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Doing something kind for another person, no matter how big or small, not only positively impacts our own mental health but it can also bring joy to someone else. Even tiny actions go a long way. It feels good to do good. And, in my experience, good begets good.
This is the month that I mark 12 years as a brain injury survivor. These “crash anniversaries” have pushed me to reflect; it’s hard not to look back at the “before and after” chapters of my life — sifting, shuffling, and reinterpreting the contents of each.
I almost died giving birth. I don’t talk about it much because I didn’t die. I am here. Baby just turned 6 and her little sister is 4. They are thick as thieves and their dad and I are over the moon. But I almost died.
I am a big believer in working through what I walk through. If I have learned anything from everything that has come from the day of the crash, it is that we are each responsible for how we respond — and heal from — what happens in our lives. We must learn to heal our way.
Almost 12 years ago my life changed forever as I joined the brain injury club, a club that no one ever expects — or wants — to be part of. And early on, the phrase “recovery is lifelong” completely and totally annoyed me. I had always been and remain a classic Type A personality. So, it comes as no surprise that I wanted no part of the “recovery is lifelong” model of living out the rest of my life. My plan was to get over my brain injury and move on.
“During pregnancy, a mother celebrates the journey with family and friends — think baby names, baby showers, nurseries, tiny clothes … smiles from strangers and proud hands on an ever-expanding belly. The journey of being pregnant is both personal and public. So, what should be one of the most magical experiences shared with family, friends, and colleagues becomes one of private emotional and physical trauma in a closed room, an experience that is then often not acknowledged nor spoken about. The mother returns home still looking pregnant, her hormones still acting as if she is pregnant, but her arms and heart are empty.”
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. If you are military-connected then you know the 22-veterans-a-day average. You’ve seen the blue ribbons plastered everywhere on base/post. If you are a veteran or caregiver, you’ve seen similar posters at the VA. You’ve probably gone to an annual suicide prevention training or two. You know the signs, you know what to look for and what to do if you are worried about someone’s safety. But nothing can truly prepare you for when it happens.
Over the last 10 years ago, since my sons, Aaron and Steven, were involved in a fatal car accident, in which Aaron did not survive and Steven sustained a severe TBI, my life has resembled a lost-and-found bin, filled to the top, running over with more emotions than I could ever imagine sorting through.
Last month, Sarah and I took a trip to rural Maine for another first-time life experience. I was more excited than fearful when I jumped out of a plane at 14,000 feet and I can now add skydiver to my life résumé! Had I listened to the advice I received from doctors a decade earlier, the thought of jumping out of a plane would have seemed preposterous.
The more I start to recognize what I am feeling — both physically and emotionally — the more I can speak up for myself, and advocate for what I need. It is not easy, and not something that everyone wants to hear, but I need to care for myself, too.
None of us has a crystal ball. The fact that the future is veiled is a gift. What I can do is live my best possible life with what I’ve got. If I look at my life right here, right now, it’s hard not to be grateful.
It’s not always heavy metal or even hard rock, but it is usually very loud, with a driving beat. Why? What is it about that thumping bass that veterans, at least in our circle of friends, seem to love blasting at top volume? Is it their battle cry?
I think what’s crucial to understand is that we are not our emotions. I read somewhere that if you visualize yourself standing behind a waterfall, you can watch your emotions, one by one, fall with the water. They come, they go, they wash over you, but they are not you.
I have been speaking with veterans and military family members for BrainLine’s Veteran Voices series. They tell us their stories in an attempt to help anyone who might be experiencing issues with PTSD/TBI. Working with BrainLine has also made me realize just how much trauma occurs both during military service and before.
While in the throes of dealing with symptoms from PTSD, my counselor suggested mindfulness and meditation, which I initially thought was a bunch of snake oil … something for hippies, monks, and weirdos. But then I started to learn about the science — and even a little history — and everything began to change; I literally started to breathe again.
Three of my four sons abruptly walked out of my life with no explanation and no communication. I was being ghosted long before that term even existed. It was, by far, the most painful part of my journey.
I enjoy watching my husband cry. That sounds so much worse than what I really mean. He’s been on various medications for his PTSD some of which cause emotional blunting — not being able to laugh or cry when appropriate.
To be human is to grieve, and everyone grieves differently and in their own time. But there is a type of grief that many people experience that is less common, less talked about, but none the less real and painful. It’s called ambiguous grief or ambiguous loss.
If you are anything like me, when you or your loved one are first given a diagnosis, you research. There is so much information available online, it can be overwhelming or frustrating to know which is accurate, but I find research helpful in being able to report or advocate to doctors for both myself and my loved ones.