The simplest interactions fried my circuits. Being myself, loving what I loved, doing the things I did were suddenly invitations for disaster.
I didn’t know the severity of my brain injury was under diagnosed, as it would remain for 3 years. I hadn’t heard of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
I only knew every day (every hour!) presented me with a new minefield, triggering explosions with the most innocent of steps.
I couldn’t understand why everything was so hard. I thought I would will my way through hospital rehabilitation, pick up a few coping and cognitive strategies, and everything would be normal again.
I had an image of Sleeping Beauty. A prison of thorns sprung up overnight when she pricked her finger on that poison spindle. She and her Kingdom fell into a deep sleep for a hundred years until the Prince came to rescue her. I felt I was inside that prison of thorns, fiercely removed from the world outside.
But my head injury was not a fairy tale.
Life in the Kingdom was moving along just fine and didn’t seem to notice I was missing.
No Prince Charming was on his way to free me.
Even my rehab therapists, for all their kindness, were not going to break down my thorny prison. They continually warned me my own efforts to “bulldoze my way through rehab” were destined to fail.
I watched life go on without me. Learned to catch the tell-tale sentences (We really should have you over for dinner. You look fine, are you sure you’re not wallowing?) that signaled my last contact from friends.
My life shrank until it was resigned to a very tiny circle of space. Five days a week, I road a disability van to the hospital. Sat for hours in an overcrowded waiting room filled with desperate, miserable, wounded people and their chirping companions. Then came hours of grueling speech, physical and cognitive rehab, and another wait for the van. Sometimes the van was crowded, too. Even though the hospital was 10 minutes from my house the ride home could take more than an hour as passengers were dropped off.
I wanted to be the perfect patient. I tried to be the perfect patient. The one that everyone says is so courageous, always smiles and never complains. But no one seemed to notice, and I was burning myself out on a lie.
It was a meaningless, exhausting life and I didn’t see a way out.
I thought of suicide, briefly, and not very seriously. I had a feeling I would only manage to make things worse rather than actually kill myself so the thought didn’t get much traction.
Still, as time passed I became increasingly certain I would die. I just did not see how I could possibly stay alive. I thought living with a terminal brain injury would eventually kill me.
I felt I had already died (a sentiment I’ve heard repeated from nearly every person with a brain injury I’ve met.) For some reason my body was still dragging itself around.
Instinctively I knew seeing my life as a prison, waiting to die, waiting for rescue that could never appear were prescriptions for bottomless despair. But pasting a fake smile on my face and relying on sheer willpower were not saving me, either.
Was it possible to create a meaningful life? A life I wanted to live in spite of everything?
Coming in Part 2 : The Sacred Enclosure.
I hope my story reads like just a story and you’re unfamiliar with loss like this.
Since you’re reading, you know I got through it. I not only survived, I learned to love this life of mine. And the way I achieved that was by being unflinchingly honest with what was true for me and becoming a Master Practitioner in the Art of Sacred Self-Care.
If you’re struggling with limitations, bulldozing through too much of your life or just missing a tender connection with yourself, I hope you’ll join us for the Sacred Self-Care program beginning October 7.