When Is Now?

When Is Now?

I walk into the front room of my house to put on my shoes as I look forward to meeting my friends John, Tim, and Howard at the Daily Grind Espresso Bar and Coffee Shop in Stillwater. On Saturday mornings it is my regular haunt, and we do the New York Times Saturday crossword puzzle. Sure, we could each do it alone and probably faster, but then we’d miss the camaraderie that makes the morning bright, and that is why we really do it.

As I reach for my shoes, I notice the folder and textbook for my Thursday writing class sitting on the table by the door. I reorient myself. “That’s right, it’s Thursday morning and I have to go to my creative writing class.” I sustained a severe brain injury when a semi-truck hit me twenty-five years ago. Every day I struggle with numerous residual effects, of which memory deficits play a considerable role. To get through the day, I have a host of compensation strategies. I’ve developed this trick for making sure I make it wherever I need to be, along with whatever I need to bring. I put what I need to bring with me next on the table by the door. I make it a habit to always look at the table to see if anything is there. If something is there, then I know that is what I’m doing next.

This works for me because I don’t have a problem remembering why I put things on the table, but when I am rushing out the door to go someplace, I am frequently thinking about the trip, and then I forget what I need to bring. Its other benefit is to remind me where I am going next. I usually know when I’m supposed to be somewhere, but the ‘now’ is ever changing. I’m trapped in this ‘now’ and the rest of the world hurtles by me. It is like I’m sitting in a train car and can only see to the side, never ahead and never behind. It might seem exhilarating, blithely embracing whatever the ‘now’ hands to you, but it is actually a colossal pain in the ass.

There is no point in wallowing in the missed appointments of other days. I acknowledge and forge ahead. Today is not one of those days. Today, I have coolly and deftly sidestepped a catastrophe. My scheme has worked; my life is smooth. I hop in my truck and head off to class. As I pull onto the freeway, I notice I’m about an hour early for class. Oops, I’m still on coffee shop time. It occurs to me that I have not read the next assignment and I calmly appreciate the serendipitous consequence of air-headedly thinking it was Saturday. I now have time to read the assignment. I appreciate the 11:30 a.m. class time that allows me to avoid rush hour traffic, which more than just an inconvenience, is unsafe for me as my reaction time isn’t that good. Actually, my reaction time isn’t really that bad—it just takes me longer to process the visual information I’m taking in, but the end result is the same. I smile. That is not a problem I need to worry about this time.

I exit off the freeway and head into downtown Minneapolis. Something isn’t right, there is almost no traffic. Is this a holiday? No, that can’t be, not on a Thursday. Maybe there was another 9-11 type event. I can’t handle the distraction of a radio when I drive. Having the radio on is as if someone is sitting beside me tapping on my shoulder saying, “Hey! Hey! Hey!” With no radio, if the Russians attack, I won’t know about it until I see a mushroom cloud. This thought makes me smile as I realize that my Cold War mentality dates me.

I pull into the parking ramp; pay my five bucks, and park. Score! I get rock star parking; today is a good day. And then my slow mental processing puts it all together, and heady realization surges through me like an overpressure wave. Temporal vertigo. This is not Thursday. This is in fact, Saturday. I do not have a writing class on Thursday morning in Minneapolis, I have a Lit class Thursday night in Saint Paul. I had absentmindedly left my homework out last night. The contrast is startling. Instantly I have gone from mastery of my world, to the victim of a harlequin’s mad dream. “No, no…No!” I scream silently, “not again, not still, this is so hard and I am so tired.” The accumulated fatigue of an over twenty-year struggle combines, and I don’t want to be brain injured anymore.

Posted on BrainLine September 30, 2014.

Comments (14)

Please remember, we are not able to give medical or legal advice. If you have medical concerns, please consult your doctor. All posted comments are the views and opinions of the poster only.

I want to thank all of you for your comments. I am one of the rare fortunate ones that has been able to achieve a fairly high functioning status after sustaining a very severe TBI. This story illustrates that even after 25 years I still have issues that can cut me to the quick. Since writing this I have managed to graduate cum laude with a BA in English. I always wanted to complete my education, but it had to wait until I retired from the factory where I held a good paying, if unrewarding, job.

Oh I hate hearing you have been dealing with this for over 20 years. I feel fo you of course, and have done just what you described, but I worry for me too. I am only 3 years into my TBI. I keep hoping there is an end to this madness sometime soon. I'm trying to find methods that keep me straight, thanks for sharing yours. I am encouraged you can attend class any class, that you drive and socialize. Hoping that comes back to me soon. Right now the world is a scary place.

Mike my suggestion would be to put up multiple calendars too to help keep you on track. This world can suck but it can also be GREAT!  It is what you make of it.

Good luck in all the you do. oh maybe a tape recorder would help you. People always talk about their I phones ( I don't have one) but they can do amazing things If you know how to work them :-) Lee a 36 year survivor

oh dear i`m afraid i know exactly how you feel ! i have to laugh at myself sometimes or if i start to cry i simply can not stop, the frustration is terrible but i simply laugh now if i make an appointment on time great if im late so what and if i forget where the shop is that i have been using for 5 yrs i sit outside a coffee shop and loose myself for an hour or so, i have learned that to rush is not possible and to be late after a brief explanation of why is acceptable and to completely forget is so very normal !! i find writing it down helps me to let it go a little i dont like my brain injury at all but i am trying to learn to live with it because Life is too short to be frustrated,upset,sorry and angry i am just learning very slowly how to accept i am not as i was but i am happy to be here . x :)
I didn't sustain a TBI, per se, but I do have trouble with my short-term memory due to a brain bleed I sustained as an infant. I use Google Calendar to help me with appointments. It was so very helpful when I was in school and needed to remember which class I needed to attend. I now use it to remember when I need to be at work. You can color-coordinate events, as well. It's completely free, too. Give it a try.
I too get sooo confused some days. I wonder is it Saturday or Monday. What is the date today? Does it really matter? I don't have to work any longer.....who cares.........I care....what day is it? What is the real date? Over and over and over and over....

What I. Do to help with my TBI, is have a huge calendar on a common area wall, with every apt. And schedule with a roped marker hanging next to it. Every day, I cross off the day that has passed, it is my lifeline. If it isn't written down, it doesn't happen. 

Also, my iPad mini has a schedule with reminders on it which tell me what is next on. My list of things to do.

Thanks for all the suggestions! I managed to get through and graduate cum laude this spring, so I got that going for me. Of course, my main point is that no matter how high functioning I am, I will not ever be not brain injured.
i suffered a head injury over 20 years ago also. i still struggle to remember things. i write myself a lot of notes. a lot. post it notes are one of the best inventions ever.

Hi there, I'm new to this blog but I am so glad to have found this site. I have been living with tbi for 7 yrs now. I had a severe brain bleed and swelling from a fall. After surgery I'm now left with the entire right side of my head is titanium mesh. I had to have a crainiotomy so there is no skull bone on that side! I look completely normal and with my hair now long I'm so sick of people saying "well you look fine to me" just because I look, speak, walk and act normal doesn't mean anything! I also have grand Mal seizure's so I can't drive, work or do most of the things I enjoyed before I got hurt... I'm only 35 yrs. Old and I'm having a real hard time letting go of the person I know I used to be and accepting the person I am now. I'm open to any and all suggestions thank you for any advice to make life a bit easier coping with these challenges!

20 years ago I had my head injury maybe 22, 19 years ago my hormones stopped working and I was stuck in a child's body even after treatment that came too late years later. I've had problems remembering what year it was till this year of 2015, for the first five years after the injury I was uncertain if it really was not still 1993 ( the year of my second injury my first was at less than a year of age). Time stands still at times and others goes by too fast, my perception has never been normal concerning time. My method of coping as a child was setting my schedule and time in relation to television shows and the almighty Saturday. I knew it was Monday when Saturday was two days past and I knew it was x time by the tv or radio shows that were on. This had a downside due to my severely distorted perception of time if I lacked these references I could literally end up living one day as if it were a month or sometimes longer. This problem continues to this day though it can be a benefit as well especially related to jobs that must be done in a short time period. However the greatest downside is I have by my perception of time lived more time than someone twice my age yet I remain stuck in time as well ( biologically no more than 14) so I suppose I am a paradox. Sometimes I wonder if my distorted time perception has caused physical ramifications, if your brain does not truly recognize time does it ever age properly? It's something I think of often, because to me yesterday could be yesterday or twenty years ago, today can last months, and as for tommorow who knows? My brain injury disallowed me from ever truly perceiving the one thing many say is limited and must not be wasted, time itself. Though honestly considering both were severe class tbi to the same spot and should have killed me (96% death rate for infants and young children at the time) and not only did I survive but miraculously I am high functioning and did not lose my intelligence or creativity; I would rather never know what time truly is than never to have had time to live at all.
I received my TBI from an IED blast in Iraq in '07 and suffered subsequent mTBIs from jumping out of planes and combatives. I was in a stunned state and didn't realize anything was wrong following the blast and couldn't understand why I was having continued health problems for years after. I finally put it all together in March of this year. TBI = nutritional deficits. A brain injury takes huge amounts of nutrients to repair in addition to the requirements of daily living. There is a meta-analysis titled Nutrition and Traumatic Brain Injury: Improving Acute and Subacute Health Outcomes in Military Personnel (http://www.nap.edu/catalog/13121/nutrition-and-traumatic-brain-injury-improving-acute-and-subacute-health) that outlines the process of TBI, it's effects on the brain down to the cellular level and the subsequent effects on nutritional status and how we might be able to stop the progression and possibly reverse course. It's a start. I have already started on a ketogenic diet and begun supplementing and am starting to see some dramatic effects. I plan on seeing a Doctor of Functional Medicine to further refine my diet and getting some advanced treatments at the Brain Treatment Center and Carrick Brain Center. There are answers out there, keep searching and never give up!
Beautifully written.
Thank you, Mike Strand. It's a little over 3 years post injury for me. The "now-ness" with vision and auditory processing challenges is surreal... to say a little more. Thank you again. Compensatory strategies are hard.....but its better than muddling along without them. :D