This is another in a series of guest blogs from my husband about what it is like to live with a Traumatic Brain Injury. (TBI) I saw the sentence in bold written on a notepad. I asked him to tell me more about it and this is what he said to me.
The Brick Wall
As told by Bill Gunnin
“Often there are days I wake up and feel like I am standing in front of a very tall brick wall that extends across the horizon, and there is no way to scale it.” –Bill
For some reason, it was a familiar feeling to think of this image. I had an inspiration-ah-ha kind of moment where I was thinking about things more than normal. I guess part of what brought clarity was I knew there was something I needed to do that day. The pile of issues, job, ticket, money, getting with people about jobs, my dad, all the stuff going on right now in our lives, etc.… I had an overload moment. I hit a wall. Suddenly, I had this image of a long brick wall in my mind and the picture was so clear to me. I have a wall in front of me, always. In stressful situations it gets even worse, or seems bigger. I have to go somewhere, but I don’t know how. I have a loss of confidence. The picture was clear of the wall, but other than that, I had no understanding of what it meant exactly. It was broad general feelings.
There is nothing specific that made me feel this way I don’t think. It is helplessness. There is a sense I can’t go anywhere, because there’s nowhere to go to. It’s an obstacle I can’t do anything about, and there is no way around it. It doesn’t even occur to me there might be another path. There is anger and frustration because there is nothing I can do about it. Put yourself in a situation where there is nothing you can do. You are helpless to help yourself. Like in the movie we watched, where the pilot went down in the ocean but couldn’t get out of the plane. It was over…there was nothing he could do. He kept trying, but there was no option for him, the only thing that could help him was something outside of himself. He was powerless to his circumstances through no fault of his own. For me, it translates to I can’t think. I can’t develop a plan. There are no options for me. I get angry and frustrated at myself. The ideal me says, “How stupid, you have options. You are so stupid! Just do something!” But then I don’t, I can’t. I get mad at myself, and hate it. The wall is such that it doesn’t occur to me to climb it or go around it. It is insurmountable. That’s a very bad feeling. It feels impossible.
Often when you talk about emotional things…the challenge, is in getting specific. It is hard. Emotions are layered and general. The emotions I am conscious of in the moment, are often not the root of the issue I am feeling. They are a blurry thing. Brain scientists say that emotions hinder higher level functions like logic, and analytical thinking. When I am picking things apart or self-debriefing, becoming self-aware…such a hard thing for me, it is something I have had to work on over and over again…clear concrete facts are hard because the feelings that go with them are tricky. Coming to conclusions about my feelings is hard to do without assistance.
Sitting at the table that morning, I wrote the sentence down about the wall. It was the first time I recognized the feelings I have all the time, as something descriptive. I’m having emotions and I cannot communicate them, but that image is worth 1000 words to me. It communicates them all. It expresses the feelings I am unable to say with words.
It’s was a step. I was just feeling frustrated, because our circumstances cannot remain the way they are. I can’t just sit here. I was thinking about letting you down, letting my family down. How embarrassed I am. How humiliating it is as to what my image of a man is…always working on things, finishing things, drive to succeed. I should have that drive…and I do…but I can’t. I do want to, but sitting there that day in the kitchen, I couldn’t bring myself to make calls or do anything. I am disgusted with myself. If any of my children or people I know saw me like that…I would be so embarrassed. I feel like everyone is going to find out the truth that I am a lazy butt. What is my damn problem?
I hear everyone is self-critical sometimes. I know that the thoughts I have go against what I believe. I am loved by God. I am forgiven. I am a son, not a slave, etc… But at the same time, I cannot be irresponsible. I’m hurting, frustrated, anxious and then I think ‘How dare I even be this way?’ and yet I was submitting to it. I cannot do what I want to do. Like that scripture says. I guess maybe seeing that wall, extending across the horizon gave a visual to all the feelings I was having that day and all the other days. We all interpret things according to our own background so, your wall and mine are different. I finally saw it and it put a picture to how I feel. It is not uncommon for me to have this bad self-talk, and inability to process steps I need to take, it happens a lot. I am conflicted internally most of the time. In some ways when I saw that picture it relieved some of that pressure. Like a pressure valve released. This wall is not something I contributed to and it is outside myself…but it is still there and an obstacle. I have to admit that I haven’t realized this, until this minute, as we are talking. That picture of the wall took some pressure off. I only wish I could remember the relief and hold onto it, because tomorrow it will start all over again.