A Simple Sweatshirt

It is cold this morning. I knew I needed to find a sweatshirt to wear when walking Sparky this morning so I pulled out this white one. The routine is to take Sparky for a walk, pick him up about two houses away and then put on his muzzle. I then give him a bath which he hates which is why I have this routine.

sweatshirtAbout this sweatshirt. When I sustained my TBI on August 26, 1996. I was serving as an Associate Pastor at Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, GA. On that fated day, my husband Michael Galovic and I had decided to get some frozen yogurt. We lived off a busy street in North Atlanta which meant making a left turn on our street to get home. Unfortunately, Michael was driving a manual transmission and was in the wrong gear when he made the turn so we didn’t make it and were hit by an oncoming car. I was in the passenger seat and got the brunt of it although Michael was hurt as well.

I was taken to a nearby hospital in critical condition and put into an induced coma to help keep my brain from swelling. Michael was taken to another hospital. I have no memory of this although my body remembers. For quite a while, I was unable to ride in the passenger seat because it was too frightening for me. Even when I finally was able to sit there, I would jump at everything that even resembled the crash. The term is called “exaggerated startle” and it drove Michael insane because I would scream at the littlest provocation. Fortunately I worked on this until my screams became little grunts with me now simply pressing my hand on the arm rest while taking a deep breath. I rarely do this now but I am extremely sensitive when someone else is driving and I’m sitting in that seat so it does happen at times.

Back to the sweatshirt. When I was in rehab, at one of the youth group’s meetings they made this shirt for me. It says, “Someone from Mount Vernon Loves You.” Each person then signed their names. The children decorated a flower pot with their names and delivered it to me. I was pretty “out-of-it” those first couple of years. I thought I’d be able to work there again but as time went on, I realized that wasn’t going to be possible. They did continue paying me my salary and for this I’m grateful. Michael and I had married three months earlier and he didn’t have a steady, full-time job yet so we needed the money. I know stories of people who are not so fortunate and must try to get by until their disability kicks in.

It’s amazing what memories return after seeing a simple sweatshirt!

Advent: Rohr

I am using Richard Rohr’s Advent meditations this year.  Today he “hit the nail of the head” for me.  Mathew 11:15 says, “Let anyone with ears listen!”  Rohr points out how much Jesus talks about seeing, hearing, listening and about not being blind. He used to think this was just for “hard-hearted” folks but he’s come to understand that the words are for all of us. 

He writes, “Without great love and/or great suffering, human consciousness remains largely at the fight-or-flight, either/or, all-or-nothing level.  This dualistic mind, that we can now prove is the lowest level of brain function, will never be able to access, much less deal with, the really big things that are invariably ‘mysterious.”” He  lists, love, evil, God, nonviolence, forgiveness and grace as some of those things. 

When I first had my injury I mentioned how I had a “startle response.”  I was jumpy whenever I rode in a car because my body was afraid we would be hit again by another car.  At first, I couldn’t even be a passenger in the front seat since this was where I was in 1996.  I would scream at any little car I perceived would hit us. It drove my husband nuts since he was never sure if it was real or not.

In a sense, I had a dualistic mind.  I was either in danger or I wasn’t.  It took years of struggling with this until I rarely have this type of response now.  It still happens some but it’s okay since it is infrequent.  I do have an “all or nothing” sort of mindset, though. (see 8/22/12) While I believe I had this mindset prior to my injury, it is worse now because my ability to hold two conflicting things in my mind is difficult. (cognitive flexibility)  

However, Rohr writes, ” Jesus is talking today to all of us, and not just to those really bad people out there.  We can be very sincere, good willed and even want to be loving, but the big issues will still bring us to the blindness and deafness that Jesus talks about. It is largely great love and great suffering that create spiritual listening and larger seeing.” 

I think being a brain injury survivor has allowed me to see and hear things differently. It doesn’t mean I’m “better” than anyone else but I am starting to see and accept all that I have gained.  Along with my losses I have received many gifts and for these, I am grateful.

Exaggerated Startle

I was sitting in my car today in a grocery store parking lot looking at my Android. I’m afraid I’ve become a little addicted to using that thing. This time I was checking my various groups on Facebook to see if there was a message for me. Suddenly, there was a knock on my car window and I jumped so much, I almost hit the roof! I looked at them through the window and I couldn’t focus on who they were. When I opened the window, the couple apologized. They pointed to my bumper sticker and asked me where I got it.

This experience reminded me of the early days in my recovery. I couldn’t sit in the front seat of a car for a long time after my car wreck because that’s where I sat during the accident. Even though I have no memory of a car hitting us on the passenger side, my body remembers. In the beginning, I jumped at every tire screech or car driving too close to me. I remember literally shouting or screaming when Michael turned left and I thought we would be hit again. Of course there was always plenty of time for us to make the turn but my body didn’t think so. Michael kept telling me it made it worse when I cried out because then he thought we might really be in danger! I tried not to do it but it took me a while before I stopped.

I understand that folks who haven’t gone through an experience like mine will occasionally become startled. They may even jump when someone knocks on their car door window at an unexpected time. I think it happens to me more frequently than others but it is much, much better now. It’s been a long struggle though.