Saturday, March 24, 2012

When Bad Things Happen to Good People

"I would start the book by mentioning that there was a lot of blood, and some broken bones... for much of my life..."  
                                                                                 -random conversation at chain grocery store

I like to observe people, and I like to take in all that is happening around me.  I am a friendly person by nature, and also a curious human.  I do like to converse with people, and I find myself in the most random conversations.  I try to embrace the random, because it usually leads me right where I need to be.

Last night I was speaking to someone about tragedy.  We talked about how some people deal with trauma in healthy productive ways, and others self-destruct.  I wondered if it was family and community support, or genetics, or even personality that made a difference in why some people carried on in spite of unspeakable things, and others curl up at the first sign of trouble.

Losing a child, experiencing a natural disaster, enduring a physical attack, losing a job/family/spouse- all of these things can be devastating.  Some people come out of it in one piece, and even say they are stronger because of the trauma.  There are others that wander around as ghosts of their former selves, and it is as if they started a completely separate life once the tragic event occurred.

Today, as I was going about my daily errands, I participated in the random chitchatting that seems typical now that I want to hear the stories of those around me.  I have found myself asking certain questions, pausing at the right moments, and making mental notes of what I need to write down later.  The reality is that I wish I could make a "time-out" signal, and quickly grab a pen and paper to make notes for the remainder of the conversation.  I don't think this town is ready for this new dimension of strange... So, I try my best to engage in conversation and remember the details for later.

I was asked how my job was treating me, and this same person knew I had been working on a few writing projects.  I casually mentioned the book, and got the classic response: "I have been told I should write a book."  Normally I would grin and wonder when the conversation would be over.  I would laugh to myself and think about telling her how hard it is to be a writer.  But I know this lady's story, and she does have book-worthy material...

She brought up some pretty significant sexual harassment and assault, violence in high school, and a kidnapping and beating.  At this point, it might even skip past book-worthy and move straight to Lifetime movie.  This story started our lengthy discussion about how some people can come out the other side of horrific events, and almost seem better for it.

Are some people just more resilient?  Are there some souls that are just more determined to exist, and to make their lives matter?  I wonder if purpose makes a difference in all of this--when there is a child, or family, or something to live for, then there is a reason to go on.  The easier the mind can process what happened, and make sense of moving forward, then healing can occur.  I am not saying it is easy.  But I am saying it is indeed possible. And luckily this topic is very interesting to me...

I've been swimming in research on traumatic brain injury for some writing projects, and I am amazed at the stories I read.  There are some people that should not be succeeding.  They are beating all sorts of odds and making productive gains in their lives.  I have to believe that these are the people with fighting spirits--they want to live so that their story can be told.  There needs to be a voice for these warriors.

And now there is...  This project has been in the works for a while now, but the wheels are finally in motion.  I have been traveling for interviews and meetings, and writing like crazy.  I do feel that I have had more purpose after my attack, and with each tragedy in my life, I have had exponentially more purpose and drive.  Theoretically, I would be some sort of superhuman at this time in my life (or at least skip to some bonus level), but that is besides the point.  The point is that I recognize that I am a strong, capable woman that sees I need to give a voice to other warriors.  I am glad I have found my purpose, and that is what keeps me moving on.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Intensity of Emotion

I have to wonder what people want anymore...

People express that they want more excitement in life, and they want something new and novel to laugh and cry and scream at.  They want a wide range of emotions and want to create drama around them.

In the same breath, they take drugs galore to numb themselves because the emotions get to be too much.  Anxiety, depression, and the whole sensory experience itself is an overload, and our brains need a reboot.

I really can't address what I think is reasonable for the rest of the world, nor do I really have the energy to do so.  I know in my own experience, medication makes me numb to pretty much everything.  I know I have a very intense personality, and that can be a great asset.  It can also be a hindrance in some ways.  People either love or hate me, my interests wander all over the place, and it tends to scare many.  I am very interested in many things, and my mind races hundreds of miles an hour.  I like to keep busy and I talk with great intensity about all of my projects and experiences.  If you make it through a conversation with me lately, you will probably think to yourself that my latest hobby is a home laboratory of sorts...

I spoke with a good friend last night about relationships, and about how there are epic highs and miserable lows in any great love story worth telling.  We spoke for a long time about past wrongs, and it was a great conversation over all.  This morning, he thanked me for speaking with him.  I told him I didn't mind at all, and that there was nothing wrong with intensity of emotion.  I believe to be human and take anything from this experience on earth, we have to be able to reach the broad spectrum of emotions.  I can't say I am exactly proud, but I can say I reach the very ends of the spectrum on a regular basis (we haven't determined if this is a good or bad thing).

This made me wonder: what types of people tend to feel these intense emotions? I am sure that writers and other creative thinkers tend to feel emotions in more intense form.  I am curious what other professions tend to experience these emotions, or if it just tends to be personality types, education levels, intelligence levels, etc? Or am I just overthinking it all?

I will admit that I am an incredibly smart individual, but I sit on the ground and watch the clouds and/or stars on a regular basis.  I am moved to tears while driving when thinking of a phrase, song lyric, or piece of art.  I often hear a voice narrating in my head as I move about my day, and it gives a vocal commentary of the story of my life.  I know these things make me quirky, but they also make me incredibly cool.  I enjoy being passionate about teaching and writing and researching.  I love learning and exploring new things.  I love photography and capturing snapshots of history of the world around me.  This intensity is what makes me tick, and I love it.

I can say, without a doubt, that I felt the intensity grow tremendously in these last few months.  It has been a great adventure to try new things, make plans and set goals, and look out into the future.  I have experienced an incredible fear when looking at the world alone again, an incredible sense of contentment as I realized that I could be at peace with myself and who I have become, a strong sense of pride of all that I have accomplished in the face of incredible struggle, and and intense joy while trying new experiences to see what makes me tick, what I can learn, what I DON'T succeed at, and what makes me happy.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Where Do I Go From Here?

For the past two days, I have been at a gifted education conference for differentiated instruction.  It seems like I returned from one trip to unpack, do laundry, attend work for a few days, then ship out again.  For this conference, I brought along high expectations of uncovering more secrets about myself.

For those of you that didn't know me when I was younger, I was pretty darn gifted.  I was an extremely intelligent and motivated creature, and always had a willingness to push farther and reach lofty goals.  Looking at me now: I am still motivated, and pretty darn persistent.  I worry that the "giftedness" is gone though.  I know that a lot of information came back to me post-accident, but it seems my processing just isn't as quick as it used to be.  My mother commented that it's probably only noticeable to me--that most people still see me as sharp and able to do incredible things.  Gee, thanks mom... I think you HAVE to say that... :-)

Anyway, back to the conference.  While I was there, I met incredibly interesting people and brought a wealth of information home to use on creating a motivating and autonomous environment for my students.  It really made me reflect on what made me so different from some kids I teach.  My upbringing wasn't perfect--we lived in poverty in the beginning.  My parents each worked multiple jobs for us to get by, and I have plenty of pictures of myself as a toddler resembling "trailer trash."  One of the differences I noticed was that there were always books EVERYWHERE.  I remember taking the TCAP test survey and commenting that I had more books than the largest choice on the survey, and wondered what I was supposed to choose for an answer.  I also know that my parents were excited and motivated to learn, and weren't afraid of making mistakes.  I believe this was a major difference in how I ended up being so freakin' awesome.  They taught me to get out there and explore--the worst thing that could happen was that I failed.  At least it would be fun along the way!

I wish I could say that's how it really happened.  In reality, I was a fairly tightly-wound young person.  I wanted everything perfect, and I was terrified of making a mistake.  I was afraid of the world around me, but I desperately wanted to join it.  I was intimidated by college, because I knew there were people smarter than me and I wouldn't always be the best.  I didn't really know my "place" in everything, and it scared me.  I craved order and hierarchy. Mass chaos was terrifying.

The accident was probably the best thing that could have happened to me.  I know it's strange to say, but I learned to loosen up, take risks, make mistakes, and enjoy life.  I learned to try new things and explore the world around me.  I broke out of my shell and decided that I was going to get involved in everything I could get my hands on.  I will tell you that many days I am exhausted, but I am ENJOYING life.  It's really a great concept. More people should do it.... :-)

I glanced at my calendar at the start of the conference today... March 16th... That means 8 months until I turn 30.  I have 8 months to complete my list.  I can't believe all of the cool things I have done so far, and I still have 8 months to go!  I am still working on the race and reading my list of books (I need to start updating on my progress).  Drum lessons have gone smashingly (yes, pun intended), and I am lining up my road trip and fish-catching excursion.  I am working on all the other adventures as well, and have quite a great 8 months planned.

And more great news? I had been working on a writing project. Actually it's a book idea, and I traveled to talk with people about the project.  I have been put in contact with publishers, and people are arranging interviews.  Everything seems to fall into place for this project, mostly because I believe they are stories that need to be told, and people do want to read them.  I also feel that a fine legacy of mine would be to publish stories for people to read for generations to come.  I am beyond thrilled of this opportunity, and wonder if I will get to sleep tonight. :-)

I also got accepted into graduate school for a second Masters Degree.  Now that I have so many great options, I need to start making decisions.  Life is a process, and I know there's time to get everything done.  No rush- I am more about the journey than the destination.

I am now looking out into the future, and can't even imagine all of my options.  Ultimately, I have every choice in the world laid before me.  Every day I ask myself, "where will I go from here?"

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Prodigal Son

I took a road trip this weekend--it was part work and part pleasure.  I had to drive to Chattanooga to meet with a traumatic brain injury council for work, but also had a little bit of free time to explore the area.

I talked with a friend on Day 1, and he told me to make it a goal to explore and try two new things that day.  There was plenty to explore, so I knew my goal would be much higher.  I made a few mental calculations about meeting times and such, and tried to figure out what I might like to do that was new and exciting.

I realized this may have been the first time in a LONG time that I took the time to do whatever I pleased, and explored the world around me.  After thinking about it for a while, I realized it was probably a good four years or more (which is terribly pathetic).

So, I decided that between meetings I would venture over to the Bluff View Arts District in downtown Chattanooga.  I had never really ventured around the area, and I am sure there were plenty of things I could see.

I went to the Bluff View Bakery and watched them make artisan breads (and bought a pretzel the size of my head!).  I stopped in at the Rembrandt's Roasting Company, and talked to the Apprentice to the Roastmaster.  He showed me how coffee beans were roasted, which was an incredibly cool experience.

I stopped in at an art gallery and took a look around, then went over to Rembrandt's to grab a cup of coffee.  Of course, it was sunny and there was a cool breeze, so I snapped tons of photos of the view.  I traveled into the sculpture gallery to sit and enjoy my snack, and took a long stroll past all of the art.

I don't know how to describe moments like these- I just wish I had a camera that could capture sensory experiences.  As I sat on a bench and looked around me, there was a cool gentle breeze, I could feel the heat of the sunshine on my head, and I heard the clanging of a set of artsy wind-chimes.  In the background, I could hear the cars soaring over the bridges.  I closed my eyes so I could drink in this feeling.  I desperately wanted to remember this experience, so I could draw upon its serenity during times of distress (which, unfortunately, happens all too often lately).

When I opened my eyes, I turned to look behind me before getting up.  Before me stood a giant bronze statue.  I looked at it closely, and saw two men embracing and wrapped in some sort of fabric.  Of course, I needed to know what this statue was, so I stood up and moved closer.  It was The Prodigal Son, and the statue was of a father embracing his son.  

I sat for quite a while and looked at this piece.  I don't know the extent of others' religious backgrounds, but many people are familiar of the story of The Prodigal Son.  The gist is that a man has two sons, and gives them each their inheritance.  One son spends his money wisely and does what he is told.  The other son spends his money on wild times with prostitutes, and does not follow the wisdom of his father.  When the second son returns, the father embraces him and throws a feast in his honor.  The first son is furious (and jealous) and proclaims that the father never threw a feast for him for doing the right thing.  The father says "But it was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for this, your brother, was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, and is found." Luke 15:32.

I think we have all had times like this in our life.  We know we don't do the right thing, and we worry about facing our fears and owning up to our problems.  On the other end, do we ever really embrace people that have returned "from the dead" and have become alive again?  It seems like this world makes people believe it is ok to rally against fellow man.  When we watch television or read any popular culture, it is celebrated to be lost and almost seems easiest to stay that way.  We don't readily embrace those that make the tough decision to live again after death.

I know I am not alone when I say that I have made bad decisions in my life.  I know each one of us has done things that were not good.  The key is in making it right, owning up to who you are, and facing the fear of humility and repentance.  This isn't even a religious discussion--I am talking about everyone of every background.  I can't say that I am a terribly spiritual person- I believe there are greater themes among all the religions that kind of blend together.  And I know that religion or spirituality isn't for everyone, but I do know that this story resonates with many of us.  We have all had times where we have gone astray--to the dark recesses of the world--and we fear how we will be received when we choose to come back to life.  I am fortunate enough to say that when I returned from my dark place, I was embraced by these same strong, open arms.

So, the journey was a productive one, but quite a realization as well. I came to see how far I had come through my life; how many ups and downs I really did have, and how I was welcomed home with open arms after everything.  This is a time in my life when I needed love and support more than anything, and I am truly grateful to say that I have received both in abundance.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


I was talking to someone last night about memories.  We were talking about how vivid "good" memories tie us from the past to the future.  Through the course of a random conversation he said the word "clambake," and I literally had a flood of memories come back to me from my childhood.  I told a 20-minute long story about the clambakes my family used to host, and went into great detail about my childhood home.  It is amazing how a random word can cause such a chain reaction when it comes to memory.

This is something I haven't really dealt with since the accident and subsequent falls and medications.  The truth is, I don't remember at least a year of my life now, and there are other holes that appear to be missing.  I know that seizure medications can cause major problems with memory, and I know that I was taking well over the maximum prescribed dosage.  Experimental medications always make me uneasy, and I was on maxed-out dosages of that toxic ick.  There were so many chemicals pumped into my body, I imagine I am more preserved than Keith Richards...

I want desperately to remember my past.  Even if it was a difficult time, I want that connection to my life.  I feel like I woke up one morning and started a new life, and it terrifies me.  I was telling someone this last night, and we noticed that the brain has seemed to reset itself.  I hear that people have distinct personality changes after accidents--I feel like my mind was definitely affected, but my personality remains intact.

Of course, we have to factor in the divorce.  There is obviously going to be a change in personality when I became liberated, so I don't want that confused with recovery.  I will say that through all the difficulties I have had over the past six months, and probably even more, I have had an easier time going it alone.  I feel like I can really be dependent on myself, and that has proven how resilient I really am.

Back to the memories...  I went to the Traumatic Brain Injury Conference a few weeks ago, and it was mentioned that for the most part, people are able to retain a lot of information or their slate is wiped clean.  I feel like I recaptured an amazing amount of information, but I do feel like I am lagging behind where I should be.  I long ago abandoned the idea that life will be perfect and I would be a high achiever.  Right now I just want to be comfortable remembering normal things like names and my grocery list (the people at Kroger think I am crazy as I stare off into space in confusion...).  But, with the lack of name recall, I remember most everything from graduate school, and have retained an amazing amount of trivial facts.  It really is amazing how much random information I remember, but can't remember basic memories.

I think pictures have helped me out greatly.  I do love looking at pictures from years past, especially around the incident.  It's strange to look at them and either remember everything about the picture, or remark that the photographer must not have been me (even though I was the only one that could have taken the photo).  Either way, I feel that I at least have a link to the past.  In time, I will be able to sort through my memories and place information in the correct time slots.

I do feel like my life now is without a filter.  I feel like I feel things with more intensity, and notice more random detail.  I don't have a lot of comparison other than going off comments of friends and family.  They notice that I am very involved in the world, and am embracing the experiences around me.  I am not sure if this is typical of a person with a brain injury, or if I am really living a different reality.  Either way, I do like it.

Now that the memories have started trickling back, I have to brace myself for the emotions that are connected.  I will get these waves of intense memory and emotion like in the clambake episode, and it terrifies me.  I can have the most detailed and realistic memories, so much so that it almost feels like a dream.  I feel like Alice in Wonderland, where the reality doesn't feel quite real.  I wonder if this ordeal will even itself out, or if I will have to hold on for the ride.

I commented last night that I definitely feel like I am on a different level now--I feel like I am not as smart as I used to be.  I recall most of the information, but it feels like my processing speed is dramatically decreased.  Other people might not notice, but I do feel different.  I know I have all of this information in my head, but my body isn't responding as quickly as I like.  It is terribly frustrating, and I am not sure what I need to do about this problem.  I did become more sensitive in my work with gifted students.  A teacher commented today about how one of my gifted students was "one of the best and brightest of the school, so how dare he..." Of course, if we looked at teenage development, his reaction was right on the mark for his age group.  To expect intellectually gifted kids to always be superior than their peers is a major problem.  And now that I feel like I have "lost" some of my giftedness, I am particularly sensitive to the whole experience of being gifted.

Wow, this whole thing felt like a rant--almost a lucid dream.  I guess that is how memories work, and how the mind works in general.  The reality is that this miraculous organ called the brain works as hard as it can to make connections.  We just hope that the connections it makes are to reality--that these connections can help us rediscover our past, and help us determine our future.  If not, it's been one heck of a dream...

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Going off the grid...

One of my goals in this project is to take a road trip (previously named "Travel to Another Country").  For those of you that didn't follow my journey at that time, let me recap:

I had originally set the goal of traveling out of the country, but didn't have a destination in mind.  I had ventured to Europe fresh out of high school, but had never again made a leap.  Life got in the way, and I was never available to take more than a few days to go away.  Any other country needs to be explored, and I felt my lack of time wouldn't do it justice.

I realized that I could throw together a trip to another country "just because," but I really craved going "off the grid" for a while.  I needed to get out and explore the world around me, and I had plenty of places to see.  The idea of a road trip sounded even better...

So now I am looking at travel sites, Mapquest, and various tourism information.  I have a few ideas where I want to go, but part of the thrill is knowing I have time to stop where I please.  The fun of traveling without a particular destination is that you get to really SEE the world for what it is.  I love stopping in small little towns that don't even know how to pretend for tourists.  I enjoy trying different foods, talking to locals, and snapping pictures of my escapades.  I like the idea that I can be anyone I want to be when I am out on the road.  The possibilities are endless...

I am really at the point in my life where I enjoy the world around me.  I wonder what is so appealing about going "off the grid?"  I believe it is because everyone needs a temporary reset--a time when we are able to relax, meditate, and mull over our problems.  It's nice to have time to sit and think about the future, to comprehend the past, and to embrace the excitement of stopping for a taco or putt-putt golf when you feel like it.  My time to travel is approaching, and I am beyond thrilled.  This is an adventure that I have been planning for a lifetime--I have been waiting for a period in my life when I can break free and explore the world around me.  Even if it is just for five days, these will be incredibly introspective and enlightening days.  After all, I have twenty-nine years of life to ponder...