Joyce sent the final manuscript of my book – Forgetting the Former Things: Brain Injury’s Invitation to Vulnerability and Faith to Wipf and Stock publishers on June 1. At first, she was going to edit my work but as the days progressed, it became clear my brain injury challenges made this impossible.
I needed her organizational, integration and her concentration skills – all which are challenges for me. I wanted the book to be theological, not just biographical which meant I had to integrate theology into my story. She did this for me or I wouldn’t have been able to write it. I understood the integration but I was unable to do it alone. So the authorship is “Tamara Puffer with Joyce Hollyday.”
The reality that I could not write the book alone didn’t really hit me until she sent it off to the publisher. My mind flooded with thoughts such as, “I can’t even write a book by myself!” and “Other brain injury survivors have written books alone! What is wrong with me?”
My thoughts got darker and darker as they tend to do. I was falling off a cliff – which is how I describe my depression. I didn’t know how to stop falling and I ended up in darkness.
Last week my husband Michael and I went to Myrtle Beach. I asked him to go alone but he refused. I didn’t want to go but I forced myself because the beach is his healing place. I told him I would try my best not to bring him down but I couldn’t guarantee it.
The first couple of days I tried really hard to engage but it was difficult. I had trouble sleeping the first couple of nights and one day we went on a bit of a wild goose chase trying to find a certain park. When I couldn’t sleep I sat outside on the balcony overlooking the beach.
It was then that I remembered the sermon Joyce and I preached at Circle of Mercy several months ago. I spoke about needing Joyce’s help but that was okay. I said something like, All of us need help. I can be a minister of vulnerability now. This frees up others to be vulnerable as well.
The last couple of days there were totally different because I remembered what my call is now: Minister of Vulnerability.
An experience happened to me this week that reminded me of the challenges of having a brain injury. I read an article run in the New York Times years ago this week. I shared it on Facebook with the following doctor’s quote lifted out. “People hold on to hope that just as when they survived the crash and they had this miraculous recovery, that they will overcome these challenges that other people may not in this miraculous way. That’s not going to happen.”
For me it isn’t so much overcoming my challenges. It’s that I remember what I was able to do before so easily and it’s not easy now. As a result, I often say I’m going to do something without remembering how stressful it is for me to get it done. I might be able to accomplish the task but it means dropping everything else in my life. After twenty years, I’m realizing few things are pressing enough for me to make this sacrifice.
For example my book memoir with some theological reflection is ready for the publishing stage. I could not have accomplished this without Joyce Hollyday’s help. Yes I wrote much of it but Joyce added to it and edited it in a way that makes organizational and theological sense. We discussed the theological pieces but she actually wrote them with a tiny bit of input from me.
Thinking theologically is very difficult for a brain injury survivor. This involves drawing many pieces together in one’s mind to come up with a clear idea, which is considered an “executive function”. Due to my frontal lobe injury, this is now very difficult if not impossible to do. Theological reflection also is hard due to my mental flexibility, cognitive overload, and cognitive fatigue issues.
In the process of writing the book, Joyce and I did a dance with the theological pieces. I wanted to write them and my old way of being was to do this with no problem. I often told Joyce I would write something but after trying, I couldn’t come up with anything. I didn’t want to admit that and I think this was hard for Joyce. It didn’t happen all at once but slowly, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to write those pieces so I asked her to write them.
The same thing happened with Bill Gaventa’a request for a one page summary of the book. He is attending a conference next week and needed to have something available for folks to read. My old self wanted to write it but Joyce gently reminded me of the speed of my writing. It needed to be written quickly so she put it together.
I asked her if my contact information should be with hers on top. She hesitated and explained she knew the publishing process better than I. Then she told me when Bill asked for a copy of the book so he could write the forward, I sent him an old version so that’s what he read. Joyce sent him the newer version which he read while on a plane.
In the publishing world, mistakes like that cannot be made. Even after twenty years, it is hard to admit that I cannot do some things on my own. I’m getting much better with that realization but it still is a challenge.