Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

February 17, 2018

For Parents I Admire And The Children They Love And Try To Protect

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 3:14 pm

Like many of you, I was sickened and saddened by the devastating school shooting this week in Florida.  When I heard, on the news, that there have been a dozen or more school shootings already in 2018, I was aghast.

Something one of the news anchors said inspired this blog.  He said something to the effect of:  Kids all over the country are talking about this on their phones, in their school parking lots and locker rooms, and out with their friends.

That scared me some.

If that scared me some, then I was mortified when, the next day, an 11 year-old was arrested for slipping a note under her principal’s door that threatened to shoot up her school.

You bet kids are talking to each other.

From my 20+ years of studying brain injury and our magnificent brains, one of the most critical treasures of information has to do with brain development and the ages at which we experience it.

I think it is valuable information as parents, all over the country, try to figure out how to address and whether to address this school shooting topic with their kids.

I was curious so I asked three strangers who were parents what their kids were saying about the school shootings.  Two parents said they don’t discuss those things because they are trying to shield their kids and the other one said she had a good kid who would “never get involved with something like that.”

Parents:  Your kids are ALREADY INVOLVED WITH SOMETHING LIKE THAT!

For parents who never taught their kids about the dangers of smoking, drinking, texting while driving or unprotected sex, your kids are gathering their information, nonetheless.  Same with school violence, bullying and mass shootings.

And, if those kids are left to learn about all these things from their friends, here is the brain development information I mentioned earlier:

Young people’s brains do not fully develop until their mid-twenties.  For some, their thirties.  Unfortunately, the critical part of the young brain not yet fully developed is the frontal lobe:  the part of the brain that manages impulse control, judgment, insight, and emotional control.  So when teens and college students engage in risky and/or irrational behavior, it’s not just that they don’t have the adequate life experience to know better, but, rather, their brains have difficulty assessing the possible consequences.

They need you.

True, kids may hear your lessons and speeches and go out and try pot, drinking and sex regardless.

But, if you are not in the game, most will find themselves in dangerous and, even, criminal situations without perspective and appreciation for the consequences.

They’re not thinking like us.  Not even if they are raised by the best, smartest parents in the world.  Not even if they come from a wealthy upbringing or attend the best private schools.

They simply cannot think like a rational, measured, composed adult who appreciates consequence fully if they are simply teenagers or college kids.

Please don’t think your kids “would never do that sort of thing.”  There are over a hundred sets of parents who never imagined their kid would shoot up a school.

No parents ever teach their kids to be cruel bullies or to rape or to assault or to murder.  But these things happen, now, commonly.

Beyond just telling them what you expect and telling them what’s wrong, it’s important to find out what they are thinking.  To GO TO THE PLACE WHERE THEY ARE IN THEIR BRAIN’S DEVELOPMENT and to understand how they are putting all this stuff together and why.

I’m sure most parents will spend ten times more hours helping their kids studying math and science and doing writing assignments.  But they can flunk a test and not spend the rest of their lives in prison.  They can mess up a class and not end up on the nightly news because they threw boulders off of highway bridges, gang-raped a classmate or torched a house.

Kids can’t be totally trusted to do the right thing and to think like a responsible, safe adult until their brains are fully developed.  The very area that controls all the dangerous choices they might make simply isn’t ready for that responsibility yet.

Please, for their sake and for yours and for the safety of our communities, please don’t think you’ve taught them enough about things you would, otherwise, take for granted.  They ARE going to learn, one way or another and we simply cannot afford to think we know how they are thinking just because it seems obvious to us.

We can’t stop every school shooting but I’m cheering for you to be the ones who re-dedicate themselves to understanding the brain’s challenges at this age of development.

PS  When those kids were holed up inside that school and terrified as they heard the shots fired, they texted their parents.  No one ever wants to imagine such a scenario but, in that possible instance, parents need to know what they are going to reply and they need to prepare their kids for how to shelter in place, silence their phones, etc.

I pray for you and your kids’ safety in such a troubled world.  Love you guys!

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February 13, 2018

What Are We Telling Ourselves?

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 4:04 pm

As I watch the Olympics, I am wowed, of course.  Wowed by the spins and the moves and the turns.  Wowed by the flippy flips in the air and the twirly twirls and whatever they call that awesome thing…

I am near-constantly awed by the imagined number of repetitions it must have taken for each of these athletes to perfect their craft.   This leap, that throw, this spin, that turn…

I can only imagine the size of their hearts.  These young people have worked, some for four years and some for 30 years, to achieve their moment.  Their Olympic moment.

How many times did they fall on their butts?  How many mornings, dark and freezing, did they roll out of bed?  How many times did they literally drag themselves out of the cold, off the ice, out of the snow…physically and mentally wasted?

Countless.

And during all those times.  All those lonely moments when that podium seemed a lifetime away and their dreams appeared to be dimmed by failure, by the size of the task, by the enormity of the mountain.  What did they tell themselves?

I can.

I can do this.

I will be better.

 

 

January 23, 2018

A Banana Pepper New Year

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 2:00 pm

It came on like I had been hit by a truck…A couple weeks before Christmas, at work, all of a sudden I was hit by an overwhelming sense of imbalance and dizzying unsteadiness.  It rocked me and scared the heck out of me.

For someone who has struggled with TBI balance dysfunction for more than twenty years now, even the slightest tweak to my still-whonkey balance system was enough to throw me sideways.

I made it through the holidays and, to be honest, I have no idea how.   The New Year and a visit from my cousin and then my birthday a week ago…

Still dizzy.

I had heard of many people having this so I imagined it a virus.  With the holidays, I just couldn’t deal with anything other than that so I figured out what helped and what didn’t and started to adjust.  Right after Christmas I went to a clinic.  Young and inexperienced, the woman couldn’t really appreciate how my walking is abnormal to begin with.  She was horrified and got right on the phone and called the hospital.  She told me I could phone a friend or she would call an ambulance but I was going.

There was cursing.

The hospital said I probably have crystals in my ear canal in the wrong places but that they didn’t fix that.   They said to try the meds I’d been on but to do them 3X as much.  After that didn’t work, I went to an ENT.  Two doctors said I did not have the crystals and we’d have to figure this out.  They put me through a battery of tests and they said my brain injury showed up in many.  Beyond that, they concurred that yes, indeed, I did have the crystals.   Off to therapy, they suggested.

Today it is exactly a month since I was able to work.  I have recognized in myself what I had long forgotten…that slow adjustment and adapting to a new reality.  The process I had gone through all the years ago after my brain injury didn’t get fixed month after month…

It’s lonely and isolating.  It’s frustrating.   We all know.  I’ve done the exercises I found on youtube and I’ve tried everything anyone has suggested as helpful.  Each day there are good and bad parts.  Kind of like brain injury living, really.

Although my peeps have been so supportive and helpful through this, there’s not much more to say when it’s gone on this long.  We’re all just trying to keep our hopes up and work the problems and plan for better.

I have fought to keep my spirits up and I have promised myself that this new year will not continue on like the old one ended.  I’m unwilling to accept this as permanent, even given how many people have piped in to tell me they’ve had this for 40 years and more.  What?????!!!!!!!

In honor of my personal determination to find answers and to keep seeking cures, I promised myself that I would change the new year.  I went to SubWay and ordered a whole different sandwich and asked for them to put banana peppers on it.

Take that!

LOL

Tomorrow I will make it to the therapy place two minutes from my house.  I will throw myself at their feet and plead for help.  So far, it has been days and weeks of waiting for appointments and results and next steps.  In between is the day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute struggle of living with an unsteady world all around me.

So I just wanted to send a shout out. I didn’t write during the holidays.  Didn’t get any cards out.  Not much great functioning.  But I wanted to say hello and to offer up that this is banana pepper day!!!

All of us fight the slow-slipping comfort of how we once were.  Maybe it’s as acute as brain injury.  Maybe it is as subtle as simple aging.  In any event, we all must choose to battle.  To throw down the gauntlet and to determine that we can make a good difference.  We can improve things.  We don’t have to just give up and accept things, even in the face of long, listless recoveries.

So here’s to you and here’s to me.  Here’s a finger in the eye of surrender.  Here’s to rallies and strategies and trying every new thing.

Here’s to banana peppers on a sandwich in the new year.   To all of us.  Hooo-Rah!!!!!!

December 28, 2017

Excited To Share My News!!!

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 4:36 pm

Couldn’t wait to share my news with you!  In the last few years, I’ve been focused on making sure that I was keeping in the game, investing in my recovery, trying not to get old and stale…

A lot of times with brain injury, we forget that, while healing might dwindle after days and weeks and months, recovering can continue throughout our lifetimes.

We just have to keep feeding the recovery!

For me, recovering has been about daring myself out of my comfort zone.  It’s so easy to rely on our brain injuries to keep us from anything new.   Often we fall into our safe places and we stay there and, slowly, we become afraid.  Afraid of things.

It’s like the person who doesn’t drive on the freeway for a while.  After too long, it becomes a scary thing to do and it’s too easy to just keep safe and slow on the backroads.

I knew that, for me, it was time to buckle up and hit the road again!

I’m so proud and excited to release my newest book, “Every Star You Can See Is A Star You Can Be!”

The book is geared toward young people just starting to think about who they might be and how they might identify their particular skills, talents, gifts and potential.  It’s a fun, interactive book that helps them to begin to find the perfect match of what they are good at with what they enjoy most.

I wanted to share it with you guys because you are always a part of my journey.  All these years later and I take you everywhere with me.  🙂

Maybe the book connects with me because, for those of us with brain injury, we have to restart again and we have to rediscover our talents and gifts and match them with, often, new things we like and are able to do.

We’re coming into a New Year and God Bless all of us, we are still here.  Stumbling some, maybe.  But fighting on.  Rallying.  Achieving.  Creating new lives from the ruins of those that no longer fit like they did.

I hope you’ll join me in embracing the idea that, Every Star You Can See Is A Star You Can Be!   I believe that with every best bit of me.  I believe that in every one of you.

Happy New Year, all.  I love you guys.  May you reach out from your comfort zones and dare new dreams this new year.  You are already stronger than you imagine and stronger than any I’ve met.  Treat yourself to a great new year.

Go Be Amazing!!!!

Available on Amazon

Every Star You Can See…: Is a Star You Can Be!
by Kara L. Swanson et al.
Link: http://a.co/1392HEZ

December 3, 2017

The Toilet Flushes And The Screaming Starts

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 1:25 pm

The toilet flushes and the screaming starts.  This tells me it is Saturday or Sunday.

She hasn’t yet made the coffee too weak or too strong.  She hasn’t yet cooked the eggs medium when she knows he likes them sunny-side up.  She hasn’t yet burned the toast or forgotten the marmalade he likes.  That will come soon enough.

But, for now, the toilet flushes and the screaming starts.  It has gone on now a year.  A year that I know of.  It could be ten for her.  There is a child between them, after all.

“Call the police!”  I hear.  It is easy from outside.

But they don’t realize how she’ll pay for that call.  I do.  I know this close.

The officer comes and he’ll call the officer “Sir”.  He’ll tell him that the TV was on and that there was shouting on the movie he was watching with her.

The officer will ask, “Are you OK, ma’am?” and she will be scared.   Her eyes will plead with the officer:  Take him!  Please help me!  Take him away!

But she’ll tell the officer that everything is fine here.  And so he will leave.

He will blame her for that.

Even if they arrest him, he will return.  He will blame her then, too.  No matter how long they keep him, she knows he will find her again.  She knows.

The toilet flushes and the screaming starts.

I know the house is clean.  I heard the vacuum last night at midnight.  The scrubbing.  The hopeless dusting.

What could have happened, I ask myself, in that two seconds between the flushing and the screaming?  How could there be so much to scream about already this morning and the one before that?

What could possibly have made him THAT mad in the waking seconds of any morning?

He smiles at me, sure.  He asks me how things are going.  He is smooth, you know.

But, when they moved in, they dragged armfuls of clothing and belongings that had been thrown into a car seemingly in a hurry.   I remember wondering about that back then.

That was before the flushing and the screaming started.

Right after Christmas, it was.  The ground was sloggy that day, vulnerable underneath my long-suffering lawn that I’ve tried so hard to revive.

As the son dragged armful after armful of haphazard clothes and belongings across my poorly lawn, I politely asked him to please use the sidewalk.  I barely could explain how the lawn is vulnerable when his dad appeared in a flash, demanding to know what I was doing addressing his son.

Fire in his eyes.

A red flag took aim inside me.

I cannot save her, I know.  This is tough for me.  All the flushing and the screaming.   How many times can you call the police, knowing he will blame her as soon as they leave?

Blame her like the toast and the coffee and the eggs…

There’s no other neighbors around me whom he might assume would call the police.  Only me below.  He scares me too.

He’s not there all the time so I know she could leave.  She does not.  When he is gone, she could flee.  Call the police, a shelter, a friend or family.

Get out!  I scream, myself.  Get out before it’s too late!

She does not.

This happened before, just down the way.   Same situation.  Same asshole with a different face.  Same twisted belief that he owns her somehow.  That he rules her.  That she deserves to be constantly corrected and fixed and punished.

We called the police that time.  We called again.  We called and we called.

He killed her, he did.  He killed himself too.  And a young son grows up now as they hide the press clippings.

This one above me…she must save herself, I know.  She must realize she’s had enough in that hair-thin window of time before he does.

She must save herself somehow.  I pray she can.

Before the toilet flushes and there is only silence.

 

 

November 19, 2017

The One To The Left

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 8:57 am

I know I’ve written about this before but it has returned this past week, it’s been on my mind and, in a community where our memories don’t always shine, I don’t think anyone will begrudge me revisiting this topic…

I recently joined a Facebook group comprised of women suffering the effects of concussion syndrome.  Many of their struggles, early after their injuries, take me back to a time now more than twenty years ago.  I can still feel my own desperation and impatience for progress and answers from way back then.

As I have both skipped and plodded through my 20+ years of brain-injured life, my once-fledgling belief that our brains can do remarkable things has been aided and complimented by increases in brain research.  It is simply amazing what our peanuts can do!!!!

From my own positive experience especially, I know that our brains can find new pathways around damaged areas.  They can build new roads in order to better execute our demands.

But they need our help.

As I am wading softly into my fifties now, I lament with those around me how our memories fail us.  Abilities that do not feel injury-related to me.  They feel age-related.

I am aware of how enormous our brains’ capabilities and it seems a shame if we don’t use them.  Kind of like living in a mansion but only living in and using one hall closet…

My personal goal is to regain access to my memories.  To step out of the hall closet and to stretch out in the living room, the dining room and the kitchens of my cerebral mansion.  Maybe you will try, too?

By now most of us are masters at telling the highlight stories of our lives.  We know them easily and, likely, everyone who knows us has heard them more than once.

My goal is to take that picture in my mind and look left of it.  Look behind it.  Look to the right.  What do I see?

What will you see?

I was talking with my brother yesterday and we were recalling how our mom used to stand us out there in the backyard to take pictures of us in softball and baseball uniforms, Halloween costumes and first-day school clothes.  Those memories are easy for me.

But, when I looked to the left yesterday, I saw that curly tree in the yard I had long forgotten.  I looked down in my mind and I saw those blue stones we had and the black wooden borders around the bushes.

What do you see?

I have told the stories of how my Mom made sure we always had a full belly of a warm breakfast when we left for school each morning.  I’ve long-told how I used to hide my vitamins under the place mats and how my mom used to hide rolled-up dollars in the centerpiece, giggling and telling me, “They don’t have to know everything, Kara”.

Those have been my stories.  My memories.  But what would I see if I looked left of that?  Looked to the right?  Could my brain open more doors for me?  Flick on the lights to long-closed rooms?

Some mornings we ate rice for breakfast and I would make rounded igloos with front doors out of the pile of rice on my plate.  Sometimes she made us BLTs for breakfast and, because I didn’t get up when she first called, the toast was already hard and cracking.

I recall that nothing got me out of bed faster than the smell of cornbread muffins, hot out of the oven and served with hot cocoa.

The memories are still there!

We had a big tub of what we called Oleo always sitting out on the table next to a small bowl of sugar.  On the morning I was set to get braces, my Mom made French Toast and eggs and apple juice and hot cocoa and cornbread muffins-all my favorites because she knew I might not be able to eat after.

We still have tools available to us.  We still have tools in the tool box.

If we can take our memories, those highlighted moments of our lives, and pan left and pan right…If we can stay in those moments and move around and feel that moment and smell the air and taste the food and hear the sounds…

We feed our brains then.  We exercise them.  We make them stronger.

We call on them.

And then maybe, just maybe, we light up a corner of power that our brains can use to help us.  Maybe they will utilize more rooms in our mansions to execute for us.

Maybe they will discover an extension cord in a previously-unused room that might connect a broken circuit so that we can use it again.

It’s worth every shot.

Pan to the left.  Pan to the right.  See the Oleo and the blue stones.  Make the rice igloos again.  Hide the vitamins.

Go into our pasts, into our cerebral mansions, and burst out of those damn hall closets!  Let’s not just invite more access, let’s go get it.  Let’s create it.  Let’s blast through and take it.

Our brains are more remarkable than we could ever fully imagine.  But let’s, at least, start to imagine.  Let’s, at least, begin to unleash their power.

Rock on!!!

 

 

October 8, 2017

Everyone Finds What They’re Looking For

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 11:49 am

In a brain injury blog, where so many of us struggle daily with our brain-damaged memory function, it’s almost comical to write, Everyone Finds What They’re Looking For…

But it’s true.

We’ve had a tough few months of natural disasters.  A slew of devastating hurricanes, earthquakes and wild fires.  Millions fleeing homes only to return to nothing.  Millions more without power, without clean water, food or neighborhood versions of normal with schools and churches and stocked, well-operating shops.

There is the back and forth banter between the leaders of the United States and of North Korea.

Also, recently, the huge media-saturated coverage of NFL players taking a knee during the National Anthem and the horrible shooting tragedy in Las Vegas.

There’s been a lot of stuff to consider, to decide within ourselves, to post opinions about and to discuss at dinner tables and around water coolers.

Everyone Finds What They’re Looking For.

Some will consider the natural disasters just par for the course during a regular hurricane season.  Some will enlist those disasters to back up their rallying cries of a warming, increasingly-unstable planet.  Some are checking their bibles and searching the skies for locusts as they become more convinced that all of these hurricanes, earthquakes and fires signal the end of the world.

Between the United States and North Korea, some will sound alarms that we are headed for nuclear war.  Others will consider both leaders’ rhetoric to be, largely, just the saber-rattling of school-yard boys.

Witnesses to the NFL players’ kneeling during the National Anthem will split into groups of self-proclaimed patriots who are offended and First Amendment advocates who staunchly defend the right to peacefully protest.

The fallout from the horrible shooting in Las Vegas will become less of a human story and more a political one as people on both sides of the gun rights debate shine a spotlight on this tragedy as evidence of their particular stance.

Everyone Finds What They Are Looking For.

There will always be evidence, in any given situation, to support what we believe.  That is the common thread in a tangled mess of conflict in an ever-increasingly, complex world.

Closer, more intimately, each of us will suffer hardships and setbacks with regard to our brain injuries, our relationships and our positions in our families and our communities.

Everyone will find what they’re looking for.

Maybe more than ever, we are now bombarded with the overwhelming opportunities to take a look at what it is exactly we are looking for and see if, maybe, THAT needs to change…

What do they say?  Two is coincidence and three is a pattern?

Each of us has to decide, for ourselves, how we will slant the experiences in our lives and the events in our world.  We have to take in, sort, identify and categorize all that affects us.

What is the goal?

A long time ago I chose my goal.  I want to be peaceful and optimistic.  I want to keep moving toward a gentle light and away from the drama and fear of the dark.  I want to believe that good people, all full of light, will always rise to the top and help to propel us forward from the hardest of times.

And so I find what I’m looking for, too.

In all of those horrendous natural disasters and, too, the shooting in Las Vegas, I focus on the people who, time and time again, chose to help strangers.  From California to Houston, from Mexico to Florida and from Puerto Rico to a country concert in Las Vegas, first responders in the form of police, fire, paramedics, rescue dogs, hospital and morgue staffs all chose to find what they were looking for, too.

A chance to save lives.  A chance to save homes and communities.  A chance to heal victims or comfort victims’ families.

Beyond them are uncountable volunteers in shelters and on-scene to assist however they could and can.  Neighbors helping neighbors.  Ordinary people offering their communities hoses to help put out fires, boats to help find survivors, shops and cars to shelter during a hail of bullets.

What did you look for and what did you find?

Opinions are a dime a dozen.  They are as diverse and changing and particular as style and fashion.  In the end, when it comes to your injury and how it affects your life, only your opinion has the power to make better and to invite improvement.

If your goal is to find evidence that this brain injury has ruined your life, you will find that evidence.  If your goal is to stay convinced that this injury is only about what you cannot do any longer, then you will find that evidence, too.

But if your goal is to uncover evidence that this injury is not stronger than the good of you, you will be amazed at how much of that evidence exists.  And if your goal is to live an enriched life that invites new people, new experiences and new abilities, you will find that evidence too.

What is it exactly you are searching for?  Decide carefully because you WILL find it.

 

September 10, 2017

Re-BUILD

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 12:13 pm

As I’ve watched coverage of these hurricanes, first Harvey and now Irma, I am struck, like many times before, by the parallels of any disaster.

I have compared brain injury, for all these years now, to a hurricane or a tornado that comes and shreds the worlds we knew and the lives we created.   In my book, “I’ll Carry the Fork!  The 20th Anniversary Chapter,” I talk about how one of the cruelest truths of our injuries is that, like these hurricanes we have been watching, a storm turns any way.

Sometimes you end up watching it from your safe living room on the Weather Channel and sometimes you end up with twelve feet of water in your living room.

How the similarities really hammer home for me is in two ways:

First, there is attention and support in the acute phase of a disaster.  For each of these hurricanes, the world’s attention and media coverage blanketed these areas and all of the local and federal government’s resources were offered in order to help the victims.  Support and supplies arrive from, literally, all over the world and everyone bands and bonds together in the immediate aftermath.

Similarly, when we are brain injured, most of us enjoy immediate and gathering attempts and offers to help from the medical community, insurance, family and friends.

But the second way that I see our injuries and how they resemble these disasters is more important and, often, more damaging to us.  It is in the later.   The after.

Already coverage of Houston and the greater areas of Texas has given way to coverage of Hurricane Irma.  In another two weeks, the media will be focused on the next wild fire spreading or hurricane coming.

Similarly, with our injuries, after the initial crisis period, most of the help that was ours to enjoy in the immediate aftermath runs out or moves on or returns:  treatment, insurance, support.

It is a lonely process then.

Those folks in Houston, three weeks later or a month later, are left with homes that are just devastated.  Like those of us with brain injury, they are faced with two choices:  either they do not return to their old lives or they return and begin the process of re-building.  There is no in-between.

Those folks cannot return home to a house full of water with fish and crocodiles in the murky stew and everything sodden and growing mold and bacteria.  They cannot just sit down on the sofa and hope for better.

You wouldn’t imagine any storm victim would return home and sit in ten feet of water and flip on the lights where there is no electricity and open the fridge where it hasn’t worked in two weeks and take out food to eat and try to use the toilet when the sewage is all over the neighborhood.

It is glaringly clear that, in order to return to their old lives, things must be fixed and re-built.

Similarly, we cannot just return to our lives after a significant injury and just expect everything to be the same.  If we have suffered damage, if things are actually broken, then we cannot expect to simply resume where we left off.  It’s not going to happen.

For us, we have the power to re-build lives and re-create them and be successful and happy after that.  But if we do not accept the changed reality, then we are just sitting on a sodden couch with fish in the water and bacteria and mold growing on everything we’ve ever known.

TV crews won’t catch most of the hundreds of thousands of families in Texas when they tear out their carpet and drag all their belongings to the curb and rip down the drywall.  Those families will be alone when they try to heal the rashes from wading through the muck and when they try to get their kids into new schools somewhere too far to travel when their cars are all washed out.

Re-building is lonely and it is difficult.  For us, as brain injury survivors, it will affect a hundred daily decisions, routines and familiarities.  It will challenge our comforts and it will force us to give up some of the things we held precious.

But we gotta get busy before the mold grows.

The longer we wait, after brain injury, to get busy re-building, the more the mold grows and the more precious things we must drag to the curb as garbage.   For hurricane victims is will largely be material goods they lose.  For us, it will likely be our self-esteem, our relationships and our places in family and community.

It’s up to us.  It’s a lonely, overwhelming challenge to re-build.  But the question we must ask ourselves is this:   How do you see the next 20 or 30 or 40 years?

Depending on when you were brain injured, you might live way more years brain injured than not.  For me, in another ten years, I will have lived just as many years with a brain injury as I did without one.

What are we going to make those years look like?

If those folks in Texas and, soon, in Florida, just sit in their houses for the next year and do nothing, the decades before them are going to be filled with negative and dangerous ripple effects that will plague them the rest of their lives.

But, if they do the arduous, lonely, awful work of re-building, they may be back to enjoying life in another year or two.

Can you live with that?

For us, we are faced with many of the same scenarios.  The longer we wait to accept our injuries and to adjust to them and to re-build lives that succeed despite them, the more of our remaining years we will offer up as disaster ruins.

It’s up to us.

Before we can get busy enjoying our lives again, we have to get busy doing the dirty work of rebuilding them.  It may include new jobs or no jobs, new equipment, new meds and new strategies.  It may include new thinking and new awareness and new humility in accepting help and honesty and limitations.  It may include help that we feel we would never need or should never need like depression meds or therapy.

But it’s all worth it in order not to sit there in cold, wet, smelly lives that are covered in mold.  It’s all worth it if the alternative option is us living alone the rest of our lives with our pride and our egos because we refused therapy to help with our relationship problems or meds to relieve our depression or anger.

In any life, we will be forced to do things we never imagined we could or would choose to.  There will be people in hurricane-ravaged areas literally dragging crocodiles out of their living rooms…

For those of us who are brain-injured, we may have to choose to admit we need help to cope or help to walk or help to think or help to love and participate in our relationships again.

If recovering and re-building takes a year or two, even longer in some cases, I’ll still believe it’s better than the mold on the sodden couch, any day.

Let’s get busy building new, better, happier lives!  Rock on.  We can do this!!!  :))))

P.S.  A big thank you and shout out to those of you who have reached out recently and shared the stories of how, “I’ll Carry the Fork!  The 20th Anniversary Chapter” helped you in your recovery.  Can’t tell you how much that means to me.  I consider some of that writing to be my best ever and I was starting to think that the only people who would ever read it would be a Swanson.  LOL.  Thank you, thank you.  You really touched my heart.  xoxox

August 5, 2017

How, Exactly, Do I Do This Thing?

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 9:34 am

In several blogs, and all throughout the 20th Anniversary Edition of my book, I talk about living a grateful life and I explain some of the ways I enlisted to get me here.

I end up hearing, then, from people who are struggling and trying to find better ways to cope with their injury and, basically, don’t feel that living a grateful life is in their capability.  They imagine the task too great, given all of their challenges.  They remind me how, all around them, they find screaming elements that they aren’t very grateful for.

I am not oblivious to this.  I know that, over the last 20+ years, this bugger injury has made its way into just about every deep corner of my life.  Each day, like so many of you, I have considerations to make and coping strategies to employ and it really does seem like it is never-ending.

And yet I really do live a grateful life.  One that is lighter and filled with hope.

What I hear is that people don’t know how to start living a grateful life because they are overwhelmed with the size of the mountain.  The task seems so big when there is so much, all around them, that they simply ARE NOT grateful for.

OK.

Because it’s so much a part of me and so ingrained in my everyday, I sometimes miss the exercises I do all throughout my waking time.  I caught myself doing it again last night and I thought, hey, this might be small enough to share.  It might seem just easy enough for those of you really struggling to try.

It’s worth a shot.

The biggest challenge is often talking about the throw pillows when you have an elephant in the room.  Yes?  Sometimes, for so many of us, brain injury absolutely consumes our lives and gobbles them all up and it’s hard to find space and air for anything else.

What I’ve done for many years now helps to remind me that, although brain injury is bad enough, there are absolutely a lot of other things that could have or still could go wrong.  Knowing this allows me to feel genuinely grateful.  It is a step in the right direction.

I watch TV.  And, for a long time, commercials were for running to flip my laundry or run to the bathroom or text someone or grab another something to eat.

When I stayed planted throughout the commercials, I started doing something that has assisted my daily commitment to living a grateful life.  It works for me and it is easy to do.

I really believe that thoughts are things and so, when I hear people say things like, “I’m the unluckiest person in the world” or “only bad things happen to me” or “everything bad happens to us”….I cringe.  It literally scares me.  I think, oh God, don’t say that!!!

If thoughts are things and if our lives and our happiness are the crops that grow from our thoughts, then we have to really tend our thoughts.  That’s where the commercials come in.

Whenever the commercials start, so do I.  I’ll see that one about the guy who is blind and he’s talking about his blindness.  I say to myself,  “I am not blind.  I have excellent vision.”  When I see the commercial about sick kids, I say to myself, “My niece and nephew are healthy and able and high-performing and high-functioning.”  When I see commercials about hearing aids or bladder protection or meds for back pain or braces for knee pain, I remind myself, “I hear well.  I have a healthy bladder and my back feels great and my knees are healthy.”

I do this all the time.  Literally every night while I’m watching TV.

Those reminding and positive statements to myself seep into the places where maybe I could, instead, fill them with bad thoughts about what I can’t do and what damage has been done.   They are good, solid reminders of how many things work well and how blessed and fortunate I am to have so many great things working on me and for me.  I have gotten to the point where I do them without thinking now.  I see the commercial and I tell myself the good part.

It lifts me.  Silly as it may be, it equals out the darker thoughts.  It is a measure of good.  Just one of the exercises I do every day but one that is easy to share and easy to take up.  No push-ups required.  Ha.   It just strengthens the fabrics which heroically hold us together and keep us able and achieving.  It’s part of the good when there is always the temptation to give into the bad.

It’s worth a try.  🙂

June 10, 2017

Thoughts Like Meadows Of Flowers

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 2:15 pm

If thoughts are like meadows of flowers, stretching far and wide with choices in all of God’s colors….

If thoughts are as numerous, even uncountable, as the stars…Reaching out to the hills here and the mountains there, the streams and the great oceans and the horizon….

Then why do we, so often, choose the dead flowers?   The ones whose time has come and gone?  Whose vibrant colors have dried and withered and whose stems no longer take nourishment in light and in soil and in water….Why do we choose the dead flowers?

Might we choose daisies instead?

Tulips in yellow and roses in red.   Grand Iris and Geraniums, the Crocus or sweet Baby’s Breath.  There’s the Bell Flower and the wonders of the Bird of Paradise.  The rarer Blue Throatwort or the steady carnation….

Thoughts, I believe, are like uncountable flowers because each is a gift to behold, to admire, to nurture, to select and to gift…

Seems so many of us get tangled up in the things going on, the things going wrong, the things we have to get done…Our wonderfully-possible thoughts, like waiting bouquets of endless possibility, sit quietly by the roadside as we race on past.  So fast that, in the rear-view mirror, you can see a handful of petals twisted and flicked and puffed into the air by our speed.

God, we are so blessed to have any thoughts at all.   If you have been brain injured or you have suffered the malfunctions of any of our thought processes, then you know how precious our thoughts.  How vital and how giving of independence and choice….

I pray each morning that mine should be peaceful thoughts.  Calming and composed and creative and evolving and engaging and propelling and silly and encouraging and forgiving and cheering and loving and happy ones.

We hear, all the time, that thoughts are things.  That what we get and how far we go and how high we reach and all that we achieve-come first from a thought.  Ours alone.

We do not graduate or lose weight or give up drugs or quit smoking or start a business or end a bad relationship or be a better parent or stop being mean/cruel/manipulative/judgemental….without an initial thought.  And we cannot even select that single flower if all we ever do is race by the new ones waiting or wade through the piles of dead ones we have created along the way.

Our most popular thoughts are often the ones we engage because they are nearest and easiest.  They are timeworn and practiced.  We know them like we know anything well.

But how do we get better?  How do we evolve then?

If we are only spouting the same rhetoric, casting out the same evidence and relying on only the same material we have relied upon for years and decades, how do we know if it still is true and valid?  How do we know if it’s even serving us any longer?

Maybe our thoughts need to be snipped at the bottom so they can, again, take up the water.  Maybe we need to pull off the dead leaves and clear the bottom of rocks and twigs.  Maybe that Daffodil or Globe Thistle might catch our eye if we simply leave our familiar place and allow ourselves to wander….

If our lives or our relationships or our jobs or our bank accounts aren’t what we want them to be, then we have to consider that maybe old thoughts aren’t working any more.  That maybe new thoughts could lead us to a better place.   Daunting?  Perhaps.

But, if thoughts are like meadows of flowers, imagine all the beauty that awaits our new thoughts.  Imagine all the happiness they could bring if we allow ourselves to see every color, to smell every fragrance, to touch every petal.

What a glorious invitation.

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