This is what an invisible injury looks like. My accident happened two years, nine months and nine days ago. Sure, I can talk about it casually. But I still can’t REALLY talk about it without crying. The term “traumatic brain injury” wasn’t something I ever thought too much about pre-accident. It was something that happened to people in stories in the news, it was something that happened to people in the movies. It never occurred that it was something that could happen to me. And then it did.
Yesterday I was at a salon appointment. I have a girl that I always go to, but she was unavailable this time, so I had a new girl. She started asking the usual questions and of course, my injury came up. There’s varying levels that I tell my story depending on the audience. We got into the nitty gritty. (They somehow know how to pull information out of you…the FBI should really consider calling them in for the tough perps that won’t crack, haha.) Anyway, after giving a brief rundown of the last 2.5 years, she kept saying, “you’ve been through so much. I’m so sorry.” She kept repeating it. And it’s funny, because in the moment, it kind of surprised me. (Which then surprised me again because I realized that telling my story to a stranger doesn’t affect me quite as much as it used to and I hadn’t realized that until that moment…but that’s a side note.) The further I get in my healing journey, the pain of loss isn’t as front and center as it used to be. But there was a time when I was in the middle of that story and, my gosh, it was PAINFUL. Some of you know me, and some of you don’t. For those of you who don’t, I’m a Christian and my faith has always been very important to me. Pre-accident, I thought I was surrendered to God, that I was trusting in him and his guidance in my life. I was quite disappointed to realize after my accident just how superficial that surrender was.
In a matter of a 30 seconds, my life was turned upside down. In the hours and days that followed my accident, I just kept getting progressively worse. The hardest part was not knowing why. The initial ER docs said I would be back to work in three days. The three days came and went. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. All I knew is I couldn’t get out of bed and I couldn’t function. I didn’t get an appointment with the concussion clinic until three weeks after my accident. That was close to the SCARIEST three weeks of my life because I literally had no idea what was happening to me. So for those three weeks I laid in bed, in uncertainty about EVERYTHING. That was the beginning of my loss experience. In the weeks and months that followed, each new loss brought me to a knew level of surrender and acceptance and each time it was a painful struggle, sometimes it would take months of working on it to accept it. And just when I thought I had conquered acceptance of a particular loss, something would trigger it and I would have to face it all over again. It’s funny how things can come back around…I think it’s just testing us to see if we’ve really dealt with it and learned what we needed to learn from it. Learning comes from repetition.
In the beginning weeks I was clinging onto hope that I would just wake up one morning and be back to normal. I recall sitting in the doctor’s office at a follow-up appointment and she decided she was giving me six weeks off of work. And I panicked. I immediately started sobbing. SIX weeks off of work? That’s insane. Absolutely not. This was NOT going to disrupt my life for SIX weeks. I had just gotten my dream job two months earlier…the job I had worked the past seven years for. Not only that, but I had worked since I was sixteen…I can’t just not work for six weeks. Those six weeks came and went…they actually flew by.
Around week three I tried to do a little work on my laptop. I could barely type. Typing was my job. I cried. I was devastated. How was it possible my body couldn’t even do a simple task like typing on my computer…I used to be able to work on my computer for 12 hours a day, with intense focus.
I was nervous at week five of the six, knowing I wasn’t ready to go back to work and actually praying the doctor gave me more time off. My perspective started to shift. I realized I wasn’t in control of anything. I realized I actually preferred to be a control freak. I realized I NEEDED to control so my life felt balanced and right…and this was a pattern I was in long before my accident. And all that was being challenged. Dealing with the accident and injury itself was absolutely horrible, intense, terrifying. But about three months after my accident, a whirlwind started that I couldn’t stop.
- I had a truck that I ADORED prior to the accident. (For those of you who care, it was a ’86 Chevy, short box, 6-inch lift on 35’s, with a 350 in it. ) I drove it every day. I had wanted a truck like that since I was 14 years old so buying it was a pretty special dream come true. The plan was to restore it, I’ve always wanted to do that. After the accident, I had it shipped from where I had been living to where I was living currently only to realize that the stiff suspension was too challenging on my vestibular system and I couldn’t stand to drive it. I was shocked. It NEVER occurred to me that could be a problem. I was legitimately devastated.
- I broke up with my boyfriend.
- An old flame came back into my life only to leave again as quickly as he’d showed back up.
- I slowly discovered I couldn’t do any of the hobbies I used to love to do. Travel, hang out with friends, hike, ride horses, boat, kayak (I couldn’t even look at a body of water, my eyes couldn’t process the movement of it), walking was super limited (and I love to walk), working out, being in direct sunlight was awful, couldn’t listen to music, couldn’t watch movies…literally NOTHING
- I lost my job…from a letter in the mail. They didn’t even have the decency to do it face-to-face, which, to me, would have somehow made it less humiliating.
- I realized I couldn’t have a normal relationship, and the possibility of never getting married and never having kids was becoming very real.
All that happened in a month and a half. My identity and who I was at my core was shattered. The following month was horrible. I had nothing. I had nothing to offer anyone. I couldn’t work. I couldn’t even have hobbies. Every part of my life was spiraling out of control. My doctor was telling me to accept this as the new me and get on with a very different limited version of the life I once knew and loved.
It was then, in that very, very, very low month, that I started rebuilding myself. Taking the parts of me that I wanted to salvage from my past life, completely recreating the parts of me that were shattered and I couldn’t bring with me moving forward. I had the choice. Do I stay here shattered and live my life in this broken mess? Or do I redesign me from who I was, who I am, and who I want to be.
Life has a way of bringing each of us to this point. For some it’s more blatant and for others it’s a subtle nudging. But it’s there. And we get to choose. We don’t always get to choose what happens to us, but we get to choose how we respond to it. It’s hard work. But I hope you decide to do it. Take it from me, you won’t regret it.
-L New York