48: Finding the Glorious

48: Finding the Glorious

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries

Finding the Glorious

The ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand in times of challenge and controversy.

~Martin Luther King, Jr.

It has been six and a half years since I had a life-changing head injury from a car accident. It felt like being catapulted into a vast sense of nowhere, inner connections shattered. I have been rebuilding ever since. I had to learn how to move, think, feel, behave, and even interpret gravity all over again.

It’s funny and serious at the same time. When you have a brain injury, what you use to interpret the world is not working properly, so you are not able to have an accurate sense of how injured you are. You have no idea—literally, because you don’t have the neural connections to have that idea. You don’t know that there is an issue until it shouts hello from the rooftops of your life through ongoing significant challenges for you and often everyone around you, too. I understand why caregivers I’ve spoken with have said, “It’s like the person disappears.” It is true. You may be there physically, yet the whole you that used to be there can’t show up in this world because you don’t have the wiring to do so, until hopefully, the connections are rebuilt.

When your ability to function collapses around you, you lose your sense of yourself. It is then, amidst the rubble, that you have the opportunity to build a new way of being by choice. It will look and feel different. But, different can be better. What if they couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again because they were trying to put him back together like he was, not like he was now designed to be?

What does it feel like for some of us with traumatic brain injury? If you can, imagine having a box in front of you that is about a foot wide and you want to pick it up. However, your hands stay three feet apart, so there are one-foot gaps between your hands and the box. If your brain is well enough, you can tell there are gaps. If it’s not, you might only be able to see that the box is not moving, if you can even comprehend that. I found that it was only from asking others around me for supportive feedback that I began to understand what my “slides on a banana peel” looked like and then use that information to change my life via therapists and my own actions.

The accident happened on May 9, 2007, at 7:30 a.m. I was driving in fast-moving rush hour traffic. The skies were a cloudless blue and the roads beneath me were dry. Then everyone came to a stop except for the driver behind me. Slam! I learned what it means when “life changes in an instant.” A big commercial truck rear-ended my vehicle at an estimated forty to fifty miles per hour.

I had to learn in great part to talk, read and write again. It was two years before I could read a book. I love Maya Angelou’s writing and was drawn to her book Letter to My Daughter. When I opened it I found that it had short chapters, wide spacing and non-serif font so I gave it a try and it worked! To simplify the visual input even further, I would cover the opposite page and part of the page I was reading with a clean white sheet to compensate for my reduced level of cognitive processing. A friend of mine told me that before the accident I talked so fast she couldn’t keep up with me; after the accident I spoke so slowly she couldn’t remember what I’d last said.

One of the greatest challenges has been and still is my extreme sensory sensitivity. In the beginning I could not process any amount of visual input: sound, movement, or vibration. The only place that my nervous system would begin to relax was in a completely dark and silent room, a controlled environment hard to come by in this noisy, bustling world. The sounds of the heat coming on in the house, the flushing of a toilet, were nerve-wracking. Water running from the faucet into the metal kitchen sink was like thunder pounding in my head. I would shut the water off and lie down on the floor in tremors allowing my body and brain to reintegrate enough for the tremors to subside. I would rest there on the kitchen floor until I felt well enough to make my way to my bed, crawl into the haven of my sheets and pray for more recovery.

It was three months before I realized I didn’t have my sense of humor. The fact that I could realize this was a huge step forward. Upon recognizing this I intently told the “construction crew” of my brain to get to work! I visualized connections being rebuilt and spent time feeling and watching this happening. It took about six months before my sense of humor started to come back. Humor is a great tool for making it through life, especially challenging times. I have spent years now with ear filters, noise-cancelling headphones, and dark sunglasses as needed to compensate for my sensory sensitivity.

Some of what has made it possible for me to continue to move forward today includes the grace of time and space coupled with large doses of love, patience, forgiveness, fortitude, releasing the challenges, grieving as needed, and a continual openness to see and receive the light at the end of many tunnels.

My cognitive therapist shared with me that most of her clients over time have said that their brain injury was one of the greatest gifts they had ever received. I am starting to see this as I continue my recovery: the gifts of being able to listen to music, to dance, to sing, to spend time with friends, to exercise, to appreciate life. What incredible, amazing, outrageously magnificent selves we are to live, breathe and function as human beings. We have no idea how absolutely stunningly capable we are and how glorious and scrumptious this world is when we connect with it inside and out.

~Kim Conrad

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