On Kindness

I’ve been silent here for a little while.  It was partially due to this being one of the busiest times of year where I work, but mostly I’ve just felt heartbroken about recent events in the U.S. and around the world.  Police officers killing innocent people….people killing innocent police officers…mass shootings…explosions…rape…mayhem…HATE.  It felt trite to babble about my injury when, even though it flipped my life upside down, it seems so minor in comparison.

Speaking of trite, this may sound base, naive, and idealistic, but I do believe that all of the intentional harms in this world — no matter the spoken or official justifications — come back down to that simple principle:  hate.  You are not like me, and therefore I hate you.  And unfortunately certain people take that all-too-common sentiment and transfer it into action:  You are not like me, and therefore I hate you, and therefore you need to die.

One of the strongest general memories I have of my recovery, especially the first six months, was an overwhelming feeling of total LOVE.  I always have felt so fortunate because of this, as I know not everyone suffering a TBI is so lucky.  Of course my husband was a major source (another thing I try not to take for granted), but the love emanated from everywhere, from everyone I encountered — friends and family, of course, but also complete strangers.  People at airports, grocery stores, doctors’ offices, banks, people walking or even driving on the street — everyone.  They smiled, the moved aside, they held doors, they insisted I go ahead in line, they wished me well.  I presume this stemmed from my sorry physical state; I had black eyes (one of which did not open again for months), a huge black-and-blue protrusion on the side of my temple, and I couldn’t walk unassisted.  People felt sorry for me.

I could go on about this, but my main point is summarized in this beautiful observation:

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If we could just look at every other living creature as if she or he or it were injured and trying so hard just to get through the day, what a magnificent world it would create.

I have been working on using my cane less (another post for another day), and I am so excited by the prospect of one day not using it at all…but as I implied in a previous post, I’m actually a little scared to get rid of it.  I’m scared that I might fall, yes, but I’m also scared of how people will treat me when I don’t have it.  I expect they will be far less patient (even though my brain still does not work the way it used to work); that they will not give me space on the sidewalk even if it’s available, and that my double vision may cause me to run into them, leading to potential irritation and anger; that they won’t give me the benefit of the doubt, or even just smile at me anymore.  Having two free hands instead of one seems fundamentally worth it, but I don’t look forward to those inevitable results. How sad that I would even worry about this.

If a person is filled with enough hate to cause him or her to kill, I am not delusional enough to think s/he would be deterred just by imagining the victims with canes and black eyes.  I do think, however, that if an average person going about his or her day thought about the people s/he meets in that way, life in general might be a little more pleasant for all of us.  So the next time someone cuts you off in traffic, sends you an email that could be a little softer and considerate (understatement, I know), or just seems not to be getting out of your way on the sidewalk, take a breath and remember that every single person alive on earth has troubles and is “injured” in some way, visible or not.  Money, status, beauty, etc. make absolutely no difference.  Just be kind.  Always.

Pass it on.

 

 

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What to Believe…?

After my accident, I was resolutely positive that my injuries were temporary.  Doubt never even entered into the picture, and in spite of any pain or discomfort, it always felt as if I were walking in sunshine, without a cloud in the sky.

Like the countless injuries I endured as a kid, I knew recovery might be difficult, but then it would fade into something that might come up at dinner parties a decade down the road:  “Remember when you had that horrible accident?  That was crazy.”  And I would look wistfully into the distance, and nod, and maybe comment briefly about how it caused me to grow, or how supportive everyone was, and then my dining companions would nod with reverence, and we’d change the topic.  Done.

At first my left eye was involuntarily shut for several weeks.  Gradually, it opened — first a sliver, then a crack…a little more each week, until it reached the heavy-lidded opening it is today.  As it first began to open, my pupil was fixed far as to the left as it could go, and I remember trying to walk down the hallway and banging into the walls like the ball in an arcade game.  But, slowly, it started to move and realign.  Every morning, I would wake up looking at the ceiling fan in our bedroom; as time passed, the two ceiling fans I saw moved closer and closer together, until one morning, there was only one up there.  I still can conjure up the excitement I felt that morning: Finally!  One ceiling fan!

Until I moved.  Then the other fan materialized as if by magic.  But that was okay; this was just another story to file away under Future Dinner Party Conversations (that folder was getting awfully thick).

The problem is that’s where I remain today, about a year and a half after the day I first saw that single fan.  I can see one of everything, IF I tilt my head just “so” and the object of my stare doesn’t move.  I’m unspeakably grateful for that, but it’s really difficult to keep the faith, so to speak.  I hear so much about how the brain takes time to heal, that I should never give up, etc., etc.; but when nothing budges, those kind, supportive words start to feel emptier and emptier.  And when someone else says something to contradict them, it’s easier to believe him.

Take the ophthalmologist I saw recently.  My neurologist referred me to that office because he was hopeful that I would respond to therapy, and I went with some trepidation (more on that in a moment).  When I arrived I followed a nurse into the exam room.  She went through the same tests anyone gets at the eye doctor (like reading the chart with the big “E”), and then the doctor came in.  He literally held a couple of prisms up to my “bad” eye, and when I said I still saw double after approximately two minutes of these “tests,” he told me that I would never improve, and that I should not waste my time trying to do therapy or exercises.  I smiled and thanked him and left the office and cried.

Because I believed him.

I’m not sure that I should believe him, though — for reasons other than just keeping up a positive attitude.  I had visited his office once before, about a decade ago, and it was a giant mess:  I waited forever; the doctor (the father of the gentleman above) was shockingly rude, the office lost my prescription and my information — twice — and when I finally got my prescription, it was so wrong the glasses manufacturer couldn’t believe it (although when he saw the doctor’s name, he said he’d seen it many times before).  I never went back and instead found another, fantastic ophthalmologist and have been a blissful patient there ever since.  (I also got lasick several years pre-accident, so each eye sees just fine…they just see different things.  Hence my confusion at having to go through the rigamarole of reading the “E” chart, and arguing with the nurse that, no, it was not necessary to dilate my pupils…one already is permanently dilated from the accident, for crying out loud.)

On top of that, Dr. No (as in “No Recovery Options”) isn’t even the physician in that office who deals with neuro-ophthalmology.  There is a neuro-ophtalmologist there, but Dr. No’s office said I had to go through Dr. No first, then get another referral from him to see the neuro-doctor.  So I’m in limbo, waiting until my neurologist appointment in October to tell him this story and see what he says.  Maybe I should be more aggressive and call my neurologist’s office now to get a specific referral to the neuro-guy, but honestly, I feel so…defeated, deflated, and dejected.  The last thing I want to do is walk up those stairs again, into the Land of No.   It’s a pretty immature reason to procrastinate with something that possibly could help me, but I can’t bring myself to do it right now.

I don’t know what to believe — the hundreds of voices telling me to keep the faith, or the one that confirmed that one strong, dark voice in the corner of my own mind.  It’s amazing how much weight a few simple words can hold.

Until there is any degree of medical certainty, I’ll just keep moving forward.  The sunlight just is a little dimmer now as the clouds gather above and grow grayer.  I will stay as positive as I can until they turn black and it starts to rain.

 

Crossing the Bridge

I took a long walk today — 15,889 steps to be exact, but who’s counting (other than three different apps on my phone)?  A coworker is out of town and asked me to feed his birds, so to get some vitamin D I decided to go by foot.  The only catch is that he lives on the other side of the bike path…as in THE Bike Path.

One day my husband drove me out to a spot near where my accident occurred, and we walked down and looked at the corner where I lost control (and lost my life as I knew it).  I was bizarrely proud that there still was a dark splotch on the pavement from my “brain blood,” as he so descriptively put it; I had made my mark on the world, literally. The whole experience was so odd, as are so many other things related to that moment; I don’t remember a thing about it, so it felt as if he were showing me the place where some random friend of his crashed, not the place where I crashed.  I felt/feel so far removed from it.

The last thing I really remember is passing the pedestrian bridge that led home, which is about a mile before my own personal Site of Scaffold.  My husband was with me that day (thank goodness), and I had denied his suggestion that we should turn off at the bridge and go home.  No, I said I wanted to push myself and continue to the end of the path, then turn around.

Every day I regret that choice and wish I could go back to that bridge and make that turn.

I had never been back to the bridge…the place where I last remember being “normal,” riding my bike, not realizing how blessed I was to have balance and and the ability to see one of everything, to wear all of my crazy high heels of which I was so fond, to run, to not look like Marty Feldman or Sloth from the Goonies with my droopy eye.

So today I went back, two years and twenty-three days later.  It was a profoundly sad moment full of pathetic self-pity, and I allowed myself just to quietly have it.  I crossed the bridge toward the the bike path and looked down at the stretch of pavement that I last remember, and I thought about that girl from two years ago, and about how free she was.  I watched others pedaling happily along, and I said little prayers for each of them that they would end their rides safely and continue on in their ignorance of just how fortunate they are.

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One thing that bothers me to no end is when I see people riding without helmets. I grew up in an era when we didn’t wear helmets for anything except maybe football — certainly not for riding bicycles, horses, or even motorcycles (at least in my state) — but with all of the information available today, even before my accident I was a proud, card-carrying member of the ATGATT Club (All the Gear, All the Time — a phrase popular among motorcyclists that I applied to riding bicycles).  Even if I was just biking around the block, I strapped on my helmet.  You just never know…and as you do know, I wound up illustrating that point vividly.

I saw a huge number of bare heads out on the trail today, and even more out on the streets — where, you know, cars go.  At one point a huge group of maybe 50 or so riders passed by, and I counted two helmets.  Two!  And there were several kids in that group.  It takes every ounce of willpower for me not to yell out, “Hey!  If you want to keep riding that bike tomorrow, put on a helmet!”  And to be honest, although most of me wants these strangers just to be safe, a small part of me is…well…bitter.  I’m bitter that Ms. ATGATT was the one to crash and literally crack her head open.  I’m so grateful for my “ATGATTism,” of course, considering it saved my life; but I did nothing wrong to which I can point that justifies my accident.  I wore the gear; I paid attention; I bought a good bike and took care of it; I signaled; I followed signs and laws; yet I crashed and my universe heaved upside-down.  Meanwhile, Joe Bro rides in flip-flops, no helmet, and doesn’t even hold the handlebars while he coasts along and plays with his phone.  (Not exaggerating.)

It’s not healthy to travel down this “Why Me?” path, of course.  I had my little bitter, self-pitying moment on the bridge, and then I turned the judgmental thoughts to myself.  Maybe Joe Bro does not appreciate how lucky he is to be able to ride his bike and balance and not have a care in the world, but I also was not being very appreciative of my ability to walk, even if it is with a cane…of my ability to have two eyes that can see, even if it is double vision sometimes…and of course for the friends and family and rock of a man who held me up when I was falling (often literally).

So I crossed the bridge, fed the birds, and then crossed the bridge again to go home.  I paid homage to that girl from two years ago, but also to the woman of today who overcame (or at least is overcoming) her TBI.  And I am thankful for the bridge that remains between the two.

Oh Yes, I’m the Great Pretender

Even before my accident, I suffered from an acute case of Imposter Syndrome.  I work in academia, where credentials and title are paramount, and glorification of those with the best education, the most publications, the best teaching awards, etc. is the norm. Unfortunately it often seems that tearing down anyone with any lesser degree of qualification is right up there, too.  I usually find myself the object in the latter category.

It’s a world of backhanded “compliments” and passive-aggressive put-downs, and it can get to you. In fact, I just received a general solicitation for an interview from someone conducting research on bullying in academia (among teachers, not students). I stared at the message for several minutes, but ultimately deleted it.  What if something I said made me identifiable?

I am not tenured or tenure-track, which is Mistake #1 — not that I chose that situation; I just gratefully (and somewhat unwittingly) took a job in the midst of a major recession.  Not having tenure makes you worth less — not quite worthless, but you might feel that way sometimes.  A friend tells the story of how he took a similar position, and a tenured colleague came to his office and said, “So, how does it feel knowing that you’ll be doing twice the work I do for half the money?”  This is such an accepted state of affairs, the speaker considered this good-natured banter.

Because I’m not on the tenure track, I’m not expected to produce scholarship; but I do anyway, because I (somewhat masochistically) enjoy it, and honestly I think it just looks good, both for my institution and for me.  Some people are impressed — including, most importantly, the head of my school — but many tenured teachers just crinkle their noses and ask, “Why?”  I also was denied admission to a scholarship retreat simply because of my status.

On the second day after returning to my office after my medical leave, my supervisor berated me for spending my time on things like publishing, admitting that s/he felt that way even before my accident, and “encouraging” me to stop.  (I use quotation marks because the actual words were, “You make BAD decisions.  I want to be perfectly clear:  YOU MAKE BAD DECISIONS!”  This was repeated more than twice, with a fist pounding on the desk a few times for good measure.  I cried — but not until it was over and I was alone. Mustn’t appear phased in front of the speaker.)

I should note that I never once let engaging in things like scholarship prevent me from completing my expected duties.  I research and write in the dark — whether it’s hours before the day begins or hours after it ends — and I write in small blocks of 30-60 minutes at a time.

Recently I received a group email from a tenured coworker about a graduate from our institution who now also works as a teacher.  My colleague was so excited to share that “one of our own is in the academy.”  Of course I also attended the same institution — I was in the email author’s class, actually, and my office is now about six feet away — but apparently I don’t count.

This particular post comes on the heel of receiving a rejection from Harvard for a proposal I sent to present at a conference there.  When I received the email solicitation a few months ago, my jaw dropped because this meeting has the exact same title as the scholarship piece I had just spent months writing.  I was so excited, thinking that maybe this would help earn at least a little more of my colleagues’ respect…but, nope.  Not this year.

So all of this contributes to my Imposter Syndrome — the feeling that I do not belong in this career, and that it was an accident that I ever got this job in the first place, let alone that I have been permitted to keep it.

Add to it my delightful TBI, and it becomes like a snowball barreling down a wintry mountain, gathering speed and girth until it’s like a big out-of-control truck screaming down the freeway, taking out everything in its path.  Not only did I feel as if I wasn’t smart enough, but now my already-inadequate brain has been damaged.  It takes me twice as long to read, to write, to plan, to work.  I have aphasia, so sometimes I just have to type whatever word keeps popping into my head (“onion”), hoping that later I will remember the word I really wanted to write (“apple”).  My writing becomes its own foreign language, and I just have to hope that I can access my own personal Rosetta Stone to decipher it later.  Nevermind my fervent prayers that this not happen to me while lecturing to a class.

Sometimes I wonder what on earth I’m doing.  Melodramatic though this may be, it feels as if all the forces in the universe are working against me in this job, and I know I would be exponentially happier if I just…left.  (I know, because in spite of dealing with the trauma and pain from my accident, I look back on my medical leave with nostalgic fondness.  Seriously.)  I see all of these YouTube clips and essays and poems and whatnot urging the watcher or reader to “be present,” to enjoy life because it is so short, not to waste it all in a cubicle because that’s what elderly people on their deathbeds regret, etc., etc., etc….and I get that.  I literally almost died, so I more than understand the temporal nature of life.  But I am the primary wage earner in my house, and we have bills.  And a mortgage.  And we need food, and clothes, and other essentials.  And we are not that close to retirement.  Am I supposed to pay for these things through videotaping myself hiking on a beautiful mountainside while talking about how other people should quit their crappy jobs and start enjoying life?

I was out for a walk yesterday (since that’s the main form of exercise I can do now), listening to music, and an old, somewhat-obscure Don Henley song came on, “Lilah.” The verse that continues to stick out in my mind is, “Oh Lilah, this ground we hallow is ours to tend but not to keep.”  Poetically, I was walking through a cemetery at the time.

He’s right, of course.  We can live here on earth, tend our land (so to speak), deem certain things sacred (or “hallowed”) and propagate that designation throughout our lives, but we can’t keep anything.  It’s all on loan.  I thought of sacred burial grounds that now serve as foundations for shopping malls and parking lots — modern “hallowed ground.”

So I suppose nothing really matters (nod to the sage poet Madonna for that particular revelation).  I may feel like The Great Pretender in my job, and maybe that’s false and maybe it’s not.  Maybe I’m really not bright enough to hang with that crowd.  But does it matter?  In the short-term, maybe, but not in the end.  So when I find myself embroiled in these feelings of stifling inadequacy and comparison, I guess I need to reflect on that simple lyric and remember that while this may feel vitally important — although this ground is hallowed right now — it’s all temporary.  It’s ours to tend but not to keep.

So if you, too, feel like The Great Pretender — whether it’s in your job, your hobby, or just your daily life as you try to remember how to act like a normal member of society without a TBI (or other ailment) — and you reel under the judgments of others, remember that it may feel like it matters right now, but it’s transient.  Those opinions are theirs to have but not to keep.

As for me, I’m just going to keep going for now…unless we discover a [legal] way to negate our expenses other than by, you know, paying them.  Or if I can crack the code to becoming the next Casey Neistat and make a living creating uncannily addictive YouTube videos, look for my series where I hobble around in inspiring locales encouraging viewers to quit their jobs and do the same.

Crashiversary

Today marks two years.

If the title of this post and subject of this blog don’t give it away, I’m referring to the accident that took me from myself.  The day I died.

That sounds overdramatic, but that’s what it feels like: the anniversary of the death of a loved one.  My mother passed away from a terrible bout with cancer four years ago — I’m always grateful that it was before my accident, which itself may have killed her — and how I feel on the anniversary of her passing is the closest feeling to how I feel now.

Except, somehow, selfish though it may sound, this is worse.

Obviously I was “closer” to myself than I was to anyone else, even my mother, and now I find myself in this bizarre limbo of “me,” but…not. And there is that wicked flicker of a spark in the back of my mind — once a bright, crackling fire — that whispers about who I once was, “She might still come back…just be patient and stay positive…” And while I secretly blow on that spark from time to time, lest it extinguish under the weight of a doubt-shaped snuffer, I still mourn the split-second loss of that person, that friend of mine, and I flounder in a pool of regret regarding all of the things she didn’t think she was: Beautiful. Smart. Worthy.

There were moments when she felt so fat and ugly that she would cry before leaving the house, and sometimes opt instead not to leave at all. (She really wasn’t either of those things.) She constantly felt like an imposter in her career, wondering how on earth her employers could have been misguided enough to hire her, let alone allow her to stay.

Now, I stare dejectedly at the reflection in the mirror, noting my lazy eye and drooping lid, the discoloration at the impact point, and the bizarre acne likely resulting from hijacked hormones and confused neural processing, and I remember how brightly her blue eyes would twinkle under their long lashes.  I go to work early and stay there late, reading documents so much more slowly now, writing reminder note after reminder note in an attempt to stay on top of everything and not give anyone an excuse to think that I am not “back to normal” (even though I’m not)…and I miss her.  I wish I could go back in time — what an understatement — and tell her to listen to her huge-hearted husband when he told her over and over again how wrong she was about her insecurities. He was right.

Not only that, but she was just really cool. She met that huge-hearted man because she was one of the only girls to join a particular car club of which he also was a member, and they used to race together (primarily autocross, with a rallycross or two thrown in for good measure). After they married, she got her M1 license joined him on two-wheeled adventures, both motorized and not. (Despite common fears concerning motorcycles, ironically it was the not-motorized version that wound up killing her.)

On her own, she was one heck of a performer.  She sang, she acted, she danced. She played the lead in multiple musicals and dramatic “straight plays” in three different states; she completed professional training in voice, both classical and popular styles; and she played the guitar — although only once in front of an audience…she was still working on that particular skill.  (I’m still holding out hope that someone will write a musical about a woman who walks with a cane.)  One of her favorite moments on stage was one evening when she was belting out a lengthy note in “Pearl’s a Singer” from Smokey Joe’s Café.  She had arranged it so the band would stop and allow her to hold the note as long as she could (which was a really long time!) before continuing.  She would hold the note, then pause for about one second while the band started back up.  On that particular night, during that one second of pause, a man in the audience yelled, “WOW,” and the audience erupted in applause, drawing that second into closer to a minute before she could reenter the song and finish it. I’m not sure why that particular moment was so special; she had earned mid-song applause and caused involuntary “wows” before, and even made a few people cry just by singing a sad song, but for some reason, it stands out. She was an artist, and at that moment, she was truly at one with her art.

Looking back, I can’t believe how much she doubted herself. She never thought she was good enough for just about anything.  If only she could look ahead to 2014 and see how much she had back then!

I suppose that’s the lesson in this crashiversary reflection: Be grateful.  If someone is reading this whose life has not been flipped upside-down by something (accident or otherwise), then please, be thankful for who you are and what you have been given. It’s probably a lot more than you think.

And if someone is reading this whose life HAS been flipped upside-down, then please, also be grateful.  Be grateful to be alive, yes — as I’m sure you have heard from hundreds of well-wishers who don’t know what else to say — but be grateful beyond that for what you still have.  It’s not always (ever?) easy, especially if you ever find yourself wishing that the accident had taken both of you (the previous “you” along with the current version).  I may not be able to drive, or ride motorcycles, or perform any longer (although I’m still holding out hope for someone to write a musical about an ingenue who walks with a cane), but I still can do good for the world, even if only in my own small ways. I still can read and write, even if it takes twice as long as it used to take. I still can spend time with and enjoy loved ones. And I can be grateful for the memories that the other “me” created before she passed, bittersweet though they may be.

I know that, as accident victims go, I’m really, really lucky. I know there are many who suffer a TBI and can’t do many of those things, and I hope I don’t sound condescending as I extol the virtues of gratitude when so many things actually were NOT taken from me. This is just me, trying to make sense of where — and who — I am now, and trying to find some degree of positivity in the transformation.

 

Every Day I’m Hobblin’

For the first month or so post-accident, I didn’t use a cane.  I was 100% sure that my double vision was temporary, and I didn’t want to bother…so I (almost literally) just hugged the wall wherever I went, or leaned (definitely literally) on my husband.  Then, as I started venturing outside for an occasional walk by myself, I started to rely on his photography monopod (tripod with one leg).  One day, as I shuffled past the local pharmacy, wincing if I accidentally leaned against the screw sticking out of the top of the monopod (the attachment for the camera), I decided to bite the bullet and just buy an inexpensive cane.  Initially I reached for a basic black model — I work in a professional environment, after all — but then put it back in favor of one with colorful butterflies.  I figured that I would only be using it for a couple of weeks, so I might as well have some fun with it.

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That was almost two years ago, and I’ve now had to replace the rubber stop at the bottom due to wear twice. I’ve grown very attached to my pretty butterflies cane, not only because it’s fun and a surprisingly good conversation starter, but because it helps people understand that I’m not as healthy as they might assume upon first glance, and in that sense it manages expectations.  Because of that, I’m actually a little grateful that I need it, because most TBI survivors look perfectly fine when they most assuredly are not.  Of course people only need to look a little more closely at my eyes to see that something isn’t quite right (especially if I look at them with my “bad eye” and my “good eye” darts up like I’m auditioning for The Exorcist), but my cane alerts everyone right away.  Quite honestly, I’d also by lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it a little bit when people give me an extra few inches on the sidewalk, the last open seat on the subway, and room to board first at the airport.  Most importantly, though, my cane has kept me from falling — and possibly hitting my head again — on more occasions than I can count.  As much as I’m getting somewhat used to walking around in what feels like a funhouse hall of mirrors, there are times when I just can’t determine the distance between two points very well (even if they are as close as one step on the stairs and another), and my depth perception is far from stellar.

Still, I worry sometimes that I rely on too much on my cane.  For perhaps about 80% of the time, I feel relatively stable, especially if I’m in a familiar environment.  I don’t use it at all in my house (although I also fall down from time to time there, but thankfully most surfaces are soft).  I am tempted to leave my cane at home if I go run an errand with my husband, but as soon as I leave without it, I feel a wave of panic.  “What if…?”  My cane has become a crutch, both physically and emotionally.

I went to lunch with an old work mentor — someone who is a little older, but whose opinions I respect very much — and at one point he asked me about how much I really need it.  Granted, this person does not understand TBI at all; for one of several examples, he came to visit me a couple of weeks after I left the hospital and brought detailed numerical spreadsheets to discuss…as if I could even read or understand a billboard at that point.  He absolutely, without a doubt means well; he just doesn’t get it.

So he asked me about my cane, and suggested that I might consider leaving it at home when I come to work.  When I assured him that that was not going to happen, he modified his advice to leaving it in my office whenever I attend meetings with supervisors.  “It’s a reminder of your injury,” he said.  (You’re telling me!)  His point was that it suggests to others that I am not 100% back to normal, and hence able to do my job.  Ironically, the very thing that made me grateful for my cane was, at least to him, going to keep me from reaching my potential in my career (at best), or cost me my job itself (at worst).  He compared leaving my cane in my office to stopping at the restroom to comb his hair before meeting with someone important.

Putting aside the complete offensiveness of comparing my TBI to a cowlick, his comments have stuck with me.  Do I really need my cane?  How often do I really feel like I’m going to fall?  And if I do fall, isn’t there almost always something around with which to brace myself, whether a wall or a rail or a person (hopefully not a random stranger)?  I am just so utterly terrified of the notion of falling and hitting my head again…but how likely is that actually to happen?

It’s funny; when I bought my cane I had a vision of it sitting up in our attic in future years, dusty and unused, and I saw myself climbing up there to get Christmas decorations or something, seeing it, and remembering with a wry smile this challenging period of my life.  The corners of my mouth might turn up a bit, and I would shake my head and be grateful about what I’d overcome.  Then I would climb back downstairs and continue on with my normal, happy, cane-less, TBI-less life.  So much for that.  How does that saying go?  “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”

For the time being, I’m still hobbling around with my butterflies, but I’m hopeful that maybe someday I won’t need it any longer.

Except maybe at the airport…

Changes

Changes

I parted my hair on the other side today.

That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but for over three decades, I’ve parted it on the left.  I always kind of liked my left side better (silly as that sounds), so I figured I should frame it more, maybe show it off a little bit.  (Thus are the complex inner workings of the teenaged female mind.)  Now the short little wisps at my hairline are completely confused, and instead of just lying the way I comb them, they stand straight up in protest.  “Why are you trying to make such a big change after so long?!”

Why, indeed.  That’s a dangerous question — why.  I ask it quite often myself, though I try to avoid it.  Why didn’t I just take the turn to go home while out riding my bike two years ago?  Why must I still see double, walk with a cane, and look in such a way that I’ll probably never feel pretty again?  Why bother parting my hair on the other side?

Well, the answer to the last question is easy enough, and is somewhat related to the others.  I decided to part my hair differently because my left is no longer my best side, by a long shot. Now my left eyelid droops, my left pupil is permanently dilated, and my left eye itself lazes off to the left.  Now I figure if my hair is going to fall forward and obscure something, it should be that, maybe hide it a little bit. It’s that brilliant teenaged logic coming through.

You see, I didn’t take that turn to go home while out riding my bike two years ago.  It was a beautiful day, I had put on some weight (sheesh, can this post get any more vain?), and I wanted to push myself further.  My husband was with me (thankfully; I usually rode alone) and it was his suggestion just to head back.  I refused determinedly; I wanted to lose a few pounds before taking a trip back to our hometown the next month, and cutting the ride short wouldn’t help.

I don’t remember too much else.  I recall the next mile or so of our ride, and then my memory just cuts out.  I’m grateful for that.  The next thing I remember is being at home, in my bed, and my husband was giving me…something.  Tea?  Hydrocodone?  Something.  And there are foggy images from over the following weeks (or so I’m told) of friends and coworkers standing or sitting in my bedroom talking to me — about what, I have no idea.  I do remember thinking how odd it was to see coworkers in my bedroom, though.

I’m told that during that bike ride, I lost control and was “high sided,” or pitched forward off the bike.  (The theory with the most traction — pun intended — has to do with low tire pressure in the back tire.  Apparently it lost traction somehow, slid sideways, and then caught traction again while aiming in a different direction than the front tire.  Try Googling “high side” and you’ll see what I mean, although most videos are of motorcycles.)  I had no time to brace myself, and I landed full-force at about sixteen miles per hour onto my head.  My husband describes how he held me still while “chunky brain blood” (delightful) gushed out of my nose and an orange-sized lump protruded from my left temple.  In case you’re wondering, yes, I was wearing a helmet.  That is the main reason I’m here and able to type this today.

For several days, I was in the hospital, and I consider myself incredibly fortunate that I came home shortly thereafter and did not have to have surgery.  It could have been so, SO much worse.

When I start asking those nasty “why” questions, I try to remember that:  It could have been so, SO much worse.  But honestly, I still have a tough time dealing with all of this, even though I realize I should be thankful.  In literally a matter of seconds, my life was flipped on its side, and I can no longer do almost anything that made me “me” before.  Hence this blog.  In the process of helping me cope a bit better, I hope that if someone else dealing with TBI finds it, my oversharing (hence the TMI) might help that person feel less alone and maybe cope a little better, too.

In the meantime, I guess I need to find some good hairspray to help convince those unruly wisps at my hairline that change is inevitable, and that they can deal with it better if they stick together.