You know when you really can’t be perfect? When you’re recovering from a brain injury!
Eight weeks ago I was in the car accident that gave me this concussion. Three weeks ago I was back at the doctor’s office because my symptoms were still so bad. “You need to go back on brain rest,” the doctor said.
But, but, but, I had never really gone OFF brain rest. I was so upset with this advice, even though it was obvious. Yes, I needed to rest even more. Yes, even though it was interfering with everything in my life. I spent about twenty-four hours being really upset while simultaneously trying to set everything up for what I knew I had to do while, you know, my brain was refusing to cooperate with me.
Since then, I’ve kept everything as simple as possible. I couldn’t shut all stress away, but I could certainly avoid the majority of it. I couldn’t meet the high standards I’m used to setting for myself so I stopped aiming for them. I settled myself into my new reality of Healing from Brain Injury as comfortably as I could.
I’ve developed this mental shrug. It’s for all the times (and there have been so many) when I think of how I would normally do something or how I ought to do something. And then I mentally shrug and say to myself, “Well, that’s not going to happen.” Some of them will obviously have small consequences, like I can’t deal with going to a new dentist right now so there’s going to be more plaque on my teeth when I do finally go and that will probably suck. But it’s amazing how many of those things don’t actually seem to matter all that much.
In being forced to simplify my life so extremely, I’ve realized how hard I am on myself when I’m fully healthy. I am so hard on myself! Even now, I think to myself, why did you miss that gathering, you are such a flake, or why haven’t you texted or called this person, you need to try harder, and then I catch myself and am appalled. I have a brain injury, you ridiculous self! I don’t have to go to any events or talk to anybody and I get a pass because BRAIN INJURY. I don’t have to say everything perfectly because BRAIN INJURY. I can’t figure everything in my life out right now because–yeah, you guessed it–BRAIN INJURY. I doubt I’m only being this hard on myself because I’m convalescing. I feel like my little shrug is going to be useful for a long time to come.
I try to go outside every day and walk with Nala. Sometimes we walk for over an hour. We walk surrounded by lush greenery, and if we walk far enough down the path we can catch a glimpse of Lake Washington. Sometimes we cut through the fern forest and pretend the car sounds are the wind blowing through the fir trees. Sometimes Nala tries to convince me to walk in the mud.
We walk and I feel more and more like myself again. I may have to avoid most stress, I may struggle with headaches and mood swings and fatigue, I may be unable to do many things, but I can walk.
I’ve been asking myself who I am all these weeks. Who am I when I can’t write anymore? Who am I when I’m easily overwhelmed by stimulus and decisions and stress? Who am I when I must abandon my usual goals of perfection? Who am I in this new state, in this new apartment, surrounded by new people and places and things? Who am I when I can literally feel not like myself?
My life is stripped down to essentials, and I am too. I am relieved to find there is still someone there. Someone who is not defined by physical place or relationships to others or passions or hobbies or work. Someone who is not even necessarily defined by this moment’s particular thoughts.
I stare into space. I breathe. I shift to find a more comfortable position for this body I’m wearing. I breathe again. Time passes differently.
I’m still here.