Monday, January 21, 2013

Nine Years Ago: My Brain Inju-versary

Nine years ago I was an associate marketing director for a pretty well-known publishing company. I had just turned in the final manuscript to my first book to a different publisher, and was gearing up for a busy season of balancing my day job with the additional demands of promoting my book. It was January, and as is common in Michigan, we had a day of freezing rain, followed by a day of heavy snow, meaning that the heavy snow hid the slick ice underneath.

Around 1pm, I drove about a 1/2 mile down the road to a convenience store to pick up some snacks. I was single and had the time and motivation to work late that night. I had a new project I was working on and was planning to really dig in. As I walked back to my car, I slipped on some ice and smacked my head on the hard surface below. I don't know what exactly I hit it on. The curb? A column? The sidewalk? I don't know if I passed out, or if I did, for how long. I don't know if anyone saw me or tried to help me. I got up...and drove home. I called a colleague and uttered some nonsense that drew her concern. 

She drove over to my house and found me on my couch, still wearing my wet clothes--I had spilled my drink and was bleeding from my sprained arm. She drove me to the ER. I told the doctor I was fine except for my arm. They x-rayed the arm, but didn't do a CT scan of my brain. My arm was put in a sling and I was sent home to rest and call my regular doctor to follow up. 
Source unknown. I've seen this on Facebook and Pinterest, but with no source.
The details are unclear to me after that, but for some wonderful reason, a friend spent the night with me. I had a horrible headache the next day and went to the hospital. I was told I had a concussion and was referred to our local brain injury program for an evaluation. I was told I couldn't return to work until after my consult...two weeks from then. I thought that was ridiculous.

I have no idea how I spent those two weeks. I think I slept...a lot. When I went for my evaluation, I was skeptical and a little annoyed by all the fuss. I really thought I was fine. I talked to the neurologist, then met with a physical therapist, speech therapist, and occupational therapist. From my point of view, I was wasting their time. Then, when I was sitting on a chair talking to the OT, she asked me to close my eyes and turn my head. I fell out of the chair. And was scared out of my mind.

I was an independent single woman with a mortgage. Even though I was financially stable with no debt besides my mortgage, a healthy savings account, and a growing 401k, I was worried that a few more weeks off would cause me to get too far behind in my goals. I didn't realize that I would never successfully work full time again.

Every January 21, I reflect on how my life has changed since The Fall. My personality has changed a lot. I like to joke that Miss Type A is now a type Z. I just can't handle deadlines, stress, or goals. I live in the moment now. Nine years ago, I craved organization as a way to control my environment. Now I need organization to function. I like to think I am a kinder, more accepting person now. I'm more willing to give people the benefit of the doubt because I know that the outside doesn't always show what's going on inside. 

I don't talk a lot about the fact that according to the government, I am disabled. People tend to have the idea that if you are disabled, you are only as good as your worst day. I do have plenty of bad days. In a typical month, I have a measurable headache for about 25 of them. For 5 or 6 of those days, I can hardly function. And that's after nine years of recovering and learning to live within my limits. If I keep away from crowds, restaurants, stress, bright lights, loud sounds, etc., I have more good days. Sometimes, those I love are more important than my discomfort and I make a sacrifice for the moment knowing I will be paying for it for the next few days, like going to a wedding reception. On the other hand, I often suggest counter options, like meeting a friend at our nice, quiet house instead of a restaurant. And sometimes I put my foot down, like making it clear that my son will never have a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese.
In the last nine years, I have lost a lot:
  1. A job that I loved and the ability to work full time.
  2. The ability to write professionally, including a book contract for the sequel to my first book (the half-completed Getting to I Do After Mom and Dad Said I Don't) and other books in progress.
  3. The ability to remember details of my life after about three months unless I take and review LOTS of photos.
  4. A few friendships.
  5. My entire savings and 401k, in a vain effort to save...
  6. My house.
  7. Freedom to drive on busy or unknown roads, at night, in rain or snow, to go to concerts, or amusement parks, or do activities I loved like playing volleyball, where there is a risk of hitting my head or falling.
  8. The ability to take my health for granted.
  9. The ability to say yes to something without the disclaimer that I may have to cancel if I'm not feeling well that day.
But after nine years, I've made peace with those losses. I don't like them, but I have a hard time remember what it was like before. 

More importantly, nine things I'm grateful for are:
  1. That I am less independent and more open to be interdependent. I'm certain that this has greatly helped my ability to be happily married.
  2. Life in the slow lane. I'm not in a rush for anything. I am grateful for things I did not see before amidst my to do lists and goals.
  3. I am not affected by what people think of me. It isn't that I don't care, but when I am out, all of my energy is focused on keeping track of where my son is, getting the items on my list, and getting safely back home. If I happen to pass someone I know, I may come across as rude, but truly, I don't see anything outside my narrow field of vision. My brain has learned to disregard what my eyes don't need to see.
  4. My brain injury made my heart ready to meet the love of my life. I can't imagine a more perfect match for me. We joke that the old Jen wouldn't have given Niels the time of day, but the brain-injured Jen was able to open her heart to the best thing that ever happened to her.
  5. Becoming mommy to D. I was 32 when I hit my head. When I realized how serious it was, I lost hope that I would ever marry, let alone have a child. D is my miracle boy.
  6. I know who my true friends are. I was pretty flakey after my TBI. I don't blame people for figuring I wasn't worth the effort. I am utterly grateful for those who stuck with me.
  7. I learned to cook and I love doing it.
  8. It is easier for me to prioritize. I can't do everything. That's a given. Things like making my bed take up precious mental energy that I'd rather use on something else. If my son is alive and I've made a meal for our family, it's a good day. Anything else is gravy.
  9. I have a good excuse to nap every day.
We don't talk much about our Christian faith on this blog, not because it isn't important to us, but because it's not the nature of this blog and we want everyone to feel welcome here. But, my faith was a big part of my coming to terms with my brain injury. Several years ago, I met a man who was a neuropsychologist. As I shared a little about what I was going through, and how I was struggling to identify with my new normal, he asked if he could pray with me. I have no idea who that man was, but his words were so healing to me:
May I experience I am now
May I have peace with I am now
May I have patience with I am now
May I show kindness to I am now
May I seek the goodness in I am now
May I renew faithfulness in my I am now
May I show gentleness to I am now
May I exhibit self-control in my thoughts toward I am now.
May I love I am now

Wise words of marriage and parenting advice, too, now that I think about it. 

Yesterday at church, our pastor spoke about weathering the storms in life. A few of the songs we sang really brought me back to those hard first years. Songs like Matt Redman's "Blessed Be Your Name" and Horatio Spafford's "It is Well".

Nine years later, my life is not perfect, but it is very well.

If you'd like to know about how my brain injury has influenced the building of our home and our every day life, check out these posts:
My Spare Spoon (03.13.12)
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  1. Jen - Somehow, along the way, one of us started following the other on Pinterest. I don't remember when, or which one of us followed the other first, but I'm so grateful to have been introduced to you and your blog. Today, I was especially touched by this entry. I too have an anniversary date - for my autoimmune disease - and it too is a day I try to celebrate and be grateful for what I do have and what the disease has brought me, including my husband whom I met after my diagnosis. I have always looked forward to your pins and your insights. Thank you for sharing this, for sharing your struggles and triumphs with an "invisible illness" - thank you for sharing that prayer - I'm going to print it up and put it in my office. God bless you!

    1. Kristin, Thank you so much for your kind note! It always makes me smile when I see that you've repinned something. There are a lot of us walking wounded out there, always nice to meet someone who understands the journey. God bless you, too!

  2. Jen, thanks for sharing this. I'm so glad that you've found peace and gratitude for the new Type Z you! :) From the second I "virtually met" you, I could tell you had a level of sincerity and gratitude for what really matters in life. I am still so grateful for your note last week.

    PS - I live in MI. Where did you live?

    1. Aw, thank you. I lived in Grand Rapids. Loved it there and still get back a few times a year.

  3. Jen, I can't tell you how much and enjoyed this post. I am dealing with similar problems and I was inspired and encouraged by your post. Accepting my new normal has been very hard, I went from being a very organized, detail oriented person to one that has day when I can't remember a conversation a few seconds later. Your post made me feel much less alone.
    I am so glad that you liked my spreadsheet for organizing my links to parties. Without it I can't seem to get through all the steps of linking up.
    I am glad to have found your blog.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and for your kind words. It's been a long process. The first few years post-TBI were pretty miserable. My husband has been a huge help for me to accept my life as it is now. He can often tell what kind of day I'm having by whether dinner is ready or not. If it is, it's been a good day. If it's in process, it's been a busy day (could be good or bad!). If it's not started, he knows what he's in for! :-)

    2. That sounds like my house as well.

  4. Found this post through a comment you made at Blog Maven and was compelled to read it even though I should have been doing other things ;). You've been through a lot! What a reminder to all of us that life can change in an instant. What a beautiful positive attitude you have. Thanks for sharing your story. :)


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