Since my head injury, I have been a boat without a rudder – floating here or there based on the pressures of the moment, my overall path dictated by underlying forces that I have had no way to comprehend, let alone control.

Kathi kappal

Yup, that’s me — floating along with no direction.

That is what life is like when one has a head injury.  What is happening is confusing and unexpected and a surprise over and over again.  I have had some awareness that something wasn’t quite right, that my brain didn’t work the way it use to… that my emotions didn’t work the way they use to.  Once it became clear to me how very off my perceptions were (what, 6 months in?), I began deferring to others to frame and explain what was going on.

Now that my intellect has mostly returned, I can anticipate and often avoid the thought patterns and choices that almost always end with me crying or feeling overwhelmed, burning with anger or convinced something is deeply deeply wrong.  I can perceive the disconnect in my higher functioning that leads me to those paths when my resources are low or the hour is late.

That is why last week was such a unique opportunity for me.  I was on vacation.  From Xmas eve until January 3rd, my life and my energy were my own.  I rested and napped and slept and stared into space.  My brain and body weren’t in a perfect place (mild continuing stomach bug, headache from dehydration) – but the weeklong investment in my health meant I was at my most complex and complete. My intellectual capacity was at the highest it had been since January 25, 2014.  A rare opportunity and gift.

What should one do during such a time?  Well, make decisions, of course!  My goal was to determine my priorities.  My life priorities – what do I want to be working on, what do I want to accomplish?  It is not my nature to pinball through life, jerking and shifting direction with abandon.  It is rather my nature to plan, to choose, to act in a consistent (some might say plodding) manner to reach my goals.

To begin my decision making process, I listed all of my commitments already made for January.  Here they are:

Work 32 hours/wk
Acupuncture 2x/wk
Clay 2x/wk
An Evening with Mary 1x/wk
Counseling 2x/mo
Cranial Sacral 2x/mo
mTBI Women’s Support Group 1x/mo
Breakfast with Friends 1x/mo
Concussion Dr. 1x/mo
Chiropractor 1x/mo
Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor 1x/mo
Massage 1x/mo
Dinner w/new friends 1x/mo
Dinner w/existing friends 1x/mo

Then I added in things I’d like to make happen but that don’t have a set schedule:

Exercise 5x/wk
Meditate 5x/wk
Set up pottery studio 1x/wk
Reach out to others 2x/wk
Manage budget 2x/mo
Blog 1x/wk

Well shit.  This looks like enough for someone who is fully functional, let alone someone with deeply limited energy like myself.  And all of these things don’t even make me feel like I’m successful – these just feel like my basics of functioning.

How do I set my priorities when ALL of it seems like activities required for a healthy life?  Heck, the list above doesn’t even include the energy needed for basic living, like food shopping and cleaning and laundry folding and all of those other things that have to be done regularly to have a functional adult lifestyle.  No wonder I have been so frustrated.  Too many tasks, too few units of energy to go around.

Strategically, it makes the most sense to pare down the largest commitments.  Work, of course, sticks out like a neon light as my largest energy commitment.  At 32 hours a week, I can just break even financially… and just keep my job.

Long term, it makes sense to take a hard look at my expenses and see if I can live on less income.  The less I spend, the less I have to earn to make it through and the more that can go to paying off debt or accumulating savings.  I don’t think Mary and I are going to find a less expensive living option in Vermont, but perhaps there other ways we can save money.  That analysis – of course – requires a higher intellectual capacity, which means I have to schedule time for it when I’m rested and at my best.  That means either January 18th or February 15th, or maybe some Sunday after a weekend that has been particularly restful.  Honestly, it is not burning my britches at the moment, so probably it will have to wait longer than that.


Here’s a visual for that


What is burning my britches right now?  Lack of fulfillment in my personal life.  Not in a primary partnership way, but in a what-am-I-frikkin-doing-with-my-life way and in a I-want-community-to-enjoy way.

So, priorities.  What are my priorities?  How do I express those priorities in my life?

  • Healing
    • Medical Appointments
    • Exercise
    • Meditation / Spiritual Practice
  • Financial Security
    • Work
    • Budgeting
  • Personal Fulfillment
    • Primary Partnership
    • Hobby (clay)
    • Connecting with Others

At Mary’s suggestion, I consider these three separate silos, not as ranked priorities.  Everything else is extraneous.

Whew.  What a relief to have my priorities set.  Now I can measure all of my energy choices against these three pillars.  Won’t that make my life easier?

Let’s try it.

Kim, should I start taking that Tai Chi class in Btown on Saturday mornings?  I took a trial class and it went okay.


Hmmm… well, there is a health aspect to Tai Chi, obviously.  Is it “exercise”? On some level, yes – mostly a slow-moving energetic awareness exercise.  Not so much the cardio and weight training I am thinking about to get my core fitness up to a healthy level and to improve my mood.  There is also a social component, as there are other people in the class.  I could likely connect with a person or two if I made the effort.

How does it compliment my other commitments / activities?  If I am in town Saturday morning for clay, it could fit fine.  If not… then not likely an effective option.  I don’t know Tai Chi – how much health benefit would I experience learning it versus knowing the proper forms?  Not sure.  How effective is once a week for learning a new activity and benefiting from it?  Unclear.

I say no.  Although there are some minor connects with several of my priorities, it doesn’t speak strongly to any of them.  The innate benefit of learning something new is already fulfilled through pottery and my plan for my exercise program is more fitness oriented.  Do I feel good about my decision?  Yes, I feel pretty good.

Excellent.  I am very confident making decisions using objective, predetermined criteria (scientist much?).   With my memory and mental capacity so variable, it is extremely helpful to have something clear and written down.

So there you go.  I now know my life priorities.  They are simple, clear and easy to work with – exactly what I need right now in my life.  As I move forward, my direction and my choices will be more consistent and more correct with a new set of standards to measure my actions against.  Thank the Gods… now maybe life will make more sense.

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2 Responses to Priorities

  1. Steve Gerard says:

    I enjoy observing your process. As someone who has done a very similar process this time of year (my birthday is Jan 1), I also review my list from last year and assess how well I followed my list. There has been no self-recrimination for not following through, but some interesting reflection on ‘why not?’.


    • kwittorff says:

      Thanks for reading Steve. January 1st is an auspicious birthday! This is the first time I’ve written down my priorities in quite a long time – I use to just carry them around in my head. Kudos for you and all the other people who make a list each year.


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