One of the toughest battles I have ever fought, and continue to fight, is against my own mind. Since my head injury, I struggle everyday with various things (headaches, sleeping issues, crying, and more). For the last 2+ years, I have tried not to focus on the issues, but instead try to ignore them. I constantly compare myself to who I was before the head injury, and I measured my progress based on that knowledge. I go to therapy almost weekly, and am very open with those who are close to me, and those who ask. However, not once did I consider that I could still be happy.
I was reading a story by another TBI survivor (I am so sorry I do not recall the article name, but I will add it to the resources as soon as I find it). In the story, she was describing how she battled her depression daily, and in her battle, lost sight of what she was fighting for. As a result, (it took some time), she accepted the fact that she had the depression, and that though it challenged her, she was going to fight it by taking joy in anything she could. At the end of the story, she still battles her depression daily, and definitely has those days that are more difficult than others, but she is happier now. She is happier than she has been in a long while. She accepted that she did not give herself depression. It is something she has, and along with any other battle, she has to fight it.
I thought this was such a great story. After this story, I read another by a woman who was trying to lose weight, after a lifetime of weight battles. In the story, she described how she would beat herself-up for not finishing a walk around the block. During one of the rants against herself, she realized that she had done more by walking 1/2 way around the block than she had done in the last few months, and definitely more than she had done yesterday. She began to focus on what she was doing right, rather than making it wrong. As a result, she has lost over 100 lbs, and is working towards becoming a fitness trainer. (As with the story above, I will include the information to the article once I locate it).
I know that these two stories may not seem totally related, but they affected me deeply. Before my head injury, I was generally a really happy person. As a matter-of-fact, I would get teased for smiling so much at work. (I didn't mind. It would bring a smile to his face too.) Why do I not smile like that anymore? Why do I constantly compare myself to who I was before, when I know that I am no longer the same person? (It doesn't make much sense, and for someone who took pride in being a logical person once, it wasn't even logical. ) In the past few weeks, I had the luxury to spend some time where it is green, and nice outside. I would spend a couple hours every morning, just being. I put mindfulness to the test, and found it to really work for me. I pondered the meaning of these stories, and made my own theory: as long as I have one more positive thought today than I did yesterday-or even the same amount- I am winning the battle.
I will win the battle against myself. I will still have depression, and I will still have the other struggles; but just because I allow myself to feel happy, does not mean that these struggles don't exist. I was confusing my depression for my ability to feel happiness. I was allowing it to take over. I am not saying that it is not a struggle (I still have medications to help), but I have felt so much freedom for just letting myself laugh and smile at jokes that I make. Not the fake smiles and laughs that we find ourselves giving to hide our pain, but the real ones. The smiles and laughs that remind us that we are allowed to feel more than sadness, struggle, and pain. Allowing myself to feel happiness has helped me to deal with the pain better.
You absolutely cannot just will depression away, or just will the struggles you face away (I have tried- and I will keep trying just in case); but, you can allow yourself not to let it define you. I still cry almost everyday, and I have daily headaches; however, I am also making it a point to find at least two positives for every negative I feel (even if they are the same things I was happy for yesterday and the day before that).
I have noticed that I am starting to remember more than I have been. I am starting to remember more of my day, like who I talked with in the morning. I may still not remember what we talked about, but at least I am now remembering the conversation even occurred. It may not seem like a lot, but it is a start. It is not who I was before, but it is who I am now. I am finally starting to find some peace with it- with myself.
I now know more than I knew yesterday, and someday, I will know more than I do today... and I will let myself be happy about it.
Thanks for listening,
I had the pleasure of attending the BIAAZ Rays of Hope Conference in Phoenix, AZ a couple of weeks ago. It was one of the most enlightening, validating, joyous experiences that I have had. Don't get me wrong- the discussions hit close to home, and of course, as per my usual, I did not go the day without a couple of tears being shed. However, I did get to meet so many other wonderful men and women who truly understand the difficulties those with TBI face. I met caregivers, survivors, and community members who are advocates for those who at times cannot advocate for themselves. I met wonderful people, who all have their own stories. The one thing everyone had in common was that TBI has impacted all our lives in a meaningful way, and affected the way we think and act.
I have been discovering new parts of my personality now that I am at home, not working, and have time to. I have realized that the part of my personality that did not change was that I want to inspire and motivate. Attending this conference helped solidify those feelings, and I feel more motivated than ever to get it done. Of course, it will have to be at a pace I am comfortable with; I have learned that though I may want to get everything done now, my mind no longer works at that speed and I will need a bit slower pace. Regardless of how long it takes, I want to be the person I am beginning to see in the mirror.
There were many times that I would look in the mirror, and not recognize who it was staring back at me. For this reason, I often did not look in the mirror at all; I simply brushed my teeth and hair, got dressed, and headed out the door without so much of a glance to see how I looked, or worse, who I didn't know in the mirror. As I look now, I am starting to recognize myself more often. There are still those times that I do not want to look, or when I do, I have to stare until I can recognize myself; however, when I am recognizing who the woman in the mirror is, I am happy to see her, and I am starting to embrace her, rather than fighting to be who I was. I know the "me" of before is gone, and I am starting to make the room for the new "me".
Until later, which should be soon,
Be the reason someone chose not to give-up.
Photo credit to https://beacon.wharton.upenn.edu/entrepreneurship/2014/11/scale-your-mindset/