“Sure, it was all for a reason, a reason I had yet to come up with. Years of searching, and I still end up in the backseat, ruminating on God and existence and the consequence of good and evil in humanity. I lived my parents’ struggle. I was their kid. It was my birthright. I owed it to them, to their past, to my childhood, to our old happiness. What karma was this?”
— He Never Liked Cake

There are days when I think I’ve grown out of it. I wake up and go to bed, all perfectly me. I’m a thirty-something with my career and my spacious apartment and my ridiculous love for my parents’ golden retriever puppy. Life spins wildly and beautifully around those days. Those days bring the happy confidence of great friends and new relationships and career gains. Those days are jamming out to my favorite bands, the taste of good coffee, and the feel of a yoga class well taught.

There are also the other days. Thankfully — and thank you, yoga — there are far fewer than in past years. I drag my body out of bed and bargain with myself all day long in order to complete my obligations. I’m a thirty-something exhausted by my endeavors and frightened by my lack of faith. Those days bury my confidence under indecision and doubt and tears. Those days are when I get mad as hell at that brain injury of my father’s. Those days my mind reels, spinning in endless circles, pointless thoughts going around and around and around …

It’s exhausting. My Gram Margaret calls it dumb, and any best friend of mine — and most assuredly my mother — will say something along the lines of: Janna, that’s enough. You make things too complicated. This did not happen to you. You cannot carry this with you into everything else. Okay, okay. They’re all right. Give it up. This is all just one big lesson for us, isn’t it? Life?

More often than not our lessons are born from a particular experience, and that experience spawns a “tiny mad idea,” that one notion that dictates a whole lot more than we’d think it ever would (go check out Gabrielle Bernstein’s book Spirit Junkie). My experience is my dad’s accident. My tiny mad idea? I think that because I lost one thing — one relationship, one way of life, one idea of a future — in the seconds it took to crash a car, then I need to always be ready for the crash. In undoing our tiny mad idea, we learn about ourselves.

I know I have learned a lot from my dad’s crash, from brain injury. The lessons have changed over the years. First, it was strength. I learned to be resilient (like my mother), to love my family and to be present. That was high school, and I was young. Next I learned independence and self-confidence, both of which carried me through college, away to Spain and off to New York City. The New York years were a medley of acceptance and patience. The acceptance erased some of the anger; meanwhile, the patience showed me that not all things happen in the time it takes to crash a car. Life is not brain injury. And when I get a break from the lesson learning, the undoing of the tiny mad idea, I get to coast and be comfortable with where I am. Coasting allows me space and time to write a book (He Never Liked Cake), to help others get through their stuff, to enjoy my own stability, to breathe, to grow.

But it’s life, and there is always another lesson. Enter in my next one: faith. Yeah, yeah … of course I have faith. I go for things, big things. I go for careers and crazy ideas and big moves. I love beating odds. I love a challenge. Absolutely, I got faith.

Faith? Yeah right… I thought as I was sobbing into my spacious apartment’s bedroom carpet this past week. There I was, surrounded by my own embarrassing truth. I really don’t have any faith. I am afraid to know what it feels like to feel safe, loved, and happy. I’m afraid that life will just take it back. And if there were a round two of the very big things gone wrong, then I couldn’t handle it.

I know this injury. I’ve written a book about my father’s injury and how it’s affected me, our family. I’ve turned myself inside out — with yoga, with the one summer of an Upper West Side therapist, with relationships with the wrong men, and with way too much overly analytical and deep contemplation. I’ve shared it, blogged it, spoke about it in public. I know my father. I know who he is and who he was. I know that both of those men have taught me many, many things. I know that the injury was going to be in my life, and in my mother’s, one way or another. I am strong. I am accepting. I’m more patient than I used to be. I know myself. Yet, all the strength and acceptance and patience and confidence, and I’m still very afraid. Why?

“You know you’re not your parents,” my friend Sarah tells me over the phone. “You’re not your mother or your father. Things are not going to turn out the same. Have some faith. You know I miss my dad, too, a lot this year.”

Besides, my dad has been acting a lot like a dad lately. He gives me adult advice, some of which I actually take. He makes jokes about having a beer with me because he knows my mother would kill us both (his medical cocktail does not agree with alcohol). He makes me coffee and soup for lunch. He buys my mom flowers. He apologizes. He unabashedly loves his dog, his “Myla Muttley.”

I used to say my three biggest fears were bears, spider webs, and happiness. I used to think it was a funny thing to say. Today it sounds childish. Faith. I gotta get some, because it’s not always all about brain injury.

Comments (7)

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I had a brain tumor back in 2006 so I completely feel what this family and possibly man, if he is aware of anything, is going through! Thankfully I lived most of my adult life as a NORMAL person, only now after having my Oxipital Lobe, the back part, which controls your balance and sight, removed, life has forever changed for me. I am now in a wheelchair where I used to walk, because my balance is way off, have had surgery on both eyes to correct my sight which is still lousy, and wear dark glasses most everywhere I go because now I'm like a bat and any amount of light absolutely kills my brain! I live in Alaska so normally most of the time it's dark like a cave which suits me just fine but we have been having this sunny California type weather lately which makes me just want to up and move to BARROW or something! I read this story with great interest as it was VERY ACCURATE! I have learned to LIVE IN THE NOW THESE DAYS! You really learn to NOTICE THE SMALL THINGS YOU NEVER NOTICED BEFORE! I'm sure this is because I'm so much more SERIOUS ABOUT LIFE NOW! Not that I wasn't serious before I WAS, BUT IM FAR MORE STOP AND SMELL THE ROSES NOW! Before I just whirred through life like the Energizer Rabbit without a care about ANYTHING! NOW I CARE ABOUT EVERYTHING AND THAT IS PROBABLY WHY TIME HAS REALLY SLOWED DOWN FOR ME! WHY ME? WHY NOT ME? GOD KNEW I COULD HANDLE THIS! SURE I GET ALL DOWN AND DEPRESSED SOMETIMES BUT I JUST SAY TO GOD THAT HEY, HE KNEW I COULD HANDLE THIS SO THERE MUST BE A REASON THIS HAPPENED TO ME! I BELIEVE EVERYTHING EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON, EVEN WHAT WE THINK OF AS BAD, SO I COULD SIT AND BE ALL DEPRESSED AND SAY WHY ME OR I COULD GO OUT AND MAKE THE MOST OF MY SITUATION! IM PRETTY MUCH OF AN OPTIMIST AND SHARE MY STORY WHEREVER I GO SO AS YOU CAN IMAGINE HAVE QUITE THE FOLLOWING, ALTHOUGH THE PEOPLE MIGHT THINK OF ME AS THE CRAZY LADY WITH TBI! THAT'S OK AND AT LEAST IM NOT KNOWN AS THE GRINCH IN THE COMMUNITY!
To the wise lady of the North: Amen, and may it be unto you as you have spoken.
Janna, you always get to the heart of it...that fear, it stalks us all after TBI. I'm convinced it does. Not sure why. Good days and days on the floor, that about says it all. What resonated with me most was the paragraph about being afraid of risking and losing, but if we never love completely, we never really live, do we? Sending warmest wishes your way, Rosemary
Thank you so much for your kind words, folks. I am very excited to have the opportunity to have a blog on BrainLine, which opens my own world up to so many others and who we learn and love through all of this. Much love to you all!
After 10 years & 5 months, my creed is "Be Here Now".

Wow! Thanks for Sharing! I suffered a mild traumatic closed head injury, class two, in July of 2000. I was 17, in car accident, and unconscious for 30 minutes. When I woke I didn't know my name. That was 13 years ago now but I still feel the effects of it every day. Like you some days are fine, other days it feels like I'm still waking up. I work high pressure sales job in corporate America, and I'm a former minister so I can relate to so much of what your saying. I have head aches every day and sometimes my brain feels like it could sleep for a week! I met the M.D. who was the head of research for head injuries at the University of Oklahoma. He was studying the effects on sleep to the brain. He said sleep helped the brain recoverer. I asked "Can you get too much sleep?" He said that it may interfere with you day to day life but it shows helpful to the brain. Seems obvious, but never less helpful. Thank you again for sharing how it has effected you. I'll keep you in my thoughts and prayers.

Wes W.

Faith~the one thing that carries us through this world of a TBI. I am the mother of a son who suffered a TBI 3 years ago.Without faith, I would have completely crumbled because we don't know what's on the other side of...those first 3 days in the Neurological Intensive Care Unit, the first week--when will he wake up? How long will he have to be here? What will he be like? Will he be paralyzed? Will he talk again? Will he know who we are?  The list went on and on.

3 years out and my Faith needs to continue because my list has now changed. He has graduated from college, is now working and living on his own--but not really making enough to much more than cover his expenses. Will he be able to advance in his field? Will there be a ceiling due to his injury because his speech is not completely back? He has some impatience issues. Is this the result of the injury or would he have been like that anyway? Is he maxed out in his field due to this? He's only 23 years old. Our parental worry never goes away. If we have to support him financially we will of course, no questions asked. Yes, I know I should be thankful he is working, I am. So perhaps, I am like all mothers out there--worried about their children being able to live in this adult world now.

Faith, I live with it just as he lives with his TBI.