The year leading up to my accident I had undergone extreme growth. I had faced some of my biggest fears, overcome some great obstacles, and was in the best shape and health of my life. But after my accident it felt like someone hit the reset button on me and all that work I did was lost. My confidence took a big hit and my overall sense of self has been muddied ever since. When I tell people what happened and they see where I’m at now, only eight months later, they look at me in disbelief. People call me a warrior and tell me how strong I am…because, from the outside I look like I’m fully recovered and back to my old self. But the truth is I feel so far from who I was before it all happened.
I feel lost a lot of the time. My mind foggy and my memory weak. My emotions fluctuate and I can be overly sensitive. I don’t know how to describe having a brain injury other than that it can be sooooooo alienating. Not a single person can see that eight months later I am still in recovery. The people I talk to can’t see that I am working very hard to train my attention on them and that my eyes feel like they are crossing. Nobody can see that when I struggle to find a basic word like ‘climate’ I am engaging in an internal dialogue of negative self-talk. Everything that I experience from my injury I do so behind a curtain, very much alone.
It’s very true that I am having to start over. All the things that gave me strength before like meditation and yoga now feel frustrating and tedious. Even though I know these things can bring me back to my strength…I rarely do them because they are mentally painful. Paddling and the river is the only place I feel strong now. It’s the only place I feel focused. It’s the only place that my brain injury doesn’t exist and I can step out from behind the curtain.
I’m leaving Costa Rica in two days, the place I have identified as my healing grounds. I’m nervous to head back to the states. Afraid to be around those that knew me before my accident, afraid they will see I am not the same. Afraid they will see how weak I feel like I am. I know what I need but am too afraid to ask for it. Afraid to be seen as self-indulgent and that I’m just milking this injury...using it as an excuse. I know I am not alone in this. Anyone with a traumatic brain injury can relate to the fear of asking for what you want or need because to everyone else you appear to be fully recovered.
If you know anyone recovering from a brain injury the greatest kindness you can show them is patience and an unconditional support...free of judgment. We are the only ones who know what we need. You don’t need to know what we are going through. All we need is to not feel so alone in the process of coming back to ourselves.