Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Infinite Strength of Compassion

            Caregivers often say that they wish they could switch places with the victims. They often feel like there is not enough they can do to really help the victim of a Traumatic Brain Injury, they feel as if all their effort is for naught. Conversely, I am at times thankful that the accident happened to me and not my wife. I couldn't bear to see her with a brain injury and I know I would be tormented by the desire to have had it happen to me and not her.
            So that is the attitude I take. I choose to believe that this accident was meant for her and I said, "No, let it be me." Immediately the question of why this happened to me is clear. Rather than feeling sorry for myself, I stand proud and strong. No longer am I the victim of a terrible fate; shouldering a burden that I shouldn't have to. I have metaphysically lifted the heavy load carried by another and made it my own. I have found the infinite strength of compassion.
            Another, perhaps better way to think of this, is not to imagine a single person you know, rather think of the probability of somebody getting a brain injury. There are going to be a certain amount of brain injuries suffered by a certain amount of people. It has to happen to somebody. Am I so cavalier as to say it should have happened to someone else? Of course not! As terrible as brain injury is, I would never wish it on another. So if I were to wish it didn't happen to me, it would be like I am wishing it had happened to someone else.

            My wish has come true. Someone was going to suffer a brain injury and I said, "No, let it be me."

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Digesting Grief

Samuel Johnson, the eighteenth century lexicographer, considered by some to be the greatest English mind of his time, made a very astute observation on grief. He said “While grief is fresh, every attempt to divert only irritates. You must wait ‘til grief be digested, and then amusement will dissipate the remains of it.”
Those of us with brain injuries know this very well. The last thing we want, or need to hear, is one of those trite phrases which we all have heard like, “Well, you’re lucky to be alive” or “You think you’ve got it bad…” or worst of all “I know how you feel.” These genuine attempts at soothing our nerves come from the feeling that they need to say something; something positive and uplifting. As though we’d just turn our heads and say, “My God, you’re right! What business do I have to grieve? Thank you!” and then we’d go walking away whistling Zippety Dooh Dah. Of course, our friends and family members are only trying to offer solace; we certainly don’t need berate them. My point is that people don’t have any generally accepted and useful way of responding to grief.
The most helpful thing for them to do is to acknowledge your grief and share it with you as best they can. As Nietzsche observed, “sharing joy increases it, and sharing grief decreases it.” Unfortunately, very few people know of Doctor Johnson’s quote and few spend their time pondering how to respond to tragedy which is why Nietzsche’s observation is so sagacious.
What all this is leading up to is the fact that the only path past grief is to digest it. We need to accept our situation as bad and just feel it. Trying to ignore it or look at the bright side is not going to let it pass, nor is farming it out and trying to figure out a solution by rolling it over again and again in our minds.
In most situations, one can only grieve for so long and our natural human response is to tire of the grief and move on. It is at that point that the bright words and encouragement, the numerous offered diversions can help us to finally get over it.
The tough part about brain injury is that you can’t put it behind you. Yeah, if it were going to be over tomorrow we’d be through grieving soon enough, but there it is; every day the same as before. It is similar to when somebody has a loved one who remains in a coma, they can’t grieve their passing because they haven’t passed, and yet they aren’t really here either, so they are stuck in between, waiting.
That’s where I was, and would still be, waiting to be better before I could move on. I would always be waiting to get better. I was like the person who says, “I’ll be happy as soon as I win the lottery.” I had made this agreement to be happy once I met an unlikely, if not impossible, condition. Ultimately, I decided that was not how I was going to live my life, waiting for the day I would wake up and not be brain injured anymore.

That was the first day I began living again after my accident.

Monday, June 9, 2014

It's Always A Balancing Act

   Don't see me as "different," but understand I have a brain injury.
   Treat me as you would anyone else; like me, even love me, I have the same basic needs, being human, as anyone else.
   Of course, people can't understand what it is like to have a brain injury. No, not even close. Brain injury has so many profound and different effects that it would take a long time and effort to come to some sort of appreciation and people do have other things to do, like eat, work, and sleep.
   So I have to make the effort, as unfair as it is, I am the one that is different. I must be the one to reach out. It is as if I were the only one who spoke my language, it is not everyone else's job to learn my language, but it is my job to learn speak to everyone else. After all, they have plenty of people to speak to without speaking to me. I however, need to speak to someone.
   I don't want people to associate with me just because they have to, that's what counselors and therapists are for. I want folks to be my friends because that's what they want most from me.
   I have to do what I can to be of value to them. People will be my friend if they like who they are when they are with me. They will like who they are around me if they feel like I like them for who they are, not just what they can do for me.
   This is sometimes hard to focus on. My primary goal is to find friends because I need them. However, if that is the attitude I hold foremost in my mind I will push good people away. People can easily detect needy grasping types of folks, and they will rightfully avoid them. I need to smile and ask them how they are doing, how their day is going.
   There are so many memes, quotes, and moral platitudes about how friendship is about being there, being strong for the other person, and offering them unconditional acceptance and love. Yes, that is all part of it.        But it is what comes after the first part of friendship, the part where people enjoy each other’s company and have an enjoyable time in their presence.
   It is enjoyable to be around people who genuinely like you.
   If I focus on liking people and taking real delight in their world, their comings and goings, their pet projects, their family and friends, then I find that they enjoy my company as well. If they are quality people they will respond in kind without being asked. If I find they are not quality people then I can simply move on. No big drama is needed, no final closure. I just let them slip away as I meet other people.
   Meeting people is a numbers game. Hang out in public spaces, be friendly warm and open. I say this like it is a simple prescription, but it is not. For most of us it is hard to open up to strangers. I may write well, but when it comes to extemporaneous speech, small talk to strangers, I find it very difficult and often I become tongue tied. Through all my pitfalls and hang ups I have managed to find good friends over the years in spite of myself.
   I am trying something new with this article. I am not weaving “because I am brain injured” into every sentence. Still, if it makes it seem more pertinent to you, go ahead and sprinkle the phrase liberally throughout. I find that as much as brain injury separates me from others, it doesn’t separate me as much as I feel it does. When I say I have a bad memory, everybody responds that they have a bad memory too.              Rather than snap back and tell them they have no idea what it really means to have a bad memory, I just smile and use the moment to build a bridge to another human. I commiserate, usually with a wry laugh. I look at them and say, “It sure adds a special quality to the day, doesn’t it?” I invite them in, I don’t push them away.

   I write this because it helps me to organize and focus my identity. It helps me formalize what it means to be me. I strongly recommend that others put their thoughts into written words. I often imagine myself doing or saying things, but when I write these things down they become much more real. Good behaviors and practices don’t just float around in my mind, dissipating with the next breeze of thought; by writing them down they gain structure and mass. If I think of my thoughts as a building I am constructing, the act of writing is the critical diagonal piece that forms the triangle that gives stability to the whole structure.