Embrace the Suck

Embrace the Suck

Several months back, I was having a particularly difficult day in my world as caregiver, mother of TBI survivor, full-time caseworker, and professional wearer of too many hats.  That day, I sent an email to my brother trying to convey how desperately hopeless I was feeling. I wrote something like this, “I really don’t know if I can do this anymore…whatever “this” is. I am beyond tired, angry, frustrated, and sad.”

My big brother knows me. He understands that if I hint that I am drowning, I am not crying wolf. When I get to the point of admitting that I am not okay, I need support, and he offered it to me.

He responded with an answer that surprised me but would prove both healing and practical to my weary soul. In a sense, I was asking, “How I am going to do this?” His response was that I should embrace the suck.

We are southerners, my brother and me, and this kind of uninhibited chatter was unusual between us. Embrace the suck? What exactly did he mean?

The advice was short, and ended sweetly, but the concept had depth and substance. We live in a world of platitudes.  For example: “God gives his toughest battles to his strongest soldiers.” Or, “The darker the night, the brighter the stars.” For me, those words don’t help much when my brain injured son is exhausted at nine p.m., hates the world, and asks me why the hell he survived the night of his fall. They didn’t help when I would tuck him in for three weeks straight, and he would explain to me that I could shoot him if I really loved him. And they don’t help now when he is smiling, happy and enjoying an evening with family, and suddenly walks out on the porch and has an unanticipated grand mal seizure. I hold him and wonder if he will wet himself, if he will remember, and how much of an emotional setback this will be.

Embracing the suck is about realizing that with an injury of Taylor’s magnitude, we are not going to be dancing through the daffodils. We may not have time to stop and smell the roses, and our tongues will tire of biting, and our minds grow bitter at having to witness all of the consequences, but we will get through it.

This is the darker side of brain injury, and luckily not every family has these dark moments. However, many do. A lady called me once to vent her frustrations and shared with me that when her TBI survivor husband got angry with her, he would reach in the freezer and launch at her head whatever frozen meat was at hand. They obtained outside help, but for months she suffered alone. TBI can be ugly. Other mothers, spouses, and family members have called me frantically asking how I survive our hell, in hopes of getting through their own.

Within the family of a brain injury survivor, relationships will be stretched and pushed beyond normal limits. Any life altering situation puts new stress on a family and shifts the way things used to be. Part of this process is understanding that not everyone is going to be able to accept this new person, and how their injury plays out, and that is not their fault or the survivor’s fault, it just is.

Embracing the suck is about having some mental clarity that can acknowledge a few truths. The wise saying, “Denial is just a river in Egypt,” holds deep meaning.

  1. Brain injury is harsh. Survivors may have weeks, days or moments where it all feels like too much for them. They are bound to take it out on those with whom they feel most safe. For the most part, I see where Taylor’s exceptionally harsh words are coming from—his broken brain.
  2.  As a caregiver and mother, I don’t have to like Taylor all of the time.  In fact, there will be days where I don’t like him; that doesn’t mean I don’t love him. It means I hate his injury, and what it has destroyed. Let that voice be heard, the one that admits the absurdity of brain injury. 
  3. Part of surviving comes with knowing when to reach out. Admitting that you are struggling is half the battle. Victories are won by recognizing our opponent’s strengths, and our weaknesses. In some ways TBI is stronger than us, we have to set a plan in motion of how to gain ground where we can, and part of that comes with acknowledging that you are not perfect in your pain. “Perfect pain” is on the Hallmark channel, but it rarely plays out in real life.

In closing, I want to share the exact words my brother typed to me. I have them hanging in my office, and I read them often:

“You embrace the suck. You adjust your mental sliders of good and bad, so you don’t go bonkers. You move in as small blocks of time as needed to get through whatever you’re facing at the moment. Will tomorrow bring more of the same? Probably. Will it be a little better? Hopefully.

What would make tomorrow worse? If YOU were not there. You make the now and the tomorrow better. You are that big tanker fueling everyone else with hope and love. Who fills you up? I don’t know; maybe it is all within.

Put more simply: How do you keep moving forward? BECAUSE YOU MAKE A DIFFERENCE, because you are the difference to so many.”

As we move forward together, in caregiving, in supporting the survivors we love, and in trying to support our own self-preservation, perhaps embracing the suck, is far wiser than denying it.

Comments (24)

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I know your pain. My husband had a motorcycle accident almost a year ago. This is the hardest thing i have ever done. But with Gods grace and mercy he is doing really well except word finding. Moody at times and wants to work he hates me working and him staying at home. We just take it one second at a time. Because i have learned everything can change in a second. Everybody tells me that i am a strong woman well i don't feel or see myself as that woman. I just do it cause of our love for one another for 31 years and he still loves me so much and i love him to the moon and back. He just got up and looked at me as i write and told me he loved me to the moon and back. That's what keeps me fighting to get him back to normal as much as i can.
Thank you for your story, Nicole. Others on Facebook are also thanking you. I don't know if you are aware of that.

Oh Nicole, thank you so much for sharing your brother's words...I needed to hear that, especially right now...my hubby G always has such a hard time with the transition from summer to fall...we caregivers do ourselves a disservice calling it the 'new normal'...there is nothing NORMAL about any of what we live with now...and when you take a look around, not everyone could or would rise to the challenge as we have, and if the rest of the world won't celebrate it, then it's up to us!! "I didn't sign up for this" is a familiar refrain justifying calling it quits...well, neither did G (that's why it's called an accident!) so we will muddle through together and try to realize that every day is a victory!!

Thanks for sharing!

P :)

I needed this. O my how I needed this! Thanks so much for sharing and I will be saving this article for future reference. I am going to 'Embrace the Suck' .
Thank you for this. My 22 year old son is in a minimally conscious state for 16 months - I pray that I will one day experience your struggles because that means he will wake up. I know that sounds strange. I pray for you and your family.
Thank you so much for saying what I needed to hear. It came at a perfect time when I too was feeling a little run down and ragged around the edges. I will learn to embrace the suck as well !!
Thank you for sharing! Well written and I hope it will help other caregivers and survivors! God Bless You and your Family! You are not alone!
A perceptive friend once observed, "You are the glue that holds your family together." I am also a Caregiver.
The first paragraph hit home. Normally I have a can do attitude but every now and then I realize as the mom of a survivor that my life is not my own and may never be again.
Never truer words spoken. The last 5 years with a brain injured husband has been tough and gets rougher by the day. He has no family support and mine is slowly dwindling away as they realize that they can't handle his behavior. They urge me to walk away, to save myself from what they can see as an inevitable breakdown. It's like asking someone to leave their six year old at home and walk away with no regents. Not happening. I've reached out for help but sadly it's not forthcoming. So you battle on in the only way you know - one foot in front of the other, one day at a time. It's like living in an alternate universe - everyone else's lives move forward but ours are stuck on rewind. One step forward, two steps back. Certainly not where I pictured my life to be. And certainly not where my husband pictured his. He asks me daily if I can help end his life. What do you say? No you have to carry on because I'm too scared to give you what you need. No you have to carry on with no joy in your life and no prospect of getting any. No you have to carry on because the medical teams spent hundreds if thousands of dollars keeping you alive only to abandon you in your day to day living. It gets harder and harder each day to find an answer that has any element of truth in it or any true meaning beyond the platitudes and clichés.
So powerful. This is going to be my new mantra!
Thank you for sharing. We are 5 1/2 years post an extremely severe TBI -- skull removed, coma, learning all anew; as well as the healing of a body with 103 broken bones, DOA on arrival, multiple near death moments. The medical community says only less than 1% survive the brain injury suffered by my daughter. The dark days are extremely dark with anger and frustration, as she will most likely never get better. Outside our community, you cannot explain the reasons for behavior or anger or the mental stress to those who have not walked this path. That alone is the hardest part of being a caregiver to TBI survivor. My daughter, through it all, looks normal on the outside but it is not so on the inside. My fear is real and my heart is always heavy. You can only move forward one day at time or for us, it is one moment at a time. Embracing the suck!!!!!!!
thank you for writing this, I am right there with you. everything you wrote is my life also, i wonder how i will survive. Sandy H.
Thanks to you and your brother
thank you you gave me a new outlook on my injury. On my bad days I will embrace the suck.
It is important to embrace the worst of times, it helps the mind heal. But while confiding about the worst times I learned that sometimes "friends" just don't want to hear or know about the truth behind TBI and only want to hear the "positive". I must admit that I had to slowly drop those friends who could not be supportive to me. But ya know what happened? The friends that remained are a thousand times even better, and I am a thousand times happier, and our family is a thousand times happier.
As the spouse of a TBI survivor I want to thank you. This is such needed advice.

As a TBI survivor myself I Thank You ;-). The phrase "Embrace the Suck" will be a simple Mantra, For me to use daily in my continuing battle with TBI. I plan to have some stickers made up to put in the places I need most.

Cheers, Barto

A good man told me last night "Don't ask God why ask Him Now what Lord" It will get better just keep the faith that there is something better,That something better is HEAVEN!
This is such an important article for both caregivers of those with TBI to read as well as those in the caregiver's circle of support. People have trouble understanding TBIs much less the challenges of the caregiver for someone with a TBI. Thank you for sharing this.
I am on the 11 years since my craniotomy. I had the surgery and left the hospital 3 days after surgery - I have the burr holes and the full works. God worked a miracle in my life and I give him the praise for that. I have a clip in my head. The weather is what affects me. The first 5 few years after the surgery my head felt hollow. I wore a hat even to bed. I resume all my activities except one restriction. My Nero Surgeon warned me against a head injury as my head was cut from one side to the next to perform the surgery. I am very careful with my head as I can still see the scars and feel the sink hole in the middle of my head. I am completely heal but my battle scars are visible.
Thank you for writing this. Give your brother a hug, you're a lucky woman to have him in your life.
Thank you for sharing one and all! I am okay for feeling frustrated and alone. But now I know there are so many others with family member that has a TBI that can't just walk away. We struggle to find a way to deal with the suck!

Ty, i liked knowing that im not alone....Ty , for the post....it was good...I myself have the need to embrace Gods Word for my strength...God blessing to you and your son...