As I sit at the stop light, I check the time and calculate exactly how late I will be. Probably around 3 minutes, definitely less than 5. In the past, I would have be wound tight as a drum because I hated being late. Loathed. Deeply disliked. Pre-injury, I found it embarrassing to my core. I found it rude and a personal insult to the people I was meeting. Being late broke a boundary of basic decency that I moved heaven and earth to respect.
That didn’t mean I had to be early. No. It was simply vital I not be late. Arriving a few minutes before the appointed time was enough to maintain my dignity. I have never had the dedication of my friend Blazey, who without fail will arrive at least 10 minutes before the agreed upon meeting time. She, my fellow Virgo, understands the importance of being punctual.
In the past if I realized I was going to be late, I tried to make it better. I’d quickly find the person’s number and call or text them. I’d speed. I’d hurry. I’d cut out as many non-essential actions as possible, just to narrow or eliminate the margin of my lateness. Every moment from the time I realized I would be late to when I arrived at my destination, I would be full of anxiety, my body tight, my mind obsessed with my lateness.
All that angst changed when I was injured. Actually, no, it didn’t changed. My ability to track time and meet deadlines and show up reliably changed. I continued to feel horrible about being late. I tormented myself with recriminations about not following through, about canceling plans, about not showing up when and where I said I would. Gods that was hard on my soul. Tardiness and unreliability undercut my basic pride in who I was and how I functioned.
This was yet another instance where mTBI changed something that I thought was unchangeable. That first injury in 2014 changed something that was at the foundation of “who I am” or, rather, “who I think I am”. I really, truly and completely thought my timeliness was at the foundation of my soul, a virtue that I had been imbued with at the time my spirit was created.
Turns out, it was actually a set of brain functions that worked particularly well. A tendency perhaps, a predilection that I had fostered into a strength. A concrete infrastructure in my brain that was not and is not the same as my soul. And, as a concrete set of structures, something that could be broken. Who knew… who knew I could be broken in that way.
Finally accepting my altered time management abilities has been a hard transition. After months and years of tormenting myself, cursing and berating myself, and generally feeling like shit, I started to accept that this was the new me. What else could I do? It sure the hell wasn’t a consensual change, but evidence kept mounting that being on time was no longer a natural skill. Eventually I had to acknowledge this new embarrassing habit of tardiness wasn’t going to go away, and accept that wanting it to be different wasn’t going to make it different.
After my second mTBI in 2016… well, I just kinda gave up on expecting it to be different. There was no more guessing what I was going to be able to do. There was no more being that reliable person, the steady one who could be counted on to always follow through. No, that was no longer me.
So, today, as I run a little late and face the fact I will be late, giant anxiety no longer twists my insides. I’m a bit irritated. A little frustrated. But I don’t take it personally. As I hope all those people I am a bit late in meeting don’t take it personally. Being tardy no longer defines me, my sense of self, nor my day.
And I want you to know – I have implemented strategies to help with my tardiness. Writing things down. Planning an extra 15 minutes to get anywhere. Doing my best to keep on track, to not get distracted or lost in another project when I have to be somewhere during the same half of the day. But even with that deliberate effort, even with that extra 15 minutes of transportation time… I still end up running out the door 5 minutes late. I’m not sure why. I really am just not sure why.
And once I arrive I need recovery time, let’s not forget that. The recoup time I need after driving adds to my tardiness. I arrived 10 minutes late to the Pride Center potluck last week (not sure why). After I parked, I needed to rest. I wasn’t particularly tired (thanks caffeine), but I’ve learned to wait until my head stops buzzing before moving on to the next task. It also takes some time – sometimes a few minutes, sometimes 20 minutes – for my brain to catch up to the fact that I’m switching activities. To realize that I am no longer driving, and that my intent is to socialize… preferably well. I need a minute. My brain needs a minute. Or, in the case of that night, 10 minutes before I was ready to speak to another human being. Another variable, another unpredictable requirement thanks to brain injury.
Maybe I need to start adding 30 extra minutes to my drive time.
I use to have a precise and detailed sense of time, and now I simply don’t. There aren’t enough spoons (of energy) available for me to be aware of every moment passing. My brain doesn’t have the energy to keep track of time AND take care of my basic daily functioning. That is the best explanation I can give as to why time seems like an amorphous and unreliable thing to me now, passing in fits and starts, jumping about without me noticing.
These days, I have accepted my periodic tardiness. Once I took off my blinders of only-timeliness-is-possible and looked around, I realized I was not alone. Many people struggle to be on time. Some do not. And the great thing is there is space in the world for everyone – from those that tend to be a little late, people who strive to be right on time, the chronically late, and those individuals who find peace in arriving 15 minutes early. I have realized that this is just one more way that brain injury have taken me from one extreme (very timely) and plopped me down somewhere in the middle of humanity (generally timely with a struggle). So be it. Most people will understand.