I.Once upon a time, when I was looking for direction in life, I took a battery of psych and vocational tests. Just off the internet--I did not want to pay whatever the Psychological Examiners charged.
I told a co-worker, a clear introvert, that I was taking a test on whether I was an extrovert or an introvert. The co-worker smiled a tiny smile and walked out of the office.
I called her back. "I just realized, if I was an introvert I would never have told you that." The introvert could not stop giggling. Darn it.
Another thing about this test? I am a crusader, an Extrovert Ntuitive Feeling Perceiver. It's the NF that makes the crusade. We fight for the underdog, but we are not ourselves underdogs. Or at least, I think it makes us lonely but active people. When we are active, the lonely doesn't matter as much.
And perhaps inexplicable on the MBTI test: I frequently believe that true morality lives at some distance from certitude. Maybe that's the Perceiver initial--as opposed, in the test, to the Judgment. I'm just about half and half there.
II.Those days of looking for direction were right after my husband died, and I was living hand to mouth before the probate was completed. Good thing I had a job: all hell needed to be cleaned up. After that, I had a future that had to be addressed. All in all, I'd had several scary years, and they didn't stop being scary after that.
As Hagakure says, you must be inward and outward. I also think you have to be in the right culture, one that will cut breaks for merit, and I wasn't. Everybody just needed more, or, they had dropped off early during the course of the fight (his family (except my 87 year old F-I-L, a perpetual exclusion from this generality) and our friends), or had kept their distance from the start (my family, his colleagues).
But I knew how to look for help. I just thought I wouldn't need it this time, or I didn't have time for it. Help would eventually show up, or I would get enough sleep or through the briars eventually. Bit by bit I walked into the shadows and didn't realize how infinitesimally less light there was at each step.
Self-help and high standards were not good enough. Neither was flexibility or acceptance.
III.My husband had recently undergone surgery for brain cancer. He had been scheduled for a post-op MRI. Afterwards, we were eating at a lunch counter.
"Today's my fortieth birthday," I reminded him. That was the first anyone had mentioned it. We were in a crisis--you know we were.
He raised an eyebrow and gave me a supercilious look. It perfectly conveyed: So What.
He had a point. But I didn't like it. It hurt my feelings. And it was not a good sign of my husband's ability to win allies for his recovery.
I have celebrated my birthday alone for over ten years.
IV.When my husband died, it had been two long years of never knowing what would happen next, and two years of not knowing what was wrong before that. I never slept more than two hours at a time and I never cried except when I woke up from a nightmare. I had a full time job and that kept me sane. I worked mostly afternoon shifts, the three to midnight, so that I could take care of details during the day, go to doctor appointments, work the finances, keep the house, manage my husband's aftercare, listen to his frustrations, persuade, nag, trick, or prepare him into doing whatever had to be done, and give him room to choose, as an adult can, whenever it wasn't life and death. My days off were planned around chemotherapy or emergency repair of bad decisions during the week. I did heroic work, and I did it alone. I know this and I knew it at the time.
He hated me for it. I don't exaggerate this, but it wasn't an adult hate. I don't blame him for that emotion. He made sure his family was dissatisfied with me, although they were free to hate at leisure. (He did or said something to his mother that ensured she would never visit again. I don't know what it was-she wouldn't say. She just took a cab to the airport.)
They were wrong to buy into it, but I don't blame him for the trashing. You have to understand that he wasn't himself, and whatever straw he could grasp to make it, I wanted him to have it. I didn't want to be hated, of course not. But it was not a fixable condition. I was what he could no longer be: the responsible party, the lucky one. The closest, most visible reminder of what he had lost. And the safest target.
A sense of duty is useful in work, but offensive in personal relations. People wish to be liked, not be endured with patient resignation. --Bertrand Russell.
This quote leaves me nowhere to go and no way to feel that I loved him enough. It's true for my husband's side though. I understand what Russell means. It also doesn't cover everything, because patient resignation is too static a description for a caregiver. And my husband couldn't really tell if he was liked or not.
He retained all his intelligence, but he could never use it wisely after that. He could remember being fully competent, but he couldn't add new competencies or use the ones he had struggled to master. Now you think about how horrible that would be.
He couldn't access the mood in a room to understand distress, tension, lies, truths, scams, or signs of new developments. He retained small glimpses of sweetness, like a boy's sweetness, but the considerate man was gone. His personality did not survive. His brain was compromised.
And I think my brain paid. I think it lost some physical function from over-use of neurotransmitters and lack of sleep. I lost psychological wellness. I think I used my inside up. And even a 65% extrovert can't function without an interior, so I dropped the sword, too, eventually. I was incapacitating and couldn't see the wounds well enough to note the severity.
V.There are people out there today, with spouses or children who went to Iraq, Afghanistan, the corner grocery store, and suffered trauma: an IED, an AK round, an auto or Humvee accident that induced brain injury. Those wives and mothers, husbands and fathers now have a spouse or child who is but mostly is not the same person. I know what that's like. If I could tell them anything, I'd say: if you aren't well, if you don't renew your inner self, you can't fix a damn thing for your son or husband in the long run.
"That which does not kill me, makes me stronger."--Freidrich Nietzsche.Frankly, I think Nietzsche is full of crap on this one. It depends on how much rest you get between killer agonies.
For people caring for those with brain trauma, I know it's impossible to predict when that renewal might somehow be made available. Or affordable. You have to go after it, and you have to pay when it's not free. If you can pay, then do pay. It's cheaper in the long run. You do not want to live the un-life I ended up with for more than a half-decade, when the fighting finally slowed down, and I realized I was alone, but not that I was debilitated.
VI.So this year. For my birthday I am going to dinner with a friend on the Board. I look better, I think I understand better, and I think every step I take is infinitesimally closer to light. I am not younger now than I was eleven years ago. But I am vastly younger than I was two years ago.
As a matter of fact, I looked damn good yesterday in my purple skirt and green jacket. Like a fox, and getting stuff done. I went to two social or semi-social gatherings last week. So,
Happy Birthday to me! I am 51 today, unbelievable! Pretty sure I'll be standing with broadsword in hand by next year, fighting for myself and whatever worthy cause may come up.
I guess this is a risky and too-personal post. On the other hand, who else but an extrovert crusader with off-center but definite morals is going to tell you these things? Maybe it will help somebody down the road. It helps me to write it out.
I like tarot cards, but I would have used a swordswoman instead. Unfortunately in the photos I found, none of the woman had any clothes on, and several looked like they would impale themselves immediately.