As you can imagine, I have replayed that entire day in my head no less than at least five billion times, re-thinking it over and over looking for answers, clues, or signs that I could or should have seen to avoid this entire thing, or the answer to why this happened, or the answer to why did I survive when others with this same injury have not - but one year later, I can tell you - none of those answers are there - at least not in the memories that remain of that day. I won't say that I have wasted my time thinking through August 24, 2012 so many times in my head - but I will say that it was not productively spent time, because it has yielded none of the answers that I was so desperately searching for. Medically, I am doing extremely well. From the time of my terrifying diagnosis to today, my recovery has been phenomenal. As I have learned from hearing stories of others with this same injury - people typically do not recover as well as I have. They simply do not. I have been blessed beyond measure in my recovery and I am fully aware and humbled by this. I am not saying that my brain works perfectly the way it used to - it does not. I have brain damage. It never will again. But taking that into consideration, most people who do not know about this, upon meeting me would typically not guess that I have any sort of permanent brain damage.
Needless to say, there are many, many, many life lessons and realizations that I have learned over the past year, and in my own little way of marking this day - I wanted to share a few of these with you.
- Life is delicate - do not take yours or anyone else's life for granted - I KNOW this is the super cliche one that you expected. But I only use it....because it is true. It. Is. True. I had no idea that when I blew out my front door on the morning of August 24, 2012 and shouting a fleeting, hurried goodbye to my husband, that later that day I would find myself fighting to live so that would not be his last memory of me. And believe me, the opportunity to see my husband again was at one point the single thought that I was clinging to in order to stay conscious until the paramedics arrived. Likewise, value the life of others. Always. Every single day, in every single thing you do. Do you really want your own feelings of complacency or your own hurried haste to be the reason that someone else lost their life? I feel sure that the answer to this question is no, you do not want to live with that baggage.
- More people than you realize care more about you than you (or maybe even they) realize. I have had so many people tell me what their feelings and reactions were when they heard about my situation. I was, and continue to be astounded by this. It isn't that I did not consider these people to be friends, or even close friends, but to find out that my crisis also became their crisis, has been touching. You aren't just important to your family and closest friends, it turns out that you mean far more to the world than you realize.
- You cannot live in the 'what if' world of scenarios. You will waste your life on moot, non-existent scenarios created by your own devilish psyche, and in some cases you will drive yourself insane. I had to learn this one the hard way. Prior to this happening, I was the Queen of the 'what if' analysis. My husband and I had a joke that I was a human "worse case scenario calculator". But when this happened, the 'what ifs' became too dark and too ominous to think about. The negative thoughts of these scenarios were overwhelming. You cannot do it. You just cannot do it. There are too many good things in life you should be spending your time and energy on. I've learned that when the good in life happens, relish it - enjoy those moments, soak it up. When the bad happens - you handle it, the best way you know how. You pull together your closest friends and family and whatever other resources you can get your hands on and you go into crisis management mode. Then you get through the other side of it and assess what you have left and where life goes from here.
- Sometimes, there is no "back to normal" there is only "re-defining the new normal" Many people have asked me "Are you back to normal yet?" and this is a perfectly legitimate and natural question, this question does not upset me. It has never upset me and it never will. However, my answer cannot be a simple yes or no. The answer is that it is medially impossible for me to be 100% of my old, normal self. Part of my brain that used to work, no longer does. While I can say that I am fairly close to what I used to be, I can never say that I am what I used to be. No, in my case, normal had to be re-defined. I am okay with that. This is something that I realized and accepted early in my recovery. I cannot strive for exactly what I used to be, so I now strive for what I can be. What I will be.
- You are never too old to ask for help. Even with the basic things...at age 32. For some time I simply could not do a lot of things on my own that I never gave a second thought to doing. Once I started to become able to do some of these things again, still it was not safe so I needed someone nearby just to make sure that I did not get hurt. That is humbling and your humility is exposed in its most vulnerable form. It can be terrifying, it will be terrifying. But also, it will be okay.
- As human nature, even though we hate to admit it - people are fascinated by carnage. We can deny it, but at our core, I have found this to be an undeniable fact of human nature. It isn't that they always (or maybe ever) have bad intentions, or are even aware that they are doing it. But we've all done it, myself included - like when passing by the scene of a car accident, when it is your turn to go by it, you are sure to get your eyeful, just like everyone else in front of you has. My story in its entirety, is crazy. Some parts of it are nearly unbelievable. If it had not happened to me, my reaction would be 'What? HOW does that happen?' I get it. Really, I do. But there have been times of telling my story to people, when I have realized mid-stream....that they care more about hearing this crazy story first-hand than they do about my well-being. I can tell. It may be subtle, but I can tell - and I am sure that others who have been through crazy or 'unbelievable' traumas can too. Thankfully in my case, this has thus far been a VERY limited occurrence - and not with what we thought were close friends or family - more so among more distance acquaintances. So, when you are asking someone about these sort of events, be sure first that you are doing it for the right reason. Because if you are just wanting to 'see the train wreck'....they know. They don't forget and it will always be reflected in what they think of you. Disclaimer - by NO means am I saying not to find out about someone you are genuinely concerned about - but that is the difference in its purest form: genuine concern versus 'OMG, I'VE GOT to hear this'.
- Strive to live by giving kindness and compassion first. This is a difficult one. It shouldn't be, but it is. We live in a world that is polarized by political, religious, and socio-economic lines that are drawn in the sand. Many people approach society and others as "you are either with me 100%, or you are against me 100%"....this is not true. There are many grey topics in the world. We may agree on 75% of our views, but maybe there is one point of view that we will never agree on. That is fine. We do not need to hate each other, we just need to respect each other. There is no reason to get defensive and hurl insults at one another - when we could just say 'this is why I feel this way' to which others should listen and respond 'oh, I see (or don't see) where you are coming from - thanks for sharing your point of view, here is mine...' Wouldn't that be a much more pleasant conversation than the hate fueled commentary that we are so quick to lob at one another? I am NOT saying that I am not strongly opinionated, willing to state my strong opinions, or that I have never had a show-down or throw-down over what I feel passionately about. However, as long as I feel an open and respectable discussion, I am happy to discuss or even debate my opinions with others. Where I lose my mind is when it turns into insult hurling, fact-less use of propaganda that is designed to sway people by playing a single aspect of one's emotions. I also have a much deeper compassion for those less fortunate. Admittedly, on some level, I used to equate poverty or socio-economic struggles with laziness or unwillingness to work. That is not true. I was wrong to make that association. Of course there are exceptions where that is the case, but it is not the status quo. I now try and put myself into a particular situation before I judge someone in that same situation. What would I want others to know about me before judging me in this situation? It is simply the kind thing to do, and it only takes a few minutes of logical thought to accomplish. My final though on this is a story...about 6 months ago, I was at my regular grocery store, in the produce section and happened to notice a severely disabled lady shopping. Nearly simultaneously, I also noticed a couple of teenage girls following this lady and laughing at her condition. They were using this lady to keep themselves entertained while their own parent shopped. I nearly lost my mind and temper. I wanted to pull those girls aside and scream at them, I wanted to find their parent and scream at the parent. But I did not, knowing I would lose my temper I had to walk away - I am not saying this was the right course of action, but I know my temper and it was about to explode - no lessons would have been learned, they would just have another story to tell about the crazy lady who accosted them in the produce department. But really, the message I had and would not have effectively communicated is this: that lady who is struggling, who you are making fun of - she doesn't care what you think about her - whatever gave rise to her current medical condition, on some level she has won the battle. Why? Because she is alive and and she is at the grocery store fulfilling her needs as best she is able to. That is her victory and you have no right to laugh about that. You may do it anyway, but she does not care what a small-minded person thinks of her. Yes, it may hurt her feelings, but she has been through struggles that you can probably not imagine. In the end, your immature way of thinking does not matter to her.
- Finally (save the best for last, right?) - I did already know this, but it is now permanently cemented into my soul - I married the best man in the world. My husband was there through everything. Whether it was sitting in the hospital room keeping me sane, or whether it was fighting to get my scan image readings expedited, he was there. He has been to every subsequent trip back to the ER. He went to every Physical Therapy appointment. The things he has seen, cannot be unseen. The things he has been through cannot be un-experienced. But it has only made him love and appreciate me even more. It takes an amazing person to walk through this nightmare that we were thrown into and come out on the other side stronger than ever.
And to everyone around me, whether close or far, on this day, I humbly thank each and every one of you. I would not have come so far without your unwavering love and support. Each and every one of you mean more to Mark and I than we could ever possibly tell you. Every note, message, text, phone call, you name it - every single one has touched our hearts and we are eternally grateful and humbled by your outpouring of love and support.