Be your own anchor

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Earlier this summer my husband had another automobile accident. It wasn’t serious.  He was fine. And … it happened almost a year to the day of another accident in which someone t-boned him at a busy thoroughfare. His car was totaled then too. Again, he was fine. Looking back to the original accident in 1993 when he sustained a life-altering traumatic brain injury, he’s been in a total of four accidents in which his car has been totaled. With the exception of the ’93 accident, he has walked away from these subsequent accidents and moved on with his life relatively unscathed.

I, on the other hand, have found myself floundering. And this last accident pushed me over the edge. Couple its timing with some other significant life changes (son getting married, death of my mother and very close friends moving out of the area) I’ve realized a significant internal paradigm shift. My husband’s accident and his life are not my responsibility. He’s a fully capable, intelligent person. And it is time for me to turn him over to himself – allow him to be his own anchor (as I have realized for myself).

It is the right, loving and compassionate thing to do. And honestly, something I don’t know how to do. So, for now, I’m taking it step-by-step and day-by-day, letting my heart lead the way. I’m here and I’m steady. Let me be clear, my outward life looks no different. Yet my internal “life” is transformed. I hope you can get some sense of what I mean. Perhaps you have also had this experience.

Thus let me close with an overused phrase, “life is a journey”. There is no goal – there is just the ride. There is no reason – there is just the journey and the growth that comes with it. That’s it. Save yourself some time and mental anguish. Accept what has occurred in your life. Embrace the lessons, challenges and new experiences. Take it inward and share it by living with humility and courage. Be your own anchor and allow those you love to be their own as well.

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The 10 Stages of my Recovery

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1 – The Accident:  In the moment it is all a blur. In the ER.  Sitting, waiting and watching. My friends are with me, providing comfort and picking up the pieces of my life that have suddenly left my grasp.  Jerry calls the auto insurance company.  Jan calls a neighbor to walk the dogs.  Carla calls the school to let our son Taylor’s teachers know what has happened. Survival mode has kicked in for all of us.  We are all in shock. The ER doc pulls me aside and tells me that Michael has a “closed head injury”.  I can tell from his delivery of the “news” that this is not a good thing.  But what is a head injury?  What does that mean? No one tells me and I’m too in shock to ask.  All I can do is relive over and over in my mind the last time we spoke that morning.  Our last kiss.  My last sight of him as he left that morning to take our son to pre-school and then head off to work.  He is moved to Neuro ICU.

2 – The Back and Forth:  The first week is the beginning of the roller coaster ride that would last for years to come.  I revert to my science & somewhat clinical nature as a way to observe intellectually so that I don’t have to deal.  The hall outside the Neuro ICU is lined with friends.  Someone actually pulls me aside and tells me, “You know, Mike is going to die.”  I stare at him blankly and am stunned that someone would do this. It is surprising when friends decide I need to be mothered or fathered.  I am resentful of being treated in this manner.  The nursing staff labels me in the medical record as “in denial”. I can feel the sympathy and the empathy. Through the whole strange and odd experience of continued shock, denial, hope, fear, gut-wrenching sadness I feel an undercurrent of “okayness” which I cannot explain – not even to myself.  Is this denial or is this real?  The staff never use the word “coma” with me.  I find this odd.  When people ask me if he’s in a coma I can’t answer the question. So I tell them that he’s “consciously unconscious”.  I don’t know where I got that explanation; it’s what I feel.  Two days after his accident, the miraculous happens.  He awakens – albeit briefly.  He says hello to his mom and speaks a few other sentences.  We rejoice and celebrate that night.  Then he goes back “in”.  

3 – The Advice You Take:  Time marches on in the Neuro ICU and as it does the reality of the injury that begins to sink in. The ER doc gives me the grim reality that there is no way to know if or how he will recover or what recovery will look like.  He’ll most likely survive but what his quality of life will be is the big unknown. He informs me of the next clinical steps that will be taken. Trach, tube feeding, etc., etc.  He leaves. I breakdown and it is the first time I allow myself to consider what it all really means. It is a moment of surrender and my first real experience of acceptance.  His status reveals itself with a variety of complications (stomach blockages and several bouts of pneumonia). At a certain point during the Neuro ICU stay, another MD pulls me aside and reiterates that this will be a tough recovery and that I need to take care of myself.  I must do what it takes to strengthen myself and take care of my needs.  This will make me stronger when Michael comes home.  He recommends that I watch a movie called “Regarding Henry” about a man who suffers a bullet injury to the brain.  He tells me that the movie does a pretty realistic job of depicting what happens with brain injury. This was to be a “finger pointing at the moon” – directing me to discover for myself what is needed to navigate the journey.

4 – The Hate:  After weeks of Neuro ICU, there is a slow progression of improvement.  Michael is moved to the Neuro Step Down unit.  And this is when the “fun begins”.  As he moves through the stages of neuro recovery I move through my own.  His stages are physically dynamic and not without their comedic moments.  Mine are quietly internal.  His involve cursing, pulling out trach and exposing himself to all.  It is oddly entertaining as it provides levity to the seriousness of the situation.  I settle into a schedule of spending a few hours everyday with him.  I learn to suction his lungs through the trach.  I complete all our Christmas cards.  I sit by his side looking for some semblance of the man I married.  I work to maintain daily balance and and normalcy for our son.  He wonders when his daddy is coming home from the big building with the doctors and nurses. I am tiring of the wait too.  We move to the next step – rehab hospital.  I’m hopeful and once again, the next reality kicks in. I begin to realize and confess to a friend that it would have been easier had he died. I feel guilty and miserable. I visit him in the rehab hospital on the weekends – it is all I can manage.  Being with him at this stage of his recovery becomes increasingly difficult.

 5 – The Reality:  After 4 1/2 months, Michael comes home. Friends wrap our house and trees in yellow ribbons. We’re all ready to get back to normal.  I’m still in denial and even entertain the thought that he might return to work.  And…I discover very quickly that life is totally different. I begin to realize my attachment to the subtle nuances of our life and relationship.  Nothing is the same.  As the reality of his future is recognized by the company he worked for, the move from “active employee” to permanently disabled employee occurs.  Another level of my attachment is revealed.  I have to make decisions on my own about insurance, finances, legal issues, home and all aspects of daily living that we shared before.  It is now all on my shoulders.  I am alone. Our friends are as uncomfortable as I and pull away.  It hurts to be with him.  I don’t blame them.  It feels as though all the things I know and are familiar are being taken away.  

6 – The Realizations:  I realize that I am living with a stranger.  I’m so attached to the one I love I now don’t know how to be with this new person.  Most people either don’t want to admit or express out loud to me that he is different. They make excuses and try to make it okay. It is like living with a ghost. He looks basically the same but the expression is so different.  Every so often the “old Michael” peeks out and I cling to those moments. His typical even-keel personality is now often subject to moments of angry outburst, lack of confidence and loss of initiative.  It catches me off guard.  His outbursts are sudden and energetically dynamic. Within moments he forgets what just happened. I on the other hand am “damaged goods”. The outbursts cut through me like a knife and each one a little deeper. I tell myself it is part of the process but it wears on me. 

7 – The Change: I question whether or not my life will ever be normal again. What is normal?  The entire time Michael was in the hospital and then after he came home, my focus was on his healing.  It is not until he comes home and I begin to get a handle on what this life is going to be that I realize that I can’t do anything now about his “healing”.  I can only do my own personal healing and facilitate that for our son.  This is when I launch myself into my own personal, spiritual reclamation.  And as I embark on this journey, I realize that the slate of my life has been wiped clean; thus giving me the opportunity to restage my life from this point forward. This is when I fully recognize and accept that the injury was to all of us – family & friends.  It has set us each on a path of self-growth. Heal myself and I’m better for everyone else. 

8 – The Withdrawal:  The time of spiritual self-discovery and growth means a period of cocooning – going within. It becomes an “inside job”.  I seem to move quite naturally into this process; it is the only way I can recover and rebuild.  It teaches me responsibility for myself, my thoughts, my actions – my life. I learn how to be “fully” with myself – accepting the good, the bad and the ugly. It teaches me to stop judging myself – give myself a break. It teaches me gut-level honesty. 

9 – The Acceptance: It is all about acceptance and as this realization dawns on me I begin to see life from a new perspective: not resisting life but embracing it as it is and as what is so. This whole experience reveals inner qualities of courage, honesty, integrity and compassion, previously covered up by self doubt, guilt and fear. It is at this point that I begin to feel gratitude for the “yellow brick road” nature of my life. I now feel patience and respect – with and for everything and everyone – most importantly me.  

10 – New Normal Becomes Simply “Normal”:  For a while I term my life as one of “living new normal”.  As I stay with this, I find myself re-engaging with life and friendships. I lighten up on myself and my thoughts and actions with my husband.  Basically, I lighten up on life.  And then suddenly, I realize that this is not a “new normal” life.  Life is simply normal.  It is what it is.  I’m accepting it in the moment without  expectations for Michael or any other aspect of my life to be any different than what it is right now. I find myself living moment to moment.  I feel strong not rigid.  Accepting not weak.  Gratitude not entitlement.  Respect not separation.  Content not ambitious.  And as I complete these thoughts today, I realize that life is going to be what it is. I really don’t know what the future holds. All that really matters is Now.

Post Note:

I still think about those early days. I still feel the emotions as if they were happening right now. This will be with me forever. You can’t change the unchangeable.  This life event transformed me forever, bringing me full face to myself.  I’m grateful and humbled by it.

Acceptance comes when you least expect it – let it happen

imagesI haven’t written much this year about living with a husband with a traumatic brain injury. The truth is – I haven’t had much come up to share. Every time I sat down to compose a “message” nothing would come through. Typical case of writer’s block I guess. At first this was frustrating and then I decided to just let it be and if a pertinent message came through I would write about it. Then, lo and behold, this holiday season I realized that there is something that I can offer. The following comprises a summary of all the lessons I’ve learned about living with someone with a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Realize as you are reading that this is my experience, as I have experienced it.  Take what you get.  Don’t take what you don’t get:

Full acceptance of your particular circumstance with TBI comes when you least expect it – this is a good thing. What this means is that it will happen when you have fully relaxed into what I’ve termed “new normal” – to the point that your life situation is no longer new. It now is simply normal. You can’t really predict when this will be for it will occur when you are ready. And this readiness isn’t something you can force.

The timing of full acceptance occurring is individual. I can’t tell you when it is going to happen. I can’t even tell you IF it will happen – this piece is solely up to you. There is no outward force, philosophy or approach that will make this happen for you. It will and does only happen when you are ready.

The key is to accept.  When I say “accept”, I don’t mean you have to like the situation. It simply means that you realize fully within yourself that it is what it is. You can’t change the circumstances – make it different from what it is. In fact, when this occurs, you will have dropped the compulsion to change and fix. Again – this is a very good thing as you will have made peace with it and with you.

You are not to blame for this. We don’t really know why these things happen. You can spend a lifetime trying to figure it out but you probably won’t get too far. Yes, it is unreasonable. But the fact is, it happened and here you are now. Your job from this point forward is to take responsibility for your feelings and do the best you can to find the support you need to heal and grow into this situation that life has presented to you.

Finally, you have a choice as to how you are going to live your life in this new normal circumstance. It is up to you. You can choose to be defeated and live in unhappy circumstances. Or you can choose to rise to the challenge, get the lessons being offered and grow as a better, deeper more compassionate person. Your choice to do this will bring an uplift first and foremost to you and then everyone else in your life – your world. Whether you are the one with the head injury or the loved one of someone with a head injury, if you choose this “high road” (not necessarily the easy road) you’ll come out on top. I promise. Stick with it.

I truly wish these observations to be helpful; this is what I’ve learned in my personal circumstancebeaufort-sea-canada-sunset-92541-ga of living with someone with a TBI. I ask one thing though and that is that you deeply consider my words and then investigate it for yourself. How does this relate to your experience? Be with whatever comes up for you and … accept.

I wish you the very best in this coming New Year. May your life and your world be peace-filled, prosperous and happy.

The end of the beginning

Yesterday, my husband and I completed his retirement paperwork. He’s been in a “disability” status since his TBI 19 years ago (this coming November). I had no idea this was going to be such a big deal. I mean, seriously, 19 years ago he essentially retired” due to the serious nature of his head injury. However, apparently, this final passage from disability to retirement is an important one and I want to honor it for what it is – closure.

As we walked into the corporate headquarters building where he used to work (that’s where we had to go to complete the paperwork), I felt tears coming to my eyes and pain in my heart. I said aloud to my husband Michael, “After all this time, it is still difficult for me to walk into this building.” He replied back to me, “I feel the same way.” In that moment, it was comforting to know we were on the same page, even though the truth is in spirit we always have been. And it was about so much more than that.

Through the years, I’ve super-glued myself to a place of control and tolerance regarding our financial “situation” the degree to which I really didn’t get until this past month when the retirement process began. I won’t go into all the details, but all the yuck of “control” came out into the open to be seen. In a sense, I hit the wall with it. I broke down. It took me by surprise and forced me to another level of letting go. For the first time I chose to really listen to financial advisors and close friends who have been there with us all along.

You see, through the years I’ve only shared carefully crafted slivers of our financial life with these folks. I was arrogant and thought I knew how to handle it. “They don’t understand what we’re going through” was a common refrain in my head. As much as I hate to admit it – I was playing the victim and the thought of admitting our situation out loud to someone was humiliating; I didn’t want to do it. I was afraid – I would have to face this demon of my own creation. It was going to be painful for me to admit that I couldn’t do this and didn’t know how to manage the situation — but I did it anyway. It was simply time to let this one go.

The result of being completely, gut-honest was, in a word, liberating. As I stepped out from the protective curtain I had erected and told the truth, the grasping for control slipped away. In doing this, I opened up to the ever-present compassionate support of these thoughtful professionals and friends. They were right there (where they always had been), non-judgmental and on it with me. Probably, for the first time, I really listened, considered all the options and most importantly respected their wisdom. The result is that now we’re all on the same page. We’ve made the very best choice for retirement that will benefit us now and in the future.

Now the tears I am experiencing are simply the remnants of letting go of control. It’s just what my body does. So, I let the tears come and realize it is all good. And for those of you who are facing a similar situation – my biggest piece of advice is to trust those people who have been there with you all along. Utilize the skill and knowledge of those professionals – that’s what they get paid to do. Trust your friends who have always been in your corner. Go to them for advice when you know you don’t “know how.” Most importantly, feel grateful for them – feel grateful for the lessons. And…if there are tears, let there be tears. For along with tears there is more love than you can ever possibly imagine. It’s just how the Universe works.

What I discovered at the end of yellow ribbons

A poem

A yellow ribbon of miniature vining roses tells the story of the winding road I've traveled

I wrapped my story in yellow ribbons

Thinking there was a different resolution

Only to discover the reality

That life is what it is.

I wrapped my story in yellow ribbons

Seeking the answer to why this happened

Only to discover that there was no explanation

It just happened.

I wrapped my story in yellow ribbons

Thinking it was all about my husband and son

Only to discover it was about me as well.

I wrapped my story in yellow ribbons

Expecting a return to the comfort of the past

But found instead the power of living

Here and now, anew, moment to moment.

I wrapped my story in yellow ribbons

And found myself suddenly letting go of it all

And happy.

Coming to peace with your TBI story by letting it go…fully

I just published a post on my Balance Point website, my coaching/consulting business that I’ve decided to post here.  I’m doing this because the Balance Point post is about how I found peace through letting go of my husband’s story (which was my story).  It feels relevant to share with you. Why? Well…there’s a story about that :)!

Several months ago I joined a Facebook group for people who have suffered a traumatic brain injury or are the family/caregiver for someone with a TBI.  When my husband had his accident 19 years ago, there really was no such support mechanism – either face-to-face or virtual.  And to tell you the truth, I’m not really the traditional “support group” kind.  It just doesn’t work for me.  No particular reason…until now.  So, I joined the group and read the regular posts and over time began to feel uncomfortable with the format.  Not that it wasn’t serving a purpose but because I noticed a trend of people simply recycling their stories and never coming to resolution.  Those in the group would support one another in recycling the story. They were getting agreement and permission to suffer.  I’m a pretty intuitive person and all I could feel was suffering with no light at the end of the tunnel.  I eventually dropped out of the group.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it is important for people to have a sounding board and a safe space in which to be able to express and process feelings.  And…after a while if there isn’t a mechanism for resolution of the issues, we can get stuck in the story, stuck in the past and become so identified with the details of the story that it then define us.

This is what I saw happening.  I recognized it because I too have done this…until just a couple of weeks ago.  As I’ve related over the course of this blog, I have been in a conscious process of letting go for a while but found I was still holding onto tendrils of the story and my past out of a fear of fully letting go. If I let go then who will I be? It’s subtle and not subtle all at the same time.  Yet, what I discovered at the other end of the “letting go” was simply peace.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  Simply peace.  No worry.  No fear.  Simply peace.

That’s where this blog post comes in and I am sharing it in its entirety below. It is written from somewhat of a “spiritual” perspective yet is applicable to wherever you are in that regard.  I want to make it clear that my intention is not to push my practice on you but simply to share what I’ve learned though listening and letting go.  My hope is that this will assist anyone who reads this blog in coming to resolution – that is if you find yourself holding on as I had been.  Many blessings to you this beautiful spring day.  Enjoy my story of my story:

“I tend to write about themes I’m seeing in my life and I do this because I’ve discovered that oftentimes, those same or similar themes are running in the lives of those around me.  This post is no different, so here’s the “theme”:  to be truly happy you have to stop feeding your story and recycling the past.

What do I mean by that?  We all have a story or stories about the past and how it all relates to the present.  We tend to live in the story and let ourselves be dictated by it. We live in it through letting it define us as this or that.  For example, as I’ve mentioned numerous times, my husband suffered a traumatic brain injury almost 19 years ago.  Until recently, I did not realize the extent to which I had identified with this story and allowed it to dictate my life.  Granted, when you live with someone with a TBI your life is “outfitted” by that outcome.  There are things you have to do, a way of life and decisions and so forth that are now so because of this outcome.  That’s not what I’m talking about.  What I’m speaking of is the identification of this story as “me”.

To illustrate, a couple of weeks ago, I was talking to a new work colleague.  We were getting to know one another and in the course of our conversation the subject of Michael (my husband) came up.  I watched as the same old words came out of my mouth – “He was in a near-fatal automobile accident.  In a coma for 3 weeks, hospitalized for 4 1/2 months….and on and on. He’s fine now, permanently disabled, etc., etc.”  In that moment as I watched me tell this story, I realized how sick I was of it. I even had difficulty getting the words of the story out of my mouth. I ended up just kind of mumbling the words. It was then that it occurred to me that I was complete with it. Done!  Out of the clear blue sky I had suddenly let go.  And in this realization, the story and the past no longer had power over or a hold on me.

The only thing I can figure is that it was simply time for me to drop it. There was no timeline and I didn’t plan on it. And it reminds me of the story of the Buddha, who spent many years seeking enlightenment (union with God).  It wasn’t until he came to a full stop under the Bodhi tree, that he was able to let go of it all.  And in this letting go he was free.  I don’t think anything that dramatic happened to me but I can tell you that it was and is freeing and remains with me.  Now I feel courage, confidence, empowerment and contentment in place of the story.  Sure I’ll be “required” to tell it and I can do that now from a place of deep appreciation for the yellow brick road on which life has placed me.

As usual, all this is my long-winded way of suggesting that if you find yourself struggling or caught up in a story and you can’t seem to let go of the past then look and see if perhaps you might be identified with this story.  In other words, are you seeing that this story defines you – in a way that is holding you back?  If yes, then just see that you are doing this.  Accept it.  By accepting  you don’t have to like it.   It is what it is. To the best of your ability, look for the opportunity and the lessons being handed to you as you walk through it.  See what is here for you now.  Breathe into it.  Write about it.  Cry about it.  Laugh about it.  Scream about it.  If you need to – talk about it. And, when it is time, you’ll find yourself sitting under your own version of the Bodhi tree where you’ll give up the story.  For now though, honor yourself, your experience, your story, your journey.  Just be with yourself wherever you are.

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I love this photo of my son Taylor and husband Michael walking together while we were out hiking one beautiful spring day. Taylor was so attentive to his father that day. It was lovely to witness.

P. S.  There’s a saying that I love coupled with a photo of two people walking together (kinda of like the above photo) – “We’re all just walking one another home.”  Thank you for being with me on my yellow brick road.  Namaste.”

When you’re ready you’re ready and not before

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Here’s something I never thought I’d say: the longer my husband and I live together “post accident” (it’s been 18 years) the odder it seems to say that there’s something wrong with him (e.g. traumatic brain injury). For the most part, I no longer feel or think that way.  This is a good thing.  And it has taken time for me to get to this place.

In looking back, I think what happened with me is that I finally decided to put down the sword of resistance I had been brandishing lo these many years.  As I’ve mentioned in many of my previous posts, I realized that embracing what’s so was a heck of a lot easier.  And…I wasn’t ready to do this until I was ready to do this.  

There was a time when I beat myself up for not getting it before I got it.  But, quite frankly, I don’t think I could “get it” before now – I wasn’t ready.  I wasn’t ready to release the death grip I had on my personal sword of “being right” about how I wanted things to be. I had to wallow in that place and experience how it wasn’t working for me.  I finally saw the light and made the shift.  

As I’m now beginning to walk with this “light” I’m seeing all the areas where I have been holding him back from being completely okay just as he is. For instance, Michael was known pre-accident for his innate, homemade bread-baking skills.  He made the most incredible artisan-style breads – no recipe – just pulled together whatever was in the refrigerator and cupboards and joila – fantastic bread.  Since his accident, he has shown little interest in doing this. I fought this for a long time and tried to figure out ways to interest him in doing it only to be disappointed each time.  I missed the person who loved to do this.  I finally let it drop and then something flipped within me. I realized I had been trying to get him to do something from a past concept vs allowing him to be who he is now.  I accepted the present person just as he is.

For Christmas this year, it came up to give him a book called “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day”.  He loved the book and decided to make this fantastic French bread the day after Christmas. It had that true “artisan” touch that only a bread master could give it.  In a word, it was perfect.  The funny thing is, I don’t know if he’ll ever bake it again. It doesn’t matter.  It felt like a completion of sorts (for both of us).  And it is okay with me if all he ever does now is flip through the pages of the cookbook and oohs and ahhs over the recipes.  If that makes him happy, it’s okay with me.

While I may sometimes miss the “pre-accident” person, I’m happy with this person now. In many ways, I don’t see how he’s all that much different than any other – male – husband :).  We all have our strong days and our “needy” days. As I’ve come to peace with myself, I’ve come to realize that all I want is for him to be happy.  He is and actually has been for a long time. Michael has simply been waiting oh so patiently for me to climb aboard the happy train with him.  Okay. Got it.  All aboard! I’m on now.  

Happy New Year everyone.  May 2012 bring you peace, contentment and prosperity in all aspects of your life. 

Embrace the tragedy…

I was just reading an email message from a friend who just lost his brother to an aggressive form of cancer.  It is the most “full” message I think I’ve received in a long time.  I can feel his experience and that of his family as they reflect on the seemingly normal yet remarkable life his brother led – how he touched everyone with his positive approach to living.  I’m writing about this because I remember how in the midst of the early days of my husband’s traumatic brain injury how I was inspired by what was (and is) truly important in my life.  I venture to say you know what I’m talking about.

I remember being powered by this uplift in a time of tragedy and uncertainty.  To this day, I can “feel” what that felt like back then.  It is a reminder to me that there is more to this life than simply existing.  Through our own personal experience as either the family/caregiver of someone with a TBI or as the survivor of the injury, we each have inspiration of some sort arising out of the experience.  It isn’t necessarily a big, grand plan.  It may simply be the realization that we want to love more and hate less.  Or that life is so short we don’t want to miss the simplicity of living and sharing with those we love.

We each gain strength through this experience we call “tragedy”.  In a sense, we receive a gift of life – a different life – one that opens new doors to how we view it and experience it.  We wouldn’t have these opportunities now were it not for this event that occurred.  At least this is my experience.  I can’t make it be this way for you except to suggest that you sit back and really look at how you’ve grown as a result.  See what is now truly important to you.  In my experience, it is the little things now that matter.  It’s the people in my life who have stuck with me through “thick and thin” even when I wasn’t so much fun to be around.  And…it feels as though had I not embraced the tragedy of my husband’s injury, I would not feel this gratitude that I now experience.  They say that “things happen for a reason”.  I don’t necessarily agree with that because sometimes there simply doesn’t seem to be a reason why things happen – they just do.  However, if there is a reason in my case, it is because it was time for me to grow into who and I am and to learn what love really is.  Thus…I embrace this tragedy for as I said to a friend the other day, “grace and growth simply camouflage as tragedy.”

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays.

“Top Ten” ways my husband’s TBI helped me grow

Even though I would never have asked for what happened to my husband and our family and friends I can now reflect on all that has occurred and see how much I have benefited and grown as a result.  In honor of this just-passed Thanksgiving holiday, here is my “top ten” list of ways this life-changing event helped me grow into who I am today:

1.  Because I was thrust out of my comfort zone into the unknown world of TBI, I dove into myself and got to know the good and the bad.  As a result, I now like what I see and embrace all aspects of me fully.  As a result I also accept others in my life more readily and easily; I realize that people come into my life to acquaint me with myself. I’m grateful.

2.  I was surprised to learn that my husband, even with a fairly significant TBI,  is one of the most normal people I know – what you see is what you get; no games.  He tells it like it is.  And he doesn’t hold onto feelings and emotions and readily sees the absurdities of life.  He pretty much lives in the moment.

3.  My husband’s accident and resulting injury made me face myself and my life and see through what was and wasn’t real and true.

4.  I became a better parent, wife, friend, daughter, sister …

5.  I became more open, patient, honest and accepting of pretty much everything in my life and world.

6.  I discovered that I am not a victim of any situation or circumstance in my life.  I am responsible for my happiness; happiness is an “inside job”.

7.  Even though I don’t have control over difficult things such as my husband’s accident, I know I always have a choice as to how I can face any life situation.

8.  My husband’s accident showed and continues to show me what the possibilities are for my/our life.

9.  I have a much better sense of humor and am much more relaxed in my approach to life.

10.  As I mentioned above, I would not have wished this on us, however, I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned and those lessons to come.  It is all perfect, this life.

Normal is as Normal Does

The last time I wrote a full post, it was about how “new normal” was now “simply normal.”  This is true.  Nothing has changed in this regard.

And…today I had a fine-turning on what that means – for me.  As I’ve shared throughout my many postings, my husband suffered a traumatic brain injury 18 years ago this month.  The result was significant short-term memory loss, confused/crossed memories, significant impairment in his ability to learn new skills and tasks (take in and hold onto new information), impaired initiative, shorter “fuse”, some loss of self-confidence in doing things he once did very easily, perserveration (repeated focus/obsession with thoughts and ideas) in a somewhat OCD manner.  Change is not easy for him because when a situation or routine changes he has to learn the new “status” and it takes time. Balance issues, some double vision and right-sided weakness.  Those are the so-called “negative” effects of his injury.

There are some positive after-effects as well:  5 minutes after he gets upset about something he can’t remember what he was upset about.  He has always had a gentle side but that seems more pronounced now.  He never lost his sense of humor and to this day is able to see the absurdities of life – even more so than in his pre-accident days.  He accepts pretty much whatever comes his way these days.  In essence, he’s in a “good place.”

All of the above is matter of fact for us now.  And as I’ve mentioned before, many memories that he has of his life pre-accident are not his memories; they are often recitations of what people told him he did or liked, preferred or disliked.  In that regard, he often has explanations for past events that are inaccurate and yet often much more entertaining than the truth.

And this is where I still find myself holding onto the past in a weird kind of way.  I still want to correct his stories.  I caught myself doing it again today.  Yep, I went there – full throttle.  And I felt bad about it afterwards.  I felt how uncomfortable it was for the people we were with. So then I proceeded to spend a hour or so internally beating myself up about it until I realized it didn’t bother him one bit – he forgot about it as soon as it happened.  🙂

And then I got it.  I remembered that an important aspect of what I’ve gotten through this experience is the importance of acceptance.  Acceptance of the moment.  Acceptance of not just my husband and his “now” state but also acceptance of my “now” state.  The truth is, I’m going to and I do have my days where I don’t choose to be all sweetness and light.  Some days I’m going to show my warts.  Some days I’m going to go to “the dark side”.  That’s part of my normal.  And it is all okay.

What I’m getting about this is that when you fall off the horse, rather than continue to give yourself a hard time about falling off, simply pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back on the horse.  In the moment, tell the truth, accept what has happened, take responsibility for your actions and then move on.  Oh….don’t forget to give yourself a break.  It is honest and refreshing.