When my Mom died back in 1998, we received gorgeous flowers and plants enough to line every room in my house along all the walls and on top of every counter, table and stand. I can still remember how lovely my home smelled for so long. I close my eyes and I can picture it and smell it even now.
After all the cut flowers dried and browned, there were still many houseplants that I was terrified of. LOL. Terrified because, until then, I had never been much of a gardener or successful keeper of such lovelies.
But I learned.
Each plant needed different things. Some wanted morning sun and some wanted cool shade. Some required water every day, just a little, while others preferred a good dose once a week.
I tell myself they all loved my singing.
Bad, sadly, after ten years or so, one of the multi-colored plants had suffered and sputtered down to a lone frond.
One lonely frond.
She stuck straight up out of the dirt all by herself. All alone. Nothing I tried worked and I tried everything, it seemed. Still she stood…alone. She had lost her colors and she had curled into herself. She looked more like a long tobacco leaf than part of the broad, fabulously-colored plant she had once been.
I didn’t have the heart to toss her. I was prepared to live forever with my one sad frond. Because she was left from a time of such generosity and love from my family and friends, I could not give up on her.
When I moved to my condo seven years ago, I brought her along. Through the unforgiving breath of January in Michigan. Into the car, into the house.
I repotted her and put her in the front window and then the back. I told her how much I believed in her. I brought some more plants back to be with her so she wouldn’t have to be alone.
That was seven years ago.
Today that amazing frond sits waiting for her afternoon sunshine. Together with all her friends, she has grown from that one last, lost frond to a sassy, multi-colored beauty again.
She has three strong base limbs and I just saw the other day that she is about to have another baby. A tiny new bright green sprout is fighting its way to the sun.
The original frond has now grown from about eight inches to nearing four feet high. She reminds me, every day, that all of us feel lonely at some point. All of us lose our colors and our activity around us and our like support.
All of us turn into ourselves, even sometimes for many years.
And then we regather ourselves and we are sparked by some glory-fed new day. We reach for that sunshine and we begin to bloom again.
I belong to several support groups on Facebook, both for brain injury and for survivors of domestic abuse and intimate crime. While most sets of issues are distinct to their group, they do cross paths in some ways.
One of the ways I have seen that members of both groups can suffer is with startle response and trouble with chaotic and loud noise. With 4th of July season upon us, this is a particularly challenging time for many.
I have posted on my FB page a plea for people to choose not to ignite personal fireworks in their neighborhoods. Beyond those of us who suffer noise and startle response issues, there is valid research concluding the concussive and disorienting effects of fireworks on birds. There is also significant data to back up pleas from veterans who have returned with PTSD (and anyone suffering PTSD), babies who show increased anxiety and stress, pets who suffer horrifically during fireworks season, people who are trying to sleep for odd work hours and others.
In my FB post, I encouraged people to visit any of the dozens of area fireworks displays that are registered and properly scheduled. Those can be planned for.
You can do some extra good in this world by posting your own struggles with PTSD or startle response or noise challenges, if you suffer these. You can share my post from Facebook or send out your own.
This is such a tough time for countless people and animals in our homes and in our neighborhoods. This is a great opportunity to do some good by reaching out to your people and by reminding them how damaging close fireworks can be.
Hope you all have a terrific holiday. Cheering for you. :)) Kara
When I fall back a little…when I stop from anticipating outstanding, even for a day….I look for evidence to re-inspire me to keep overachieving. To keep anticipating extraordinary.
This week the Toronto Raptors won the NBA Championship for the first time in their franchise’s 24-year history. The St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup Championship for the first time in their 52-year history.
Things can be done that have never been done before. Things can be done that nobody thought possible. Things can be done when people keep anticipating extraordinary.
If you take a bit to actually look at the time line on your Facebook page, you’ll notice how, no matter what you post, everything makes its way down. The greatest of achievements…the saddest of news…the cutest of goose videos….
All get bumped by newer things.
Unfortunately, for so many of us stuck in stalled recoveries, it’s like we wake up every day and go post on Facebook:
I sustained a brain injury!
We just keep re-setting each day and then, even if we DO post other new things, they are still never very far away from the last or the next post that we have a brain injury.
It anchors us to that bottom line.
If we posted that first day on Facebook that we had sustained a brain injury, chances are we would have received comments and emojis from virtually all of our family and friends. Lots of sad and shocked emojis. Lots of comments and cheers for a speedy recovery.
And then we’d post again.
You can imagine that, after several posts, there would be fewer comments. Fewer responses. Fewer emojis. You might even start getting comments like, are you OK? I’m worried about you….
People would tire of the same old post. They might even unfriend you because the topic is a bummer and they would probably consider you to be a bummer, by then, too.
As it is on Facebook, we have to get out of our stuck place. We have to stop starting each day with that one detail about us and start showcasing all the other facets in our shining diamond. We have to allow our news to fall lower in our time line. We must encourage it so by replacing it with newer things. Fresh things to report. Activities and accomplishments and special time spent with loved ones. Every day.
Things that make us laugh. Things that are new in our lives. Things that are important to and about our loved ones. Cute videos of goosie gooses, absolutely.
From those of us who grew up in the 70s and before, there is a deep, deep well of fond and funny stories of the cars we drove when we were young. Before the sleek and long-lasting materials of today, most of us cut our teeth driving vehicles that generated stories we never tire of telling.
Everything rusted. For those of us who suffered northern winters, we were usually pulling out the Bondo in Spring to try and patch the rusting ridges around wheel wells and fenders. Heavy muffler exhaust pipes rusted and the holes would make our cars too loud to sneak home after curfew.
One of the most exciting aspects of owning a car those decades ago was the installing of a car stereo. Back then cars arrived with factory-installed AM radios and, as kids, we couldn’t wait to buy that awesome 8-track and, later, cassette-playing stereo. It was a great badge of honor to proudly wear for those of us who became savvy enough to install our own stereo.
My one brother had a car from the 70s whose color was a pale peach. We called her the Peach Bomb and it took two people to start her (one to stick a pencil in the choke). My other brother drove a late-sixties rag-top, Electra 225, that poured rain onto the passenger whenever he turned a corner.
One of my earliest cars was gifted to me when it was already 17 years old but had only 11 thousand miles on her. Because she was barely driven all those years, the bottom had all but rusted away and, on the passenger’s side, all that stood between my passenger and the pavement was a floor mat. When I’d drive in the winter with someone in the passenger’s seat, the snow and ice would fling up and fly up and spray them in the face. It would swirl in the car like it was a blizzard-inside. LOL.
One of my most-favorite car stories is of a handsome gentleman car that I drove for 8 years. I took such great care of that car. His name was Hank. But, every time I would take him in to get an oil change, the mechanic would ask me why I didn’t take better care of my car. I couldn’t understand that. I was diligent and invested in all his upkeep and care. I kept him clean and up-to-date on all his engine needs and maintenance schedules.
When I finally turned him in, the man at the car dealership told me that, unbeknownst to me, Hank had been totaled long before I ever met him. Ten years before, Hank had been stolen, driven across the nation and totaled. He was returned to the owners and, somehow, he was rebuilt and re-painted and sold under false pretense.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that…those cars got us here. Got us through. Protected us. Escorted us to our favorite people, favorite events, jobs and life journeys.
They got us here.
The people of my generation who tell and retell their early car stories do so with a fondness and an appreciation. Those cars, with all their funny stories and quirky traits and dear names were our companions during some of our most treasured life adventures.
And that’s where we come in.
Let’s promise ourselves that, when we are turned in for the last time, that those around us are amazed that we once had been totaled. Let’s help get our favorite people to fabulous places. Let’s be dear parts of their life stories, fondly told and re-told in the future.
All of us, after lingering injuries, will have our issues. Sure. We might need a pencil jammed in the choke to help us get started in the morning. There might be parts of us that need a little Bondo and we may have some loose nuts or screws or rusted pipes that make our whole sashaying a little clumpy, a little loud, a little sputtering…
But let’s get ’em there. All our people. All our pets. All our everything that matters. Let’s get ’em there. Let’s be willing. Let’s be undaunted. Let’s add what we can to sweeten the music we hear.
Here in Michigan, per usual, the Springtime comes in fits and starts. We have enjoyed glorious days of breezy sunshine and blue skies in the seventies. And then, with rare fail, we shiver and bump along, grumbling at the forecasts for late-April snow.
We wait and we wait, so many of us putting off our plans, our anticipations, our….happiness.
Yesterday the forecast said we would have chilly showers and struggle to reach the high 40s. Through the early hours it poured a steady blanket of damp, November-like rain. My headache stormed. My arthritis bucked and cussed.
I was tired of waiting and so I made my own fresh start. My own….Spring.
I went to the store and, at first, I began to fill my shopping cart with all my typical normals. And then I thought, nope. It’s Spring. It may not look and feel like Spring and I may be tempted to wait again and longer.
But nope. Not this time.
I cleared my basket and I started again. I bought different versions of every staple. New flavors and scents and versions of every hair product, shampoo, soap and body-fixer-upper I use.
I now have some kind of black coal face towelettes simply because I love the packaging and I am such a sucker for packaging. I have sugar scrubs and lime mousse made for curls, even though I have poker-straight hair.
I am trying to inspire my hair to over-achieve.
Out of the dozen or more choices of Burt’s Bees tinted lip balms, I chose Fig. FIG! LOLOLOL. I now am going to have soft, luscious fig lips.
And I am delighted to the point of giggling at myself.
We can’t just wait for Spring to come. Not outside our doors and not inside the windows to our hearts and our souls.
We have to make Spring in any way and in every way we can.
I wish you all Spring, inside and out. Go treat yourself to lips of watermelon, raisin or hot mocha. I double-dog dare you to be as sassy as me. Kiss your winter good-bye, both outside and in, with your sultry fig lips. :)))))
Most of us in the brain-injured community think that, without quibble, the best of us can be found pre-injury. Back in the day….
We speak with sad fondness and some with sharp anger, still, of better days and better ways we enjoyed before these injuries plucked us from our fabulous and deposited us here, where find ourselves.
I recognize this “yesteryear longing” in my friends and loved ones who, only now, are old enough to recognize the fading and sagging and softening and blurring of aging bodies and minds.
Not to be a fly in the butter here but I think everyone’s wrong.
You were never more important than you are today. Never more powerful and capable to affect the world around you. Never more gifted the opportunity to imprint and impart good upon this world and to and through the loved ones in your life.
To be honest, no one much cares who we were back then, anymore than they care to hear yellowed stories from the so many who wish to replay their glory days of high school or college fame on stages and fields and courts and in classrooms.
Anyone who has glory days to recall are fortunate and good for them. Those memories and stories and faded news clippings will feed egos for a lifetime.
But for us, any of us, brain injury or not, who we used to be isn’t going to help around the house today. It’s not going to help our kids with their math homework or their confusion about sex or their golf swing or jump shot. Who we were back then isn’t going to teach a proud son how to tie a tie or how to fill a tire with air. It’s not going to help a daughter with her Spelling Bee words or her curveball or the confusing ways that boys are acting now.
All that good and better we used to be isn’t going to rub the tired shoulders or draw the warm bath for that partner who is so stressed and weary because he or she is carrying an extra load now. It’s not going to clean the house or do the laundry or lighten the load in any way.
That’s for the us of today.
The people around us, the ones we love most, don’t care so much anymore of any long-fading glories. When life is racing by in chaotic, noisy, changing households, the glory we have to give…need to give….is the glory of the day.
The glory of today.
Our loved ones don’t care that we can’t do what we did twenty years ago or ten years ago or two. They want to know that we are joining today. That we are battling with them. That we are sharing and reducing their loads, their stresses, their demands.
Our kids, our parents, our partners, our friends….they already know what we must learn as quickly as we can:
The person we left back there can’t help today.
But we can.
We can help today.
Can you spend a little time outside yourself? Outside of this. The loss and the anger. Can you spend some time with them and for them, being NOT the person you loved before. But, instead, being the person they might want to love again tomorrow?
For most of us, the bar is not set as high as we fear it. The demands are not as great as we imagine them to be.
It’s simply about asking, “How can I help?” “What do you need?” “Is there something I can do?”
Makes all the difference.
If you can choose that…If you can choose now…
Then the best of you is right here. Today and tomorrow and, God help us, the day after that.
“You’re crippled. Get used to it!” With all the uncountable things I’ve forgotten, that comment, said to me by a balance specialist more than twenty years ago, stays.
I wept in his office that day. He abruptly left after proclaiming what he did. His nurse came in and held me while I cried. She apologized for him.
I have never forgotten.
Over the years I have realized the truth in it. Yes, his delivery was disgusting. His utter lack of compassion was appalling. But, by definition, crippled means “unable to walk or move properly” and that is true.
What I also took from that moment was significant in my successful recovery.
For one, a doctor gives you his diagnosis, his prognosis, his best guess, his opinion based on your facts and his experience. Some will prove true and some won’t. Some diagnoses will beat us and some we will overcome.
But it is simply a capturing of a moment. One that can change in a million ways. It is up to us to respond. To apply. To investigate. To try and prove false. To continue to create a better outcome than we are sentenced with. To get other opinions. To try more than we’ve tried. To try differently. To change, as we have to.
In my mind, I am not crippled at all.
The other significant thing that that moment, crying in his office, taught me….was that we can avoid many many hurt feelings when we choose wisely the sources from which and from whom we seek compassion and understanding.
Survivors have told me for more than twenty years how they are so devastated that their spouses or their kids or their parents or doctors don’t understand what they are going through.
How could they?
We cannot keep hitting our heads against the wall, so to speak. We cannot expect that a person without a brain injury would understand what it’s like to have a brain injury.
Yes, they can love us. Yes, they can support us. Yes, they can comfort us. Yes, they can show compassion for our struggles. But it’s not fair to them and it’s not fair to us to expect them to understand what this is like. They simply cannot meet that need.
We go to a restaurant when we are hungry. We go to a gym when we need to work out. We go to a salon when we need a haircut.
The people in our lives cannot be expected to give us what they don’t have and it’s not right for us to ask.
There are, sadly, countless people in our community. Support groups on Facebook. Meeting groups in the community. Conferences…
Please don’t seek understanding from people who cannot gift it. You can’t get your hair cut at a restaurant….
I won’t ever forget that time in that doctor’s office. But, for as much of a cad as he was and how cold he proved to be, I have sifted through it to find the good. To make it mine.
What do they say? Forget the pain; Remember the lesson.
Our stories will be written, with or without us. By those we’ve impacted. By those left behind.
Some will measure us in a simple timeline. This is where we started. We did this then. We did this then. We did this then…
Some will measure, instead, using deduction from evidence of how we spent our time, where we spent our money and with whom we chose to be with the most.
Some will measure us through a narrow lens of their personal experiences with us. Who we were to them, what role we played and during what decade or time period we were in their lives. They will sum us up through their own perceptions and with their particular biases and slants.
Many will decide they don’t care what anyone thinks or that, hell, they’ll be dead when all those judgements are passed. True enough, that.
But for those of us who wish to write the stories of our lives….for those of us who wish to make clear the intentions and choices, high points and struggles…for those of us who wish to leave no doubt in those we feel most strongly about…
Then that’s a great starting point for brain injury recovery. For any recovery.
I’ve heard so many people tell me how they fear being remembered just for their brain injury, just for their nasty divorce, just for their felony conviction, just for their cancer diagnosis, just for their dead child, just for their horrible weight gain, just for their addiction…
Just for their failure, just for their loss, just for their bad luck, just for cruel fate.
For each of us then, before we go and before we leave the end of the story to others, let’s ensure that there is no murky confusion. Let’s clear up and clarify and decide and own.
We can say someday, someday….and they will report that, too. We can dig heels in after disappointment, after being cheated, after being damaged. We can sit with our anger, our indignance, our stubbornness, our pride. We can build walls around us that keep out fear and danger and the chance of being hurt.
They will report that, too.
Or we can work to ensure that, no matter the measure and no matter the measurer, we will certain the outcome. We will trust the stamp. Because we chose good people around us who read more than the headlines. Because we tried at good and, even when we failed, we tried at good. That we made sure and certain that the ones most important to us knew, undeniably, how we cared for them and cheered for them, supported and loved them.
If it matters to you then don’t let bad be the last thing they see, the last they know, the last that they measure. Not brain injury, not dark intentions, not unkind words, not cruel actions.
They WILL remember. In some measure, in some way. It’s up to us how important it is to have a hand in what’s written, to color the timelines, to warm the memories. To put good, positive, memorable, fun, loving distance between the darkest of our hours and the brightest of our days.