coffee, all she needs to do is move the filing cabinet from her living room to the back door. Then, two days later on garbage day, simply move the filing cabinet out to the curb. And voila! Clutter begone!
She feels less overwhelmed and agrees to the order of tasks. Three days later, and in record time, she has accomplished a task that had been haunting her for months.
Does my friend have a traumatic brain injury? Not at all. She’s actually a highly-functioning, very intelligent person with a post-secondary degree in social work.
I think about myself now and my weekly meetings with my psychologist (which I have no funds to afford but have concluded that, through a simplified cost-benefit analysis, if I had money right now it would be doing me no good anyway if I’m still suffering in the midst of my major depression).
In my recent meetings with my psychologist we have developed lists and tasks for me as well. Sure, I can remember to take my medication and get groceries and turn on and off the stove and take the garbage out and shower and go to bed. But, do I want to? No, right now I don’t! My brain is such that, not unlike my friend’s brain-injured clients, I am having problems completing daily tasks.
I have little motivation at times to continue but somewhere inside of me there’s a voice that says, “Keep going.” I know I have to wake up in the morning. I know I have to take my antidepressant medication. I know I have to shower and go to work. I also know that while there is breath being exhaled from my mouth there is a purpose to living. I don’t feel it, but I know it.
And right now, this is the time for lists. I don’t feel adult-like. I feel often like I’m failing. But right now, while my brain and emotions are fragile, this is the time for basic lists to help me function and survive. I am not strong enough right now to reach for the stars. I don’t know why I can’t do and be all the things I think I should be but now is not the time to discriminate and judge. Now is the time for doing, doing one thing at a time, one step at a time so that I can manage my day-to-day life.
We all need to self-manage. “Normal” brain or injured brain makes no difference. Whatever level we’re at is the level at which we need to manage and for however long it takes.
The only requirement is to just keep going, without judgement or criticism, but with kindness and compassion for ourselves and others.
This is where I’m at and I will work this day to the best of my ability, Post-It notes and all!