Changing Oneself Alters Perception of Others

It has been a little over twenty-eight months since I obtained a TBI, traumatic brain injury. Within the first year of my return to my family, it was apparent to other close loved ones that I changed; but it was not so evident to me. Upon returning home, I was given a list of restrictions, etc. which was very difficult to appreciate. The goal of the medical staff was for me to continue to improve and not have another “unhappy surprise.” Outside of being directed to wear a brace, I physically felt largely the same. Furthermore, my wittiness was as strong or grew stronger, meaning that it was EVEN LESS evident that there were changes.

I am very honored to have my husband, Dan, to have ever been a part of my life, let alone to endure through all of our trials and tribulations. One of the most traumatic and dramatic hurdles has been my recovery physically, mentally, and emotionally. (Note: I AM NOT claiming I am recovered to the point of being exactly the person I was before I fell.)

Through this time since my return home, my husband has, on occasion, told me what I “need to do,” whether it’s based on emotional changes or financial struggles. He and I have always been a team, but somehow, I lost part of “the we” (not to be confused with the Wii). In essence, when I have been told what I need to do, it has felt like there is / was a focus upon how I have changed, etc. I LOST SIGHT OF THE WE. This means that I lost sight and perspective of he and I still being a team. It has, until this week, always seemed like just another way to articulate how I am different and what I NEED TO DO to improve things.

Part of this discombobulation is that this was not articulated as a mindset of teamwork until very recently. For there was no onset focus stated in a way that kept me feeling secure and calm as I am coached on what I need to do for THE TEAM.

My reason for focusing on this is, just like with anything else, there are two sides to every coin. Furthermore, as my husband states, “What you focus on, you create.” I felt isolated along with feeling that there was focus on how much I need to change versus new goals for us as a team. This is because this was how I placed my attention. The flip-side of this is that my husband did not remind me that we as a team STILL ARE A TEAM.

I feel that with many physical changes that  there is a tendency to feel isolated. The thing is that the one feeling this way is often the one causing it him/herself, taking away the union that he/she has with someone. We mustn’t lose sight that we still are the same person, even if we have changed. Furthermore, those people who are advising us down a different or altered road means that those persons ARE STILL ON THE JOURNEY WITH US!!!! It is even good to inquire about that team still remaining. This would help the caregiver understand part of the fight; furthermore, it offers emotional support along with confirmation logically that this IS NOT something lost. (Otherwise that person or people WOULD NOT be communicating with you, let alone offering advice as to what should be done to improve life (for all parties involved.)

When we can become more in touch with whom we have not lost and not thwart ourselves away from them, due to feeling rejected, this adds to the comfort we have along with help the supporters to not lose love or appreciation for us.

People Change, Bodies Change, Minds Change, Memories Change

It has been just shy of 27 months since I obtained a traumatic brain injury. Upon my return home, I learned that I loss my sense of smell and flavor (anosmia). At the beginning of this stage, I was filled with anger, grief, and frustration. I will not lie; some of that is still there. I took pride in cooking whole foods and using recipes as suggestions regarding the herbs offering flavor. I fought eating and not eating. I won’t lie.. I still do.

However, along my journey I realized what I still have: textures and sensations in foods. Well, to be honest, the joke has still been it all tastes like chicken. When I have eaten or even prepared to eat, I have dissected the tastes (not flavors) of foods along with textures that they may offer to the point of writing about this here.

There is a new discovery. My husband has said, “What you focus on, you create.” Well, I have focused on what I still have. The result is my memories have altered. I do not remember the flavors of foods. I know to many this may sound very sad; however, that is not my goal here. I am here to offer encouragement, for the world (this condition included) is full of pain and grief. To not remember the flavor of foods is a wonderful thing, because WHAT I DO REMEMBER is textures of food and that I have appreciated even from childhood! I don’t remember the flavors of foods and the pleasure they brought. To be honest, I never really loved eating due to some early childhood experiences. There’s a song called “Don’t Know What You Got Til It’s Gone.” Well, you don’t miss things when you don’t remember them, which is far healthier than memories of what potentially will never be again. We cannot live in the future nor the past, and the best way to live is moment by moment and appreciating what you do have instead of hoping for what was and / or may never be (again).

The most miraculous thing in this experience is I did not cognitively purposely lose my memories of foods’ flavors. The only thing I did is to live in the present and try to appreciate my new life without smell.

I used to drive into the driveway of our old house from where I fell from its balcony. I pined for how and who I was. I pined for the memories that we created in that house. I grieved that I could not go back in time. I now no longer visit that driveway and peer on all sides of the house. I am focused on living in the present. The outcome is far healthier and more beautiful than focusing on what was and will never be again.

The mind is a beautiful thing. My mind has adjusted and programmed my memories based on my willful mindset of how I am living and aim to continue living: in the present.. not in the past nor the future.

If I can do this, then you can too. I will say this was done with the intent on living in the now; however, I was not directly looking to forget flavor. It happened unbeknownst to me. I hope that you will join me and find more joy  and peace in your life as well.

Redefinition, Reinvention, and Stumbling on the “Old Me” Who is Still There

In many ways, there are injuries and events that change who we are. I could write about TBIs and all the changes that occur physically, emotionally, behaviorally, and more. However, I am going to slant this outside of the medical world before formally venturing there.

Twenty-six years ago I was a waitress/server. After I became pregnant with my oldest, I quit work so I could be a stay-at-home mother. After that, her father and I eventually visited the restaurant franchise where I was a server. Even though I was not in uniform, my mind and emotions took on that role, as if I was on shift at that very moment. I heard the orders being called to the cooks, the salad bar’s containers that needed to be refilled and more. I could not relax. Here I was a server and could not be a leisurely patron at this restaurant. I even found that at many restaurants I would still mentally be working. It was void of being able to relax.

After a while, I thought to myself how ridiculous this was and how I should place myself in the role of being a patron/customer. It developed to the point that every once in a while I request the server for something I would prefer, which took some gumption, as I always saw it as making the server be put under more demands and stress. In other words, I had to reinvent how I saw myself along with my actions at a restaurant. I have always been independent and have never reveled in being served. That waitress is still in me.. the older version of me is still there. I stack the plates, etc. when my party and I are preparing to leave and pay the bill.  Actually, it is comforting for me to do this for the server. I have had that sort of job.

So, I have a new me, whether I want her or not. When you have had a brain injury, things change. For some, there can be loss of limbs or ability to move a portion of their bodies in the same way they could. I have that a little but not as much as emotional, psychological and behavioral changes. I used to keep my thoughts and feelings totally to myself. I still do that some; however, I don’t do it all the time. I have come to learn that some of these changes are healthy for me, whereas “stuffing” all thoughts and feelings may be more amiable to everyone else, it is more unhealthy for the person doing this. So, the first step is to see the good sides in the “new hand” that life has given.

My injury took place August 24, 2014. My battle for the “old me” unknowingly began around October 3, 2014, as that was the day I was released from the hospital. I did not know I was fighting until around May 16, 2015. All I saw for so long is everything I am not anymore. It is as if anything I appreciated about myself seemed to be gone. HOWEVER, this is not true. I was a daredevil from the time I was a little girl. I pushed the bar with the restrictions with my return home. Yes, I know that going beyond what is recommended/advised by the medical field is not the wisest choice. I wanted to be free, and felt like all of these rules were caging me. Upon a recent conversation with my husband, I revealed all the different ways I have crept beyond the line or attempted to do so from decades ago. These are all fun moments to remember BUT NOT ONLY THAT! Just speaking about them HAD ME REALIZE SHE’S STILL THERE!!! Sure, I’m more vocal and I see how that can be frustrating. Yes, my daredevil side is there; however, THAT’S PART OF THE OLD ME! What that means is I’m not an alien to myself. Sure, there are facets about me that have changed, but I have loved music and singing since I had a gym set. I have been a daredevil for most all my life at least a little. So, I have changed. The grief is a lot less coming to grips with the facets and characteristics/traits of me that HAVE NOT CHANGED.I am not saying all my “old ways” are the safest or even advisable to maintain; however, there is more inward peace and acceptance of myself between the combination of understanding the good things that have developed and the fun ones that are still there.

The other beauty in this is the ability to dream and not only be redefined by the event itself but also to reinvent oneself. Part of my reinvention is to write about such things to help others.. not for accolades, just to help others in ways I may or may never know. In the past, I only had hats relating to my family (friends are family too) and not others. Now, I have invented the idea of creating a firsthand voice and responding to those I know and do not know. I would not be writing about anosmia or all these changes if it were not for that TBI. However, there is NEW compassion and NEW comraderie along with a NEW zeal to write my positive experiences to help all those others out there fighting their own battles. As aforementioned, no accolades are sought. Giving with no expected results is quite wonderful.

Overcoming CoDependence Regarding My Parents

I have not lived with my parents in over twenty-seven years. I remember the day I was made to leave.  It was February 14, 1989, with a  verbal “Happy Valentine’s Day” wish from my mother.

I was never allowed to have my own thoughts or feelings when I was with my parents without being chastised. It was considered “disrespectful” EVERY time. This is not to mention all the forms of abuse that occurred in their house.

My family consisted of my brother who was seven years younger than I along with my sister who is two years younger than I. When she was born, she was a normal, cognitive baby girl. However, nine months into her life, she had a TBI before it was as well-known as it is today, causing her to be both autistic and mentally retarded. She does not even know me or recognize me. My mother was caring for her at the time of this… “accident.”

When I ventured on my own, I craved my toxic mother and passive father, who had his own means of administering abuse. I cannot tell you why I missed them. Maybe because I wanted approval. I WANTED and CRAVED to feel loved by them, and that dream did not come true.

I am a military brat, although my father did live a civilian life for about five years. Within my eighteen years, I lived in four states and eight residences that I remember from the ages three to eighteen (there were more relocations before this, but I do not remember the houses or even the names of the towns).

When I was fourteen, we moved from Georgia to Alabama. Sadly, it took me until the fourth  year to adjust to Georgia, and it crushed me to move. I even begged for my parents to let us live there until I graduated, as it was spring of my freshman year of high school when we moved. At this time, my emotions were already on a downward spiral. That summer, I lost my virginity, and my mom walked in on me at the end of this act. In essence, MY PARENTS KNEW. About half a year or year later, we moved into another house in the same town. Between the move and what seemed to be my father not giving me attention at all, let alone he’d wipe my kisses off his face, it caused me to feel very unloved.. that he didn’t love me. My response was an occasional cry-out to my mother asking her if he did. She would always say “yes.” I never really believed it.

Around the age of sixteen or seventeen, it’s been too long to remember exactly when, my father finally started giving me attention. At first, it was innocent. I would get to sit by him in his chair while watching television. Then, it slowly changed. He was giving me the wrong kind of attention, as fathers should not do. I was quite confused. I craved and craved and craved to be loved, and now… it’s wrong. It’s the wrong kind of love shown. But how was I to stop his caresses and kisses? How? How could I turn down attention from this man who was my father, when I pined to be his daughter emotionally for two to three years?

One night he tried to take things too far. He wanted more than to caress me. The blouse I was wearing wound up with a button popping off of it, and I never repaired it. I could not. I told my father to leave my room. I think he understood this was passed the bar of weakness. To my recollection, he never made another advance at me.

A short time later, my father had to attend an NCO school, as the military aim to keep their enlisted educated. At that time, I wrote my father that these sorts of things would never happen again. On top of that, I told my mother what occurred. Eventually, it was blamed on me.

When I was eighteen, three months and three days old, I was banned to live with my parents and brother. Again, I would crave them. I would crave time and conversations with them. I have eight children, and I craved this relationship to be something wonderful for over two decades.

Recently, I had a dream that my youngest child, my son, was violated. My husband and I then talked about my father and my mother. My mother has tried full force to prove to the state of Florida what a bad and unfit parent I am with every claim being “Unfounded” by the representatives who investigate. Within our many conversations, my husband and I have deduced that my father has “covered” for my mother regarding my sister becoming brain damaged. My mother has covered for my father with his indiscretions (if I was at fault, why would I ever tell my mother and not just “keep quiet”?) He then told me  how I have placed my parents on pedestals, perceiving them to be “better” than they are. He talked of how unhealthy this was and how foolish it is for me to keep hanging on to them.

I take walks every day Dan works. It is an outlet. It is a way of “finding myself,” especially since my TBI and also to help me stay even keel emotionally. On the next day’s walk after his insight was bestowed, I settled on letting my parents go. After all, if my father loved me, THAT would have never happened. Also, IF MY MOTHER LOVED ME, she would have defended me. She would not defend the perpetrator, my father. She would EVEN understand the boundaries I placed upon my children, her grandchildren, regarding them not being alone with my father. HOWEVER, that never was the way it was. LOVE is not only sweet little words. It is actions… As my mother taught me, “Actions speak louder than words.” Their actions were not full of love. Even though I still, for whatever reason, love them, I am no longer going to emotionally be connected to them.

This story is not written out of spite. There is much humility that I felt before deciding to write this. This is for those cases THAT DO HAPPEN to adolescents, as they have enough battles with love and acceptance, let alone THIS SORT. I have not come across any stories regarding adolescents and family members and the emotional struggles it causes that young person. Adolescents are considered to be “young adults.” I agree with this; HOWEVER, EMOTIONALLY, I do not. This is based on a firsthand experience that I wish I had never had. I think it would have been easier and less befuddling if my father had never displayed such unacceptable behavior and, instead, just shrugged me off and have me keep feeling there was no love. I am not saying it would be a cake walk to live that life either; however, what I endured without even understanding from an adult perspective what transpired on emotional level, not including my own mother saying it was my fault, I have battled guilt off and on. The truth is I never wanted that sort of attention from my father. I wanted innocent hugs and pecks on the cheek.

It is sickening to think of how he heard I didn’t feel he loved me and then that being what he considered his “open door.” It’s sick that he would always make jokes that I was attracted to Charles Schwab, who was born in 1937… 9 years before my father was born. He would do this in front of my mother every time a commercial for his corporation aired.

My point is for readers to understand that adolescents are not emotionally adults. Loving one’s child has the above not even consideration, whether it’s blaming the child or preying on that child… NO MATTER the child’s age. That is still the parents’ child!!!!

I’m letting go, and I hope if there are any victims of this out there that you can let go too!

Appreciation Vs. Loss

I was released from the rehabilitation center for my TBI on October 3, 2014 after my accident happened August 24, 2014. Since that return home, there have been many battles. The primary battles have been regarding loss and change. TBI survivors often acquire Alzheimer’s or dementia. A local chiropractic neurologist linked that to depression. Upon talking to my husband, he stated that when one is depressed it takes all that person’s attention and that person becomes forgetful of everything outside of the topic causing depression. Ironically, patients with Alzheimer’s are better with schedules. They become adapted to the schedules and even less accustomed TO CHANGE or the feeling of LOSS.

I have not appreciated my husband enough lately. I have not tried to show this; however, I have pined and longed for “how we were” and “how Dan was.” However, how can Dan be the same? He almost lost his wife. He had to play both the mother and father role suddenly without his wife for about six weeks. I cannot be the same even if I try, at least not totally. How can Dan be the same? Why should I pine for something that cannot happen?

Amidst all this pining, appreciation has been diminished. Many TBI couples divorce. That TBI survivor does not act exactly the same or maybe that survivor cannot physically do what he/she did, whether math, see, smell, taste, hear, read, move, etc. Surviving such a thing and having cognitive skills with no new reference markers to who and how we are, there is a slower understanding of changes to the survivor. There is a slower understanding of to whom and what our loved one/s have lived and adapted.

Today, I talked to a friend about my fall and how my husband had to plan meals, be the business secretary again (I proudly took that role early in our relationship), adjust to a more confined, smaller house in the middle of the chaos while not knowing i I would keep breathing or have cognitive skills. I then relayed how I miss “that look” he would give me and some of “the feelings” that seem to outwardly be gone. They’re not gone.. they are changed.. in a new light, but they are not gone. However, without “the look” it has felt that way. However, coffee on the porch, calls when he is returning home, and even a milkshake now and then on his arrival.. those scream the love is still there and is shown in ways and methods that were not there in the past; however, back then, he did not have a job away from home. My point is I am on a path to regain appreciation of the “changed” Dan due to the “changed” me. I’m more outward with my feelings, and he is more outward with his. It may feel worse; however, if he stuffed his emotions like I had my whole life, THAT WOULD BE WHAT IS WORSE.

It is saddening to know I accidentally took him for granted and have not appreciated him as much as I can (and should).  Maybe I don’t give him a certain look and will give it again without ever knowing it was there or gone. Regardless, appreciation is a much better focus than on things and relationships that cannot return to how and what they were.

Eyes Front, Chin Up!

I was groomed to not share opinions and feelings, as that is considered disrespectful to my parents. Then, I am a domestic violence survivor, as my first husband was an unkind man, to word it “nicely.” Due to this, my self-esteem  never has developed. In fact, that is a new goal, as I am no worse than anyone else out there, yet I have not given myself that grace.

 

Two days ago, I needed a screw for my spectacles. Furthermore, I was not taught how to use these transitional lens. I learned on my own while waiting for my husband to stop using his frames and have lens placed in his older frames. I noticed that if my head was raised I could lower my eyes and read a book far better. This new realization caused two thoughts. The first was hearing Mary Poppins telling the two children, “Chin up!” Then, I have a memory from my time in the military with a command “Eyes Front!” This command came after a command for us to look right or left. Between the two mixed with the understanding of good dancing skills, one’s head is raised, and the chin is not angling to the ground.

 

I have begun walking even before this experience with transitional lens and reading, and I have begun to learn how body language can help one’s own being. For instance, many of you have heard that if you smile, then it will happen inside of you. You will find a true smile. The same is true with having a more confident stance. If you practice it, it will happen. I am not happy to have a body that is declining in its abilities; however, I am pleased to be finding my way with living a healthier emotional life… believe it or not, largely due to my TBI.

Appreciation for One’s Age

Every day my husband works, I take a walk to the store and visit a friend who is working as a security guard. I am open to meeting new people in those moments, to sit and talk with them and hear what they have to say. Monday, I was leaving the store and saw a man of color with a “Vietnam Veteran” cap. I passed him and thanked him for his service. From athere, I wound up sitting beside him and talking with him. He is seventy-six years of age and talked very quietly, but he offered so much. One thing that impressed me was him stating that he asks for help from those younger in age when the person seems down. He needs help but tries to pick the person to help him to not only aid him but to help give that person a lighter heart that seems heavy. I thought this was noteworthy.

After we talked about how he helps the young help him, he then spoke of how he asks younger generations for knowledge about things that he does not know. For instance, he will ask for knowledge from middle-aged individuals or younger as we know more about such compared to many geriatrics. I then commented how I am the perfect age… able to rely on those younger than I regarding new technology and knowledge yet rely on older, wiser people to teach me more about life. Following that, it dawned on me that I will always be the “perfect age”. The reason I say this is that I love learning: about life, science, history, people, etc. We all have things to offer and teach others, and if we are willing, we can always learn something new, if we desire. That has always been a desire of mine for as long as I can remember.

It is a moot point to wish to be older and know more, for when we are older, there is newer science and knowledge. Furthermore, when we are older, our bodies also grow older and more decreppit. It is a vain point to also wish to be younger. People younger do not have the experiences that older individuals have and are still developing wisdom. I am happy with my age, and I believe I always will be, for I am mindful of what I have my own self and how I can glean both from younger and older people than I.

Silver Linings of My Brain Injury

The beautiful aspect of l ife is that everything has a silver lining if you look closely enough. Furthermore, if you take the time and effort, you can actually experience the beauty and appreciation for those silver linings. For instance, my oldest daughter, who is just shy of 23, asked me if I knew that I have changed. I indicated that I did know and that I was more angry, more appreciative, more emotional, a whole lot more playful and silly when possible, and more affectionate. My view of life itself changed along with experiencing some of my memories I’d put to rest, such as being a playful 7-year-old girl. You see, since she has reawoken, I have not nor will I purposely dismiss her and stick that part of my being back in a file with a label. When I was seven years old, my family lost my autistic and retarded sister from time to time. She would throw a temper tantrum which caused self-inflicted bruises. As a consequence of outsiders knowing only part of the scenario, “concerned” people would inform the state department for children and families of a possible home of abuse. When she was taken from us, Mom would talk to me. I wound up feeling like I should be there for my mother emotionally in the form of her sister or mother. So the girl in me all but died. However, this brain injury has caused her to return, and I am exhilerated to have that part of me an active part of my life.

After my daughter asked me if I knew I had changed, I asked her what she saw that was different. For a moment, she was speechless. However, as soon as she was enlightened, she responded. She said to me, “If someone asked if you had changed and how, I would say, ‘Mommy is more… more angry, more loving, more appreciative, etc.'” What beauty. She talked about my ability to empathize, show affection, be light-hearted, and many more positive attributes than negative ones that have turned into me being “more.” You see, I have a new perspective on life and appreciate some of my old files surfacing as well as welcoming being more proactively alive than ever. The best part is seeing that others are not demeaning  your changes but clebrating life with you more than ever.

As aforementioned, brain injuries take all the files/memories, throw them in the air, and have them strewn on the ground beneath us. ThERE IS a beauty in that. “What is it?,” you may ask. It’s that we have a new chance at closure or relabeling our life’s baggage. I fully believe that everyone in life has this chance; however, we become accustomed to playing the victims that we never become introspective enough to know that the problem is mostly if not completely a personal issue for which we can take the blame AND THEN CHANGE!

There is more than just that. There is also the fact that I fell more in love with my husband, and he fell more in love with me. I have always loved him so much that he hung the sun, moon, and stars. However, my Love placing lip balm on my lips, helping aid me reclining or arising and a plethora of other things performed by him for me has stirred my heart beyond my imagination. My last two and a half weeks of hospitalization, the highlight of my day was his visits. I even mentally paced the floor until he arrived. I even would take two showers per day, one to start the day and be squeaky clean for the handful of rehabilitation (and because I don’t like feeling unclean) and another one taken in anticipation for the arrival of my husband, Dan. The other highlight was after he arrived. When he was present, I could have deep, intelligent conversations. They were so meaningful on a daily basis that it felt in a since that we were dating and learning things about each other that we never knew.

Another silver lining is a greater appreciation for life and loved ones. One month, and eight days after I was released from the hospital was my 44th birthday. A couple weeks prior to the actual date, it was as if the celebration of my life internally began. Here, I was visited when hospitalized by people whom I did not know cared for me. On top of that, I was prouder than ever to have the husband and family that I have. I did not want THINGS for my birthday. THINGS may be used as tools; however, they are not worth what loved ones give you by being themselves, not to mention them pouring themselves into you and helping your well-being. My only birthday wish was to see the ones I love. I received a good portion of that, being my Love and I have four children still living at home full-time. Even though upon my return home, it was stressful, I see a greater love flowing through Dan and our children. I am flattered and honored to have a greater gift in my life than I ever imagined.That’s PLENTY of birthday right there!