I’m writing a lot about the pool this month because I miss not being able to swim laps. I spoke with someone in the locker room at the Y this week who told me it’s been three years since she has been able to exercise fully. That helped put my situation in perspective, although I’m still impatient. The surgeon couldn’t tell me how much use of it would return. This morning in my water aerobics class, I had to use a flotation belt to avoid putting stress on my hand which I HATED. (I did swish my hand through the water to try and strengthen it, though.)
I love this picture of a boy swimming underwater next to a fish. It’s important for adults to stay in touch with the child inside for it reminds us not to take life so seriously. I think this is much easier when people have children or are around children often because children’s personalities are contagious. I’ve been neglecting the child deep inside but looking at this picture reminds me I need to let her out frequently. Swimming at the pool has always been one way I do this.
In Mark Ramsey’s sermon at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church this past Sunday he said, “People have always liked walls. The walls of race, of status, and of gender have exiled so many.” I thought about my own walls. In a sense, those of us with a brain injury are walled off from the rest of the world. After an injury, a person experiences many changes. Perhaps their speech is different, they cannot remember things as before or they must use a wheel chair.
A phrase that is common in the brain injury community is, “the new normal.” In my case, this means having to “rest my brain” frequently or being careful my schedule is not too booked which wasn’t true before. It means not having a full-time job like many other folks. However, after having a TBI for a while, this statement doesn’t seem apply to me very well, if it ever did. My personality and way of being is pretty much the same as it was before my injury even back in the late 90’s. (My injury was in 1996)
However I do have walls up around me. Often people don’t “get” my difficulties with brain injury. How many people forget someone’s name 200 times after seeing them at least that many times? How many people enter a building and then have no idea which way to turn when leaving it to go home? How many people with two master’s degrees cannot do a simple math problem? I used to get angry when folks would compare their memory or math difficulties to mine. I was a member of an exclusive club–even if I didn’t want to be a member of it. I LIKED having my walls up for it felt safe and I didn’t want to break them down. This isn’t the case now for I’ve discovered it is stifling and lonely, being behind them.
I used to get angry inside when someone compared their memory issues to mine. They might say, “Oh I know what you mean. I can’t remember names either.” Now, when someone makes a comparison, I often say, “While your experience certainly gives you an idea of how frustrated I get when I can’t remember someone’s name, with brain injury one can see someone every day and STILL not remember their name.” This helps break down the wall while educating them about brain injury. When I didn’t say anything I seethed inside which wasn’t helpful to a good relationship.
Brain Injury does put us in exile as do many other things. Alcoholism, drug addiction, divorce, the loss of a child – all of those things can cause us to be in exile. Like the little boy above, who looked deeply into the fish’s eyes and the fish returned his gaze, all of us need to break down our walls and be free.
If you have a brain injury do you sometimes feel you’re in exile? What other ways are you in exile?