Next month will mark the nine-year anniversary of my brain injury, and life is pretty good now. Recently, I was reminded in a very unexpected way how tough things really were early on. A new friend and I were having a conversation when he uttered a jaw-dropping line:
“I was introduced to you back in 2011. When you spoke to me, it was nothing but gibberish,” he said, much to my surprise. “Someone pulled me aside and told me that you had had a bad head injury.”
Suffice it to say, this was the last thing that I expected to hear from my friend.
Did I use his unexpected comment to feel good about how far I’ve come? Did I quietly pat myself on the back, congratulating myself on my ongoing recovery?
Not even close!
In a single tick of the clock, I felt humiliated. I was embarrassed at my behavior from so many years ago. In an instant, I felt “less than” my friend. I immediately felt sub-human. My self-worth plummeted; and though I can’t say for certain, my shoulders probably slumped. I was completely deflated.
And then the voices started … that inner narrative that we all have, brain-injured or not:
He knows that you are disabled and pities you.
What an idiot I am. I must have looked like a complete fool.
If someone told him that I had a head injury, that means that lots of people were talking about me. I bet none of it was good.
And the toughest of all:
You are never going to be normal again. You will spend the rest of your life never living up to the standards of those uninjured. You will ALWAYS be ‘less than.’
As much as I would like to say that this was a one-off event, I can’t. In the quiet of home, when something TBI related comes up, I am indeed able to shrug it off. But when I’m out and about, in public with other people, and TBI symptoms resurface (as they sometimes do), it’s a whole different scenario, with the negative inner narrative taking over.
Though I can’t help what I think, I do have the power to recognize and respond to these thoughts.
With awareness and effort, I can take mental control of things and remind myself that I am a miracle. If I believed the medical professionals, I wasn’t supposed to have the life I have today. I am an equal member of the human family — no better or no worse than anyone else. And I sometimes need to remind myself that I am not alone in having an invisible disability.
As I move through my day-to-day life, I pass by others with hidden challenges. That cashier at the market might have fibromyalgia. The person that I just held the door for may be living with depression. The list goes on. Many of us have heard the old saying, “Be kind to people as everyone is fighting their own battle.”
I have a heartbeat; therefore, I have challenges. You have a heartbeat, and it’s a near certainty that you have challenges, too. If I look at the fact that we all share challenges, then I’m less alone, and simply an average member of the human family. I belong here. And isn’t that all that we really want — just to belong?