Tuesday, February 14, 2012

On Valentine's Day

I know I need to get back to normal posts about my project, but I thought I would write one more about my life.  In reality, my life is a big part of the project.  This journey is one of transformation, so all aspects of my being must be considered... Man, I have been sitting in academic/clinical conferences all day. :-)

Today I went to Nashville to attend the Traumatic Brain Injury conference.  Yes, that is the most romantic activity possible for a Valentine's Day...  I was a little skeptical about what I might encounter at this event, but I will say that it was an incredible day.  I talked with some very important people in the world of neuropsychology, rehabilitative medicine, and education.  I spoke with agencies that offered services, and with people that had been survivors of traumatic brain injuries.

I guess I was a little apprehensive about the whole ordeal because I hadn't really talked much about the effects of my brain injury.  I went back to work and have pushed on like everything was normal.  It was strange that today was the day I was able to confront it all--on the stereotypical day of sappiness, love, and shallow ooey-gooeyness.  I couldn't have asked for a more supportive environment.

I talked with a pediatric nurse about her experiences from a clinical setting.  I wanted to hear others' experiences before I spoke.  It was fascinating to hear how many people work in a setting that provides care to those with TBIs, and they themselves were survivors as well.  I was touched at how many people came to this event to learn more about such a devastating injury.

When I finally did tell my story, I remember feeling guilty.  There were actually a wide range of emotions: I felt angry that I had waited so long to really talk about this, frustrated when I figured out how many times the medical community had failed me, sad that this experience even happened, and then foolish when I looked around and saw I was one of the very few that made it through a decent recovery with very little visible effects.  I guess that is when I did get angry again, because it is frustrating to not have a scar or wound for people to see that I am still struggling at times.

Ok, that sounds childish...  But it made sense to a man I spoke with--he is in a wheelchair.  He coordinates services for independent living, and told me he has a friend that has a TBI.  I talked pretty openly with him about my experience, and how I feel it is hard to be out of a wheelchair and off a cane at times, because everyone looks at me and thinks I am 100% back to normal.  I know I can do my job and handle life, but there are still effects of the injury. And they are FRUSTRATING.  I am miserable at times when I can't remember silly things, my organization is out of whack, and I say the strangest things.  I guess I am trying to figure out who I am again, and being on tons of seizure and pain meds can confuse a body.  The hardest part is that everyone looks at me, sees how incredibly great I look after surviving all that mess, and tells me how lucky I am.  Lucky?  Yes, I am terribly fortunate that I am no longer in a wheelchair.  I am even fortunate that I no longer use a foot brace or a cane.  And it is amazing that I can even run!  But it is a challenge to deal with the organizational and memory issues, and to keep this "secret" from the rest of the world.  As you can imagine, the frustration causes mood swings.

Tears pooled in my eyes as I told him all of this.  I didn't know this man, but I was about to gush my life story-- ready or not.  He nodded as he listened, then reached out and hugged me.  It was a hug I had needed for a LONG time, and it was well overdue.

On a funny note, I had a random conversation with another agency coordinator.  It went like this:

Him: "You look like someone familiar."

Me: "Did I work with you at some time?"

Him: "No... Let me think..."

Me: "Did I go to school with you?"

Him: "No... still thinking..... I got it! Snow White!!"

Me: "You just might be the coolest man on this earth."

So, I agreed to eat lunch with him, in a somewhat-random series of events.  Because I guess that is how things work at a brain injury conference...

At the end of the event, I realized that this conference was incredibly helpful to me in my profession.  It also healed a part of me that I didn't realize was hurting.  I have been working on loving and accepting myself as I am, but I haven't really dealt with that period in my life.  I guess it is because I feel guilty with even feeling bad about it, because I am lucky and came out from it relatively unscathed.

Now I see that there was a lot about the whole brain injury ordeal that I didn't know.  There was a lot that apparently the doctors didn't know.  That helped me tremendously because I was able to forgive many people that made mistakes in the whole situation.  A whole lot of healing went on in that room.

"The more I know, the less I understand..."

I was in an absolutely wonderful mood on the way home tonight.  I had dinner with excellent company, and was able to relax a bit.  So, it was not typical for me to cue up my favorite breakup song, especially on Valentine's Day...

I have always loved Don Henley's Heart of the Matter, and many that know me will say that my one pet peeve in life is the radio mix of the song (it is a miserable butchering of a nearly-perfect piece of music).  I happened to listen to the song from the perspective of life--not just from a breakup.  I wonder how many people have actually sat down and thought about the song, not just as a sad breakup and "feelings" song, and more about one where we are evaluating life, forgiving, and learning to pick up the pieces, grow up and move on.

There is a lot of forgiveness that needs to take place in everyone's lives.  And the more we find out about things, the less we understand.  This is very true in the whole situation--in every situation. All the things I thought I'd figured out, I had to learn again.

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