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What Is It We Are Really Fearing?

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Kara Swanson, Brain Injury Blog

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What Is It We Are Really Fearing?
  • video content iconAdvice on how to provide long-term financial care for a loved one with a brain injury after you are gone. Planning Your Estate

In this current economic mess, even as there are modest signs of recovery, there is evidence that the patient is getting sicker. There lingers a widespread palpable fear that is scaring the bejesus and sucking the life out of countless- more than a 94 degree afternoon with high humidity and bad hair.

Will I lose my job? Will my spouse/partner lose his/her job? Will I miss my mortgage payments? Will I lose my credit rating? Will I lose my house? Will we have to move in with the in-laws? Will I have to uproot my kids from all their friends and move somewhere else? Will I have to pull my kid out of college? Can I find another job? Am I too old to change careers? How can I lose my health insurance?

A thousand fears. A thousand sleepless nights. A thousand unanswered questions.

Maybe I’ve had too many cognitive martinis but it seems I’ve coasted through this recession from a curiously buffered and hazy distance. A strange objectivity. Watching it all happen around me. Hearing the tormented worries of so many people I love and, yet, not feeling that same fear.

Oh yeah, that’s right. I already lost everything…

I feel bad when I hear the real fear in people’s voices. They can’t hear me when I tell them they will make it. They can’t hear me when I tell them it’ll be OK. That maybe new opportunities are knocking. That maybe their real life’s work is about to begin. That maybe they are meant to emerge on a wonderful new path.

It’s too big right now, screaming in their ears. Raging in their darkest, prickliest doubts. Whispering even as they try to sleep, “It’s coming. It’s coming…”


I was thinking today that perhaps it is so scary simply because they’ve never experienced it before. We fear what we don’t know. Sometimes it renders change and sometimes prejudice and often it isn’t as hard or awful as we’d feared. We just feared it because we didn’t know. Hadn’t been through it before.

So what does all this financial ruin mean? What is this scary monster hiding under so many of our beds during this recession? Would it help to know?

I can tell you I lost 80% of my wealth after my injury and subsequent inability to return to my career. You can do the math on your own incomes and imagine your own lot but what it looks like from my front window is this:

When none of my insurances would accept responsibility for my situation 13 years ago when I got hurt, I didn’t receive any income for seven months. Seven. That would take us to next March right now if you stopped receiving any income today.

In those seven months, I used credit cards, in large measure, to survive. Thirteen years later, I’m still paying for a can of coffee I bought on my Target card in 1996…

After not getting money for seven months, I resumed receiving an income of 85% of my former wages. I could no longer afford my new house so I downsized to a smaller house and, two months after I bought it, my former employer found a loophole that immediately terminated the disability insurance I was receiving from them. Yikes, now I was in trouble. But I hung onto that house for five years and that’s longer than this recession is going to last.

You can do this!

Financial ruin means I don’t even look through the catalogs they continue to send me a dozen years later. They sit in a pile in my corner for friends and relatives to page through when they visit.

It means I continue to wear two pairs of sweats that don’t even have any elastic anymore (when they fall down, I tell myself I must be losing weight). My t-shirts have holes in them. I buy everything I can at the Dollar Store (except coffee-don’t ever buy coffee at the Dollar Store). I have had exactly two sets of sheets for thirteen years. I reuse vacuum cleaner bags. Sometimes I use paper towel for coffee filters. I ask for coffee and cream for Christmas. Any new clothes are gifts.

I color my own hair and even have cut it myself a time or two. OK, maybe ten. There aren’t maintenance actions any more. No upkeep. Not for hair highlights or dental checkups or rotating tires. You go when there is an emergency. You go when you sell your favorite mementos on eBay or in a garage sale. Whenever you have an emergency, it takes months and months to recover even a hundred dollars.

You don’t have credit so, if you don’t have cash, you don’t get it. You lose your house and you move back home into a basement. Creditors call and they really don’t believe you when you tell them you don’t have any money. They imagine that you are hoarding all your money and are simply enjoying hearing from them every day.

You meet friends for a meal out maybe a couple times a year. You eat well one week a month when you can afford to buy fruit and a decent cut of meat or fish. The rest of the month you gain weight on cheaper meats and fattening fillers of rice and pasta. You go from sirloin to chuck, Folger’s to Kroger’s, and from Jiffy to no brand…

You make presents for loved ones when you used to enjoy shopping for expensive gifts. Walking the malls during the holidays used to feel exciting and giddy with a wallet full of cash and plastic. Now there’s really no sense to it at all except for the exercise.

You wash your laundry more times than you’d care to admit in hand soap. You hang clothes out to dry when you can’t afford to fix the dryer. You simply sigh when the gutter finally falls off and you can’t afford to replace it. You drive in the middle of August with your heater on because you can’t afford to replace the radiator.

Is this the fear? Is this everyone’s fear? That they will end up like me?

Imagine that. To be the poster child for everything that everyone you know doesn’t want to end up like.

Laughing here.

I’m laughing and not crying because I know that, when you’ve lost everything, you haven’t lost anything. And when you’ve lost everything, you have no idea how much more you could lose. Or how much more you can gain.

When it all gets down to brass tacks, then you actually take a look at what the hell brass tacks even mean. And, if you’re as fortunate as I’ve been, you realize that you didn’t lose anything that meant anything at all.

From Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog. Used with permission. karaswanson.wordpress.com.

Comments [5]

Thank you for this wonderful post.  I've gone through many feelings of despair and yearning for my pre-brain injury life since my brain tumor and stroke.  Eight years later, I'm still struggling to accept my "new normal".  But when I think about it, my life is really wonderful.  Many blessings have come as a result of my brain tumor and stroke.  I now live my life with intent, cherishing the things in life that truly matter and not wasting my time boo-hooing about things that dont.  

Feb 14th, 2016 1:10pm

When I was first injured I too FEARED the worst, then as time went on, I realized some of the fear was just that, fear, not reality for me. I am fortunate that I did not have to work I realized for a long time God was telling me to slow down, I wasn't listening, I thought at first he didn't have to knock me in the head for me to listen, but I guess he did. Lord I am listening now, I am doing your work and I am slowing down and taking care of my family. I am fortunate and I pray for those who are not as fortunate as I am, and I am trying to help those who not as fortunate as I... thank you and thank you Lord!

Nov 28th, 2009 4:27pm

Kara makes a lot of sense. In my understanding, it is easier to think this way when you are the injured, harder when you are the caregiver, spouse, or family member being dragged away from a life they once knew. My wife is currently working temp work at $8.50 per hour hoping for a 40 hour week. She just called saying her next assignment will be at $10.00 per hour, part to full time will long term potential. I used to net $40 per hour minimum so she did not have to work. I retired her to home making duties and her volunteer outreach opportunities over 29 years ago. Now, she comes home tired, often leaves for work with a poor nights sleep because of my sleep problems, and we are still drawing down what is left of our equity line of credit on our house. A 2% rise in the prime will tear our house out from under us. I could endure living in poverty, but she deserves more. Maybe we can out last this downturn, maybe not. It is not ours to know or even effect. Like Kara, I should have been receiving benefits from my employer, but they used my disabilities to my disadvantage in my Work Comp case. 80% loss is about right for us, too. The remaining 20% is a declining balance. A Work Comp disability paycheck would have made all of the difference. We could have scaled back and treaded water for years, even the rest of our lives. We don't want or expect a wind-fall, just what the Work Comp system is supposed to provide. Anybody want to pay this disable man to explain the struggles of a brain injury and how to go on living? We have much so we don't need much. As Kara says, what we have of value are ideas and understandings.

Oct 19th, 2009 6:33pm

Thank you so very much...I'm sure you're not surprised to hear that it was brilliant timing for me to read this...I really needed it this week!

Oct 2nd, 2009 12:46pm


Oct 2nd, 2009 9:31am

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