This blog post is going to start with the world’s most boring confession- I have unresolved issues from my past. Whoop-dee-doo, right? Who doesn’t? I mean, I didn’t have the happiest middle class upbringing in America, but I was fortunate enough to HAVE a middle class upbringing in America. Besides, I didn’t have anything significant enough to stop me from becoming a pretty successful adult. That is, until I suffered a brain injury.
I don’t understand how the whole “trauma” things works, really. I can’t pretend I didn’t occasionally dwell on the past, particularly if something in the present triggered my memory. But I’d quickly snap out of it, reminding myself that, as Steven Tyler once said- ironically enough, on Aerosmith’s very first album- “the past is gone.” As it turns out, the past isn’t so much gone, as it is stored away somewhere. It’s almost as though all those unresolved issues were contained in a dry powder keg, and the concussion was like lighting a match to it. It all hit me at once, and I don’t really know how to deal with it- let alone the NEW problems that have sprung up since.
The good news is that I’ve gradually been able to create a new life for myself, with lots of help from others. (I’ve documented that in previous posts.) As such, I don’t HAVE to constantly dwell in these issues from the past as much, because I’m too busy trying to build a present and future. However, with a brain injury, I can only focus so much, before my mind takes me elsewhere. This was a very serious problem early on, when I would have thoughts that seemed to be coming from other places. It’s hard to explain, but it was kind of similar to hearing voices, without ACTUALLY hearing them. (In other words, they existed in thought only.) As of this post, they’ve been contained to my dreams- and therein lies the problem.
Facing the world with a chronic “fight-or-flight” response is hard enough as it is, without starting the day in a state of terror- but try telling that to my subconscious! In recent months, I have been reminded of tension within my family, insecurities at school, leaving my life in California without warning, as well as accidents besides my concussion- which, incidentally, I don’t remember at all, and a variety of other seemingly long forgotten issues. Lest I wallow too much in the distant past, my subconscious- which conjures up far more creative scenarios than I ever could do while awake- mixes in my newfound fear of long lines at the grocery store, suburban sprawl, Uber drivers with a poor sense of direction, my continued shock at the condition I find myself in, and my fear and sadness at trying to rebuild my relationships within my family. In one dream, my subconscious even managed to incorporate real life physical sensations- specifically, the fact that I drank way too much water the night before, but couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t feeling any relief when I…well, click here, if you must. (Of course, this beats the alternative of FEELING relief during the dream. Too much info? Let’s move on…)
As for the dreams themselves, I can’t remember ALL of them. Sometimes, I’ll wake up and say, “Oh! I have to write that down…but then I’d have to get out of bed. Eh, it’s okay. I’ll remember it later…” and then I don’t. But no matter, because there’s plenty to work with here, including-
-Throwing my niece and nephew in the air like I used to, then wondering why it feels so empty.
-Selling my dad’s house in Pennsylvania, except that the house is off PA-926 in the dream, whereas it was off of PA-52 in reality. (Also, that we sold that house over twenty years ago.)
-Deciding whether to study for a test that I totally forgot about, or playing guitar.
-Going to high school with a brain injury, wondering if the other kids will show mercy, given the circumstances.
-Watching some fictional vintage video of Yogi Berra in his later years, talking about what it was like to be on the Yankees’ version of Mount Rushmore. (Unfortunately for Yogi, this would only be true in real life if Mount Rushmore added another spot- the ACTUAL Yankee version includes Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe Dimaggio, and Mickey Mantle.)
-Dating more than one woman at the same time- LITERALLY, at the same time, ala Peter Brady (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0531162/)- which ultimately led to the women (ALL of them) to be either bored or angry with me. Making this even more interesting, I actually remembered the episode of the Brady Bunch IN THE DREAM, although I probably haven’t given it more than 30 seconds of conscious thought in over 30 years, outside of the one time they mocked in on South Park- and I hadn’t seen THAT episode in about 20 years, either.
-Mark Hamill, somehow starring as the Joker in the 1968 version of Batman starring Adam West (yes, I actually remembered the year in my dream), except he went on an ACTUAL murdering spree. (And you thought that version was too campy!) And, last but not least…
-Watching a replay of the 1985 World Series, where the Cardinals famously lost on a bad call- actually true in real life- and Peewee Herman tried to get a sacrifice bunt down. (Hey, at least I didn’t dream he was trying to hit a home run, because THAT would have been weird!)
Where does all this come from? Well, I can’t really explain the last two, but the rest actually do make a fair amount of sense, believe it or not. The one about my niece and nephew doesn’t really require Sigmund Freud’s interpretation, although it DOES require lots of therapy. The sale of my dad’s house comes from a combination of the past being unleashed, along with my incredible regret at selling my condo in LA a couple of years back, which I still suspect may have partially led to my TBI, ala “the butterfly effect”. Also interesting is “926”, a number that Ilana found humor in, not long before my accident. (She finds humor in lots of bizarre things, which is probably why she thought I was so funny.)
The guitar/homework one might have more than meets the eye. On one hand, it’s a clear throwback to the fact that I never really got to be the guitar player I wanted to be in high school, partly because my time management left something to be desired, even by teenage standards. (There were other factors, which I won’t get into here.) But also, there’s a much more recent story- as I was getting ready to sell my condo, I realized that most of what I owned- which wasn’t all that much to begin with- was junk. One exception was my guitar, which I had barely played for the few years that I had owned it. So I picked it up while watching TV (one of the few OTHER items I didn’t need to throw out), and was surprised by how motivated I felt. I barely missed a day of practice for nearly eight months…until my life came crashing down. When I tried picking it up a few months after my accident, I was disgusted not only by my regression, but just how futile it all seemed.
I figured that I’d picked up the guitar for the last time. Then, last October- almost exactly two years after I’d started playing regularly again- I started playing regularly again…AGAIN! Now that I’m well past my pre-TBI record, currently at 466 notes/minute and climbing (500 if I REALLY want my hand to hurt), I guess I have some sort of fear it will all fall apart again, almost like my guitar playing is linked to my accident. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but then again, neither does Mark Hamill going on an ACTUAL killing spree in a 60’s TV sitcom.
So what else…
The high school and brain injury is past fears meet present fears. That ones’s pretty straightforward.
The Yogi Berra one actually makes sense to me. Not long before turning 40 and not long after my niece’s illness, I became obsessed with mortality. Then, Yogi Berra died. I saw what an incredible life he led, and started to chart my progress in life, with where he was at when he was my age. That didn’t last too long, because after my injury, I have a pretty different view of my own mortality. I’ll save that one for another post, at another time.
Dating? Well…I don’t drive anymore. I don’t drink anymore. My social outings are restricted, in both time and location. I don’t make a full salary anymore. I’m pleasantly surprised that I’m able to socialize AT ALL, but like so many other things, it’s not the same. And that can be pretty upsetting. My subconscious seems to have taken notice.
Mark Hamill, the sixties sitcom star/murderer, and Peewee Herman the baseball player? I’ll leave that to others.
The bottom line is that just like the famous line, “In space, no one can hear you scream,” the same goes for dreams. No matter how many times people assure me that “I’m not alone,” the fact of the matter is, I am VERY alone- quite literally- when I’m asleep. Snitching on my mind when I’m not in control of it seems like as good of a way as any to deal with it.
*Officially speaking, my address is not Hamilton Street, but it just has a better ring to it than “Nightmare On Veterans Memorial Drive East”