How To Defeat Demons You Can’t See

Mr. Long, please call me back right away. Your brain CT scan showed an anomaly.

I’ll replace this with a scan of my own brain as soon as I get it.

My life changed forever last Thursday.

Thankfully, nothing is currently wrong.

But a routine visit to the doctor to ensure that a recent bout of cluster headaches was due to nothing more than stress revealed a shocking discovery.

The CT scan showed evidence of encephalomalacia – a thinning of brain tissue in a specific area of the brain.

I have brain damage.

Essentially, a small part of my brain is dead.

This is generally caused by one of two things…

  1. A stroke
  2. Head trauma

There’s no evidence that I’ve had a stroke in the near or distant past, which leaves head trauma.

And the doctor and I believe we can pinpoint the specific incident when it happened.

At age 12, playing baseball in my final game of Little League, I was beaned by a pitch just above my right orbital socket by a 65mph fastball. I was rushed to the hospital, where doctors were entirely focused on saving my right eye.

They managed to do so, but it now appears that they missed something else entirely…

…a brain bleed.

It also fits that I have a crystal clear memory of being hit, going down to the ground, the sensation of my eye swelling shut within seconds, being carried to the car by my dad, and being driven to the hospital.

I even remember something specific – on the way to the hospital, my parents argued about whether or not to flash the headlights and run red lights to get me to the hospital faster.

But my memories end there, and they don’t pick up again until 3-4 days later. I have no recollection of my time at the hospital (or even arriving there for that matter) or the first few days of my recovery.

I had always brushed this off as not being significant, but it now appears as though all of this was related.

The bottom line is that I have/had undiagnosed brain damage, and that a portion of the frontal lobe of the right hemisphere of my brain died during that stretch of days.

The Aftermath

Everyone who knew me before and after agrees that I was a bit of a different person after that, but at age 12 and being in the middle of a summer between elementary school and middle school, it was assumed that the beginnings of adolescence and changing to a new school was the explanation for 3 new personality traits that didn’t exist previously:

  1. A complete inability to focus
  2. Sudden struggles in math
  3. Emotional instability

I went from being a straight A student, to being a B student. Math, which had previously been a breeze, was suddenly difficult and laborious.

I also found it extremely difficult to keep full control of my emotions. I would cry or get angry over just about anything. Later on as a teenager, I would famously rip the passenger side door completely off of my Datsun pickup truck.

Finally, and to me the most troubling part – I was completely unable to focus on anything for more than a few minutes at a time. As the years went by, my grades, which were perfect all through elementary school, slipped more and more each year. By my senior year of high school, there was some question about whether or not I was going to graduate.

I did. But almost predictably, college was a complete disaster.

Life as an adult with undiagnosed brain damage

Years went by, and as aware as I was of these limitations, I made very little progress in correcting any of them. Psychologists told me I had ADD, with one stating I had the highest score on the test of anyone she had seen in 15 years of administering the test.

The emotional control improved, but very, very slowly. I’ve had to measure progress literally by decades. My 40’s have been a little better than my 30’s, which were a little better than my 20’s.

My foundational math skills (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division – everything I learned before 6th grade) are rock solid. Anything more complex (percentages, square roots, basic Algebra) and I’m completely lost.

I went from being just slightly introverted, to being extremely introverted and socially awkward. I actually test out as having mild Aspergers Syndrome today. But anyone who knew me as a child would tell you that I had no such issues at that time.

A little shy, yes. But nearly unable to function in social situations? Not at all. I sang lead in my school choir from 3rd to 5th grade. Yet today, I become almost phobic if I’m in a room with more than 2-3 other people.

I took this week off from work to process this newly discovered information and work on some IM projects. I’ve been working non-stop in a motel room 450 miles from home for 3 days straight with almost zero interaction with anyone.

And I’m just fine with that. I could do this indefinitely. It would drive a “normal” person crazy.

Finally, I’ve only made a handful of friends in the past 30 years (I can count them on one hand). I’ve heard the whispers, that there’s something a little “off” about me. That people feel “uncomfortable” around me, but they can’t pinpoint why.

I’ve always felt the same way about myself.

Honestly, I’m truly fortunate…

I’ve told people for years that I feel like I’m “hard-wired” differently than everyone else.

But I always meant it as a metaphor…

…until last Thursday, when I was informed that my metaphor was in fact, literal.

My 12 year old brain, now damaged by a pool of blood in my frontal lobe, scrambled frantically to re-wire itself so that I would lose as little function as possible. I believe this relates to the 4 days of memory loss that I experienced.

By most accounts, it was successful. My issues are relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, and had been reasonably explained away (to a point) for exactly 30 years.

It could have been so much worse. I could have died. I could be completely disabled. I could be living a life where someone has to feed, clothe, and change me.

Even though a small part of me is mourning what I ultimately lost and wondering “what might have been”, what I’m mostly feeling right now is extreme gratefulness that I function as well as I do.

But from that moment in June of 1982 until last Thursday, I always wondered why I seemed different than everyone else – why things that were true for the masses simply didn’t hold true for me.

I felt like a massive underachiever, because it was clear to anyone who spent any time with me that I was bright and had some talents, yet I could never seem to focus or stay in one place for very long.

The amount of constant change in my life was the subject of many jokes. To date, I’ve moved 37 times in 24 years. From 16 to 34, I owned 27 different cars. I’ve only stayed at one job longer than 24 months from my first job at age 16 to today at 42.

In retrospect, I showed most of the classic signs of someone with a frontal lobe brain injury, but I (along with most everyone else in my life) thought it was just “me being me”.

That takes a toll on your psyche after 30 years.

So why do I bring this up and make it public?

A few reasons…

  1. That your excuses are just that – excuses
  2. If you have something holding you back, whether you know what it is or not, you can still overcome it

Now clearly, my story isn’t as interesting, extreme or inspiring as Jon Morrow’s. But the basic message is the same. Whatever limitations you may have should never be enough to deter your ultimate success.

Jon overcomes the lack of movement below his neck by speaking everything into his computer.

I’ve overcome brain damage to be successful online by sheer force of will in the past, and with my new found knowledge I’ve immediately set out to find techniques that will maximize my productivity in the limited amounts of time I’m able to focus.

Whether your limitations are real or perceived, don’t let them stop you from becoming exactly what you want to be. Your particular demon doesn’t have to have a specific name, diagnosis, or even be fully understood by you or anyone else.

The bottom line is that you always have a choice. You can give in to your weaknesses – whatever they may be. Or you can choose to fight, and push, and kick, and scream, and never, ever give in.

You don’t have to be “whole” or “complete” to be the absolute best person you can be.

So what are you waiting for?

18 thoughts on “How To Defeat Demons You Can’t See

  1. Jim says:

    Mike,

    Thanks for sharing those intimate details of your life. It always makes me feel so stupid when I come up with some of my own excuses after reading something like this.

    • Mike says:

      Hi Jim,

      You wouldn’t believe some of the names I’ve called myself over the years when I thought those who called me lazy and unfocused were right. Ultimately, none of it matters in the end. We simply all need to learn to be a little kinder to ourselves, and just commit to doing our very best day in and day out, whatever our individual definition of “best” is. We all have different ceilings, no matter the reason or cause. Hang in there! :)

  2. Rachel Zaouche says:

    Wow Mike – dont know what to say really apart from I have always thought you were an inspiration and now reading this, I sincerely believe you can do anything you want.

    Be as kind to yourself as you are to others and you will do great :-)

    Rach

    • Mike says:

      Thanks so much Rach. I really appreciate it!

      It’s so strange. It changes nothing and yet it changes everything. I really wish I could find a better way to explain it then that. I get to keep living life as I’ve always lived it. But how I view myself and how I attack my limitations will be forever changed.

      But ultimately, it’s onward and upward! :)

  3. Mike,

    A couple of great (IMO) sayings spring to my mind after reading your post … they are (paraphrased from memory):

    “…there are just two traits that define the super successful from the not so successful. CHOICE and ATTITUDE” (Paul Zane Pilzer)

    …and

    “…begin by beginning, continue by continuing, finish by finishing” (Jack Heffron, which I just read the other day).

    Onwards and upwards indeed.
    George Broon Dog recently posted..Failing To Plan Is Planning To FailMy Profile

    • Mike says:

      Thank you George!

      It’s odd that I would find out about this now. If it had been discovered even a few years ago, I think my response and attitude would have been MUCH different. It’s almost as if my brain was waiting for me to turn my attitude completely around before revealing this to me.

      I just can’t help but be grateful. I have some minor issues (like we all have) that I can put a specific name and reason to. With that knowledge, I can work around those issues much more effectively. In the big picture, it’s all good. :)

  4. Keith Evans says:

    Wow Mike…

    Thats a powerful post mate. Makes most of my small problems seem insignificant in the extreme. I love the way you share everything with us, and its very inspiring, so please do continue to do so mate.

    Thanks a lot Mike,

    Keith

    • Mike says:

      Thanks so much Keith,

      I have to disagree though. I’m lucky enough to have learned about something that happened in the distant past, and isn’t a danger to me today (other than a slightly increased risk of early onset dementia, since my brain no longer has as much capacity to adapt compared to others). You’re fighting through something that’s going on in the present moment, which to me is much bigger. More and more each day, I learn how much attitude counts for a tremendous amount, and yours seems to be first rate through all of this. Keep going and keep positive! :)

  5. Heather says:

    Mike – I’m glad that you’ve found a name for what’s wrong. It really helps…-

    One of my daughters has a HORRIBLE time reading and we just found out it’s related to her eyes. It was SUCH a relief – just knowing what the problem was.

    Good Luck!

    Heather

    P.S. I know of someone who had MASSIVE success with a process called biofeedback for the type of problems your experiencing.
    Heather recently posted..Paying Off Debt – Is Debt Settlement the Best Option for You?My Profile

    • Mike says:

      Thanks Heather!

      I have a friend who is dyslexic, but wasn’t diagnosed until 10th grade. He still carries the psychological scars of being called “dumb” in school because he had so much trouble reading.

      Some people say that things are overly diagnosed in modern society, and that people use a diagnosis as a crutch. While I agree that can be the case for a minority, I truly believe that knowing exactly “why” we have a particular shortcoming can go a long way in allowing us to move past it, if we choose to do so.

      Without that knowledge, it can feel like we’re fighting a battle against an enemy we can feel, but cannot see or even fully understand.

      I’ll likely look into biofeedback and some other specific types of coping mechanisms designed specifically for people with TBI’s (traumatic brain injuries) now that I know that’s exactly what I’m dealing with. Thank you for mentioning it! :)

  6. Rita says:

    Wow Mike. That’s quite a discovery to learn about yourself. In a way it probably feels good that you can now put your finger on what was wrong all this time. In another way, it’s a shock to know that you have brain damage.

    But at the same time, I’m guessing that other talents and abilities became stronger as a result of a more focused rewiring on other areas of the brain. For instance, you are a VERY talented writer. I’m sure you can think of many other things that you got really good at too.

    • Mike says:

      Thanks Rita!

      It’s funny, I’ve wondered “what if” a lot over the past several days. But on the other hand, I wouldn’t be who I am today if it hadn’t happened. And even though it’s taken a LOT of years to get to this point, I’m reasonably happy with who I am today. I’ve been blessed with a great life, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

      I can’t quite bring myself to call it a blessing in disguise, but I also can’t look at it as a “tragedy” either. I’ve simply been too fortunate in life to see it that way. :)

  7. Shaun Baird says:

    Hi Mike, what a story eh? At least you can now focus on what really matters.

    My eldest daughter has had her share of problems compared to her younger sister who has had no issues.

    She’s had development issues, bed-wetting, delayed this, delayed that, skin irritations, hip problems…

    Anyway, we were concerned about her delayed speech and unwillingness to focus.

    It was her eyes!

    She got fitted for some glasses and has now come in in all areas, confidence, personality and school… crazy huh.

    Anyway, life sure is funny sometimes.
    Shaun Baird recently posted..Progress Report For February 2012My Profile

    • Mike says:

      Thanks Shaun!

      That’s awesome that one single discovery for your daughter has made such a difference. The older I get, the more amazed I am about how funny life can be, and how many aspects of our lives are intertwined.

  8. [...] could just be the brain damage talking, but I firmly believe that there is a healthy percentage of people who are made completely [...]

  9. Brenda says:

    Hi Mike:

    I just signed up to receive your blog postings, due to the fact that someone I admire said he got rid of all emailed blogs except for one, yours. I am new to internet marketing had heard your name before but it was very revealing to read through the postings. It was this one that I found to be stunning in its honesty and revelations.

    My daughter died recently waiting for a liver transplant and one learns through the extraordinary pain that it is the simple/honest things that matter as well as the importance of those who love you in your life.

    Thank you for sharing your emotions and after-thoughts … it pretty much explains a lot about you including your humanity.

    • Mike Long says:

      Hi Brenda,

      Thank you so much for sharing a part of your story. I truly appreciate it, and I’m so sorry for your loss.

      We never have to look far to find tragedy it seems. One of my best friends got married at age 40 in 2010. Last year, he and his new bride were expecting (first child for both of them). First they received the news that their baby girl would be born with Down Syndrome. Then, she went into a rare form of preeclampsia and had to give birth at 21 weeks. Their baby girl struggled to live for 4 hours before leaving this world.

      Their pain is a pain I cannot possibly know. The only thing I know is this – there are only two realities: life and death. Until death comes, life must continue. Though we hurt, though we may not want to continue on, we must, for we still have life. When you strip everything else away, there is only life. And if we live, then we have one basic choice in life over which we have control: the way in which we respond to the world. Even in incomparable sadness, there is still incredible beauty if we choose to see it.

      Though I have a brain injury that has certainly altered the course of my life’s path, I do my best every single day to find beauty in the world in some small way. When I know that I have the choice between that, and dwelling on the negative things that have happened, the answer seems simple. Not easy, but simple. :)

      I really should write here more often. I sometimes forget that there are those out there who might glean some useful things from my thoughts outside of the internet marketing sphere. Thank you for sparking that spirit once again. :)

      • Brenda says:

        Thank you very much for your heartfelt words. You are a good man, Mike.

        And yes, please keep up “gleaning”. We touch so many with our words.
        They can be so powerful … especially when spoken from the heart.

        You have no idea who you will touch/help/teach with those “gleanings” of yours – so don’t stop. And thank you for teaching me a new way to make a living.

        I am terribly, terribly sorry to hear of the loss of your friend’s baby. In this case, words fail. They will go on living but they will never completely heal.

        All my best wishes.

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