Samuel Johnson said that a little ease is the ruin of great men. This is a fact of nature. Nature strives to be efficient, the most return for the least effort. When one is struggling to survive it is the most sensible path to follow.
Fast forward out of the Neolithic and such hard scrabble existence was not part of my life growing up in the twentieth century. I was not rich, but white middle-class was close enough. I had learned to get by on minimum effort.
When I awoke out of a coma with a severe brain injury everything had changed. I had to learn to walk, talk, read and write, basically everything, all over again. Only this time everything was harder. Much harder. Nothing came easy. I found myself at the proverbial crossroads. Do I give up and accept my lot, or do I push on?
The choice may seem obvious when you see where I am today. I've been happily married for over 25 years. I have worked satisfactorily for 23 years in a factory and have now retired to pursue more fulfilling work as a wedding officiant and writer/speaker. I have a wide circle of friends and an extensive list of awards and accolades. In a word, I have thrived.
When I was in the hospital I had no idea what brain injury recovery involved or how long it would take (essentially a lifetime). Had I foreseen what would be required I would have blanched and quailed. In fact, it was really about two years later, when I reached a plateau, that I became clinically depressed. It was then that I realized that I had to accept that I wasn't going to breeze through my recovery like a wunderkind and that I was going to be “brain injured” forever.
That was when I decided I didn't want to live the rest of my life half lived. I did not want to live a half-life. I wanted to live a full life. This is the time when many would say that they “pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps.” If anyone thinks that’s possible, I want you to reach down right now and pull with all your might. Yeah, it can’t be done. If anyone tells me that’s what they have done, I eye them suspiciously.
The first help I needed was with my depression, which took a few months of therapy and about a year of anti-depressants. The second thing I needed was a support structure; friends and family who believed in me and supported me. Then, with all that in place, I was ready to do the (seemingly) impossible.
I had an overwhelming list of issues and deficits. I chose the one that bothered me most, thinking that if I could at least do that I could maybe keep on going. For me that was walking and being in good shape. I had to have the energy to climb the mountains before me.
I started walking every day. Soon I was running a little bit of the way, kind of a lope, really. My balance and partial paralysis (left side) made running difficult. I kept it up and ten years later I ran a ten mile race in 92 minutes.
A couple years after my accident I saw a video tape of myself at my birthday party. I was shocked at how poorly I spoke! I had always been well spoken and I was not aware that this was no longer the case. This had to change.
I remembered in German class in school how good it felt to leave the class and be able to switch back to English where I could pronounce things easily and that finding the words I wanted to say was easy and effortless. I wanted that feeling again, so I started studying German, not to learn the language, as my memory issues made that a quixotic quest, but to make English seem easier. I was cross training for speech! Eventually, I switched to Finnish because that language is really difficult for English speakers to pronounce. After a few years of studying Finnish for about 15 minutes a day people began telling me I didn’t sound like I had a problem speaking.
Speech has never become easy for me, not like it once was. I still slur and get confused when I am tired (basically, by evening), but for a part of each day I can speak well.
The thing was, absolutely everything was hard to do. Since everything was hard it didn’t matter what was on my plate, it was a challenge. Nothing was too hard. I had learned to walk, I had learned to speak. I could do anything if I just put it in a routine and chiseled away at it. This is the secret to my success. Much of that time didn't feel like thriving, it is when I look back that I can say, “I have thrived.”