On the morning of my second day back to work, I wake up with some precious knowledge. I know who the tiger is. It’s my brain injury.
As in Life of Pi, the tiger sits in the corner, not looking at me. But if I put down my guard or don’t do things in a planned, manageable way, he attacks. He stops me dead in my tracks. Or something like that. Most importantly, I know who the tiger is.
“Who advocates for you?” friends have asked. “That’s important.”
I’m crying again and I don’t think there’s anyone. Just me. I have a headache.
I wonder if I can manage a morning run. (I think: I have to manage a run because I need to do one, good, healthy thing.)
I lie in bed, wondering whether to go to work for a few hours or not go at all. How do I figure that out?
Dizzio says repeatedly to do things “as tolerated.” What does that really mean? I find I’m still better at hindsight than planning. When I feel great, I do too much and I pay for it. I feel exhausted, I have to recharge, I think I should have paid more attention.
But it helps to know there’s a tiger involved. I have to keep him at bay.
I also need to write. That’s the only way to make sense of all this. Even if I just hand-write notes for deciphering later.
Second takes always seem more informed.
I arrive at the office, determined to use my red bullet journal to help stay focused. And to capture my feelings, which are so quickly overshadowed by whatever happens next.
Case in point. “Do you really know how you felt a month ago?” Dizzio recently asked. Only with the help of my notes, I think.
I make a list of tips to help me get through the day: Get up every 30 minutes. Drink water. Visit the quiet room…
I flip through a book of meeting notes.
F.ck, I write in my journal. It’s like time stopped. I barely remember the people who attended a May 25 meeting. Then I remember: I worked from home and made a conference call. There were no faces.
It’s not the first time I’ve had a sudden recall moment like this. One of the more extreme examples occurred back in July. My best friend texted me and I only then remembered she existed. Completely forgotten until reminded.
I now understand that there’s a lot more to returning to work than just getting the work done. It’s as if I’m coming back to a me that’s been on hiatus.
I look at the neon-green Post-it notes stuck to my computer.
“Keep track of successes each month,” says one. “Stairs, lounge, walk around,” says another. I vaguely remember writing those. (Who is this woman?)
I share my tiger theory with one of my concussion sisters.
“I know who the f.cking tiger is!” I write.
Her words tumble across two time zones. “It’s not your ego, is it?” she asks.
It’s not my ego. It’s not my inner me on hold. In fact, it’s none of the theories that came up when I shared my “When Life of Pi saved me” blog post on Facebook.
“The tiger is my brain injury,” I write. “He’s here all the time, the f.cker.”
As always, my concussion sister’s reply is direct and wise.
“Keep the f.ckers close,” she writes. “Embrace them. Be so kind to them that they can’t help but bow to you.
Later in the day I encounter tiger number two.
He’s the people who assume that my returning to work is the same as my coming back from maternity leave or vacation.
It’s not the same.
I have returned to work after a six-month mat leave. I have started a fulltime job after 10 years working from home. That was exhausting. But it didn’t knock me out.
I have a brain injury.
I have two tigers to look out for now: the internal one and the external one. Funny… I never even imagined that these tigers existed until I started my trial transition back.
I start going through email.
Delete, delete, read. Delete, delete, hyperlink.
I receive a work request that requires me to dig deep. I stare at it and place it aside. I can’t go there.
Perhaps I should let my colleagues know more about what’s going on with me. I should check that my managers have read the letter from the Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic. It’s as if I’m in with the lions (tigers) and have expectations far beyond what I’m capable of.
I’m also aware that when I left this place I was on top of it. I juggled deadlines, meetings and email! I had to force myself to slow down! Life was a whirlwind.
I understand that I may have to expend a lot of energy just taking care of myself.
Let’s see how I do tomorrow, I write in my journal. The day after is always the big test.
I take the subway home and go three stops past my stop before I realize I’ve gone too far.
For dinner, Liva and I meet at a restaurant on the Danforth.
As I pass the bartender I overhear him say, “My name’s Tige. That’s tiger without the r.”
It’s a hot fall evening and we sit on the back patio, trying not to stare at Rick Mercer. He’s like those monarch butterflies that just show up out of nowhere.
“You look high, mom,” says my daughter.
My eyes get so heavy when I’m exhausted.
By eight o’clock I’m asleep.
In the middle of the night, I write in my journal.
Dear Dizzio. Four hours a day is wiping me out. My tank is empty.
I think about my Driving the brain piece. That’s what this is like. Intense brain activity that under normal conditions is normal.
On Thursday, I wake up crying again. I’m not sure whether I should call Dizzio. I don’t know what to do.
“Write Dizzio,” counsels my concussion sister.
We’re so scared to admit our frailty. We’re so good at second-guessing ourselves.
I feel so weak.
“Sorry to hear about the poor start,” Dizzio writes back.
That night I get really sick. Is it real? Did my fear bring this on? I feel like I did during the first nights after the accident. What is going on?