Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

July 11, 2016

Getting Back To The Basics

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 9:01 pm

I’ve realized that, even twenty years into this brain injury, some of the things I first recognized as helpful still apply.  None more so, maybe, than creating a good routine.

I always thought routine was boring.  I thought it made a person kind of nerdy or some old curmudgeon stuck in their ways.  We all know of or have heard tell of those who have to do things a certain way each time.  They have to go to certain places on certain days and they have to eat this or that.

That might be bordering on an issue best left for another blog.  LOL.

Routine, for those of us who are brain injured, often ends up a dear friend.  A loyal, consistent ally.

A dependable good.

I have long relied on routine to reign in the more troublesome of my challenges.  Here and there, the failure to filter, the distractibility, the getting stuck on one thing…

When routine is thoughtfully crafted, it provides us a great sense of peace and confidence.  Even when our memories fail us, we can often feel sure that our routines kept the ship sailing in the right direction.

For many of us with TBI, summer creates a huge change in our routines.  Those of us with kids have to deal with a change in morning schedules.  Those of us taking vacation have to handle packing and travel plans and booking hotels and rental cars.

It can really throw us off our game.

I know that, for me, just the fact that the 4th of July holiday ended up on a Monday really sent me sideways.  Monday felt like Sunday.  Monday also felt like the 1st of the month so some bills didn’t get paid.  Tuesday was Monday.  I took off Thursday so Friday was Monday, too.

My co-workers were amused to see me show up for work with my clothes on backwards…

Truth!

Stressed out and frustrated partners and caregivers write to me all the time about how their TBI survivor does nothing all day.  They often find them where they left them and nothing seems to have changed after nine hours of the day.

That doesn’t surprise me.

Many of us have a hard time figuring out what the heck to do first or next.  Some of us have a problem with initiating and some with a problem of having to pick from the thousands of options of what we could possibly do.

An established routine based on, mostly, when we are at our cognitive best each day helps everyone on both sides of the coin.  Everyone can ease down and feel a little more relaxed when we all have an idea of what to expect next.

Routine doesn’t have to be a prison sentence.  It is not some anchor we should be forced to lug around.  It is a tool and a good one.  It’s a way to help us be efficient and productive during the best parts of our days.

As summer passes the midway point and soon kids will take the turn toward heading back to school, many parents will begin to re-establish routines to ease their kids back into school mode.  Maybe they’ll start to get them out of bed earlier and into bed sooner.  Maybe they’ll begin to get them thinking again during the day and engaging their brains so they can start off the year on a good note.

Because we are a funny lot, we often stop our diets when we lose a few pounds or quit our antibiotics after a few days because we start feeling better.  But it doesn’t matter how long we have been injured, it never hurts to get back to the basics when we feel things spinning a little out of control.

We don’t have to quit what works.  It doesn’t make us “still worse”.  And we don’t have to feel badly about returning to our tried and true help when we find ourselves bumped somewhere off the beaten path.

Routine is a good thing.  It’s a nice tool in the box.  It helps us to feel accomplished and peaceful that will always be the goal of any good day.

Happy Summer, everyone!!!!

 

 

May 21, 2016

May I Please Speak With Mr. Swanson?

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 10:00 am

I can remember it near and close, still, not like it was forty+ years ago.  Our kitchen phone, the only one in the house, wasn’t on the wall.  It didn’t have that long, long cord like so many homes did.

Ours was an awful color.  Some pinkish tank color.  It had an oval base and sat close to the plug.  You could sit at the kitchen table and speak on it, but that was about it.

My Dad was a very talented commercial artist at a small firm.  When they decided it was time for me to learn proper phone etiquette, I was given instructions on what to say and how to say it.  Several afternoons that summer I called my Dad at work:

“May I please speak with Mr. Swanson?”

I still do that today.

I can remember when I was barely driving and I thought it a good idea to bring home an entire litter of kittens.  They squirmed out of the box and they were jumping all over the car.  Soon underfoot and collecting near the gas pedal, I could not brake in time before bumping into the car in front of me.  Unfortunately, it was an older gentleman driving his prized, lifelong dream car.  Egad.

My parents took me to the Police Station and, as I was answering questions by the officer, my Dad was very sharp with me in a way I hadn’t experienced before.  I answered, “Yeah” and my Dad shot me a glare, “Yes, sir!”

“Yes, sir.”

My parents were adamant about please and thank-you.  They were diligent and relentless about impeccable manners and they installed and instilled kind waves and nice nods and gentlemanly ways of conduct.

Our neighbors were part of a vast conspiracy which collectively held all of us kids to a common ideal when it came to telling the truth and sharing food and toys and clothes.  I can remember an uncle teaching me how a young, classy lady should demurely shake a hand.  I can remember my basketball coach, Jan Sander, teaching me how a strong, confident woman does it.

I can remember being in New York with my friends in the 80s and, at every turn, saying “Please” and “Thank you” to food servers and taxi drivers.  Slow, Midwestern Kara there in the Big Apple with the millions rushing and bumping by me as I barely made my way.  “Excuse me.”  “Pardon me.”

My friends laughed and rolled their eyes.

Yesterday, when I was coming home, I sat waiting to turn on three separate occasions as young people sauntered across busy roads, bringing the afternoon progress to a screeching halt.  They didn’t hustle to cross when the cars started backing up.  They didn’t offer a wave of appreciation.  Nothing.

I was in line at a drive-thru window and there was someone blasting their horn behind me.  As I slowly passed the car in front of me, I leaned out to tell her it wasn’t me blasting.  She just looked at me and flipped me off.

I can remember fondly, decades ago, when it was commonplace to connect with the driver coming towards you.  The two of you would help each other get through whatever crowded sidestreet or obstacle you were commonly facing.  Helpful waves.  Smiles.  Nods.

We used to help each other.

I can’t remember the last time someone waved back when I cast them out a friendly hello.  A smile and a nod.  Letting them go first.  Helping them get by.

When I announce sporting events at my old high school, I’m constantly observing young people who refuse to remove their caps during the National Anthem.  I’ve seen kids talking and laughing all during our Anthem, even with their parents who are standing right there with them.  There I am after the anthem, stumbling over bleachers to remind these kids what it means to stand with respect for the National Anthem.  They look at me like I’m an alien.

As I approach each young person through the course of an event, I’ll look them in the eye and smile and offer up a greeting.  Some days I am lucky if, out of ten, I may get one hello and two inaudible grunts.  When a young person looks me back in the eye and actually smiles and returns a true greeting, I just want to grab up that kid and give them a hug.  LOL.

Standing in line near any store counter or seated in earshot in most restaurants, I overhear, “Gimme this, gimme that….”   I don’t hear, “May I please” much of anything.

A little after Mother’s Day.  A few weekends before Father’s Day.  I’m heading out today to go see my parents’ grave site.   I’m sure the gold foil on their name plate continues to fade.  I’ll bring scissors to trim the grass growing all willy nilly around the edges.  I’ll wash off the plate and leave my Mom some flowers.  Bring my Dad a small American flag to honor his WW2 service in the Navy.

I’ll tell them about their grandkids, Charlie and Samantha.  I’ll tell them how my brother, Craig and his wife, Sue, have taught them an etiquette that they would be proud of.  When I see the kids, they say “Please” and “thank you.”

They have no idea what a positive difference they make.  A light in this world.  I look in those young faces with their bright eyes and brilliant teeth and healthy skin and bodies running all over playgrounds and ball fields and I feel…

Hope.  Gratitude.

I pray that, one day, they will look back at these seemingly small lessons with grateful hearts.

Thank you, Mom and Dad.  Thank you, Craig and Sue.  Thank you, Charlie and Samantha.  People say, all the time, how this next generation is doomed to snarky, selfish, even criminal behavior.

I’m not going to buy it.   Not with the wonderful hope seeds growing all around me.

Happy Mother’s Day and Happy Father’s Day to all the great people out there working so hard to bring up responsible, peaceful, polite young people.   If nice or polite make me hopelessly passe, I’ll live with that.

Hang in there.  You rock!  You keep doing what you’re doing, great parents.  We need more and more light to chase away a growing darkness.  I’m not convinced that the answer is simply teaching “please” and “thank you” and a respectful decorum during the National Anthem but I will always believe that’s a road sign on a positive path.

Cheering and saluting all the terrific parents out there.  Happy Spring, Happy Every Little Thing.

 

 

 

 

April 3, 2016

What Time Is It?

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 8:14 am

I had a handsome clock on my living room wall.  Loved that clock.  But my front door has a broken spring and so, if I forget to tell visitors (which is normally), they’ll let that door close and BANG! and the clock falls down.

So far the pieces chipped have managed to be small enough to not really notice if you just glance at it.  This last time, however, bigger pieces came off and there’s just no saving the clock.

I considered not replacing it because, really, we have clocks everywhere.  Time is screaming in neon display from the cable box and the computer and the microwave and the coffee pot and my phone and tablet.  It’s not like I have no idea what time it is.

Yet still, each morning, I am racing around and I glance on that empty wall five times or more, trying to see if I’m late or do I have time for one more Facebook game before work.

It occurred to me that not knowing the time is the culprit in many of our life’s clashes and problems, heart breaks and disappointments.

It’s all about the time.

We get ourselves into trouble again and again when we don’t know the time.  When we deny it.  When we refuse its heed.  When we race ahead to a time we are not ready for.  When we live in a time that has already passed.

What time is it for you?

I’ve seen 19 and 20-year-olds arrested for burglary because they didn’t accept that it was time to get a job.  Heartbroken spouses hiding black eyes behind sun glasses or wearing long sleeves in the summer to cover up bruises because they couldn’t gather their strength when it was time to leave the relationship.  People on the news in horrific mug shots after they drunkenly killed someone because they didn’t realize it was time to get help for their drinking problem.   Headlines of politicians in high places now arrested for fraud or bribery or stealing because they didn’t recognize it was time to just be grateful.  A family out on the street and living in their car or throwing themselves at the mercy of some friend or family member because they didn’t admit, in time, that they couldn’t afford their house payments.  A young teen girl wants to jump ahead in time so she dresses like she’s in her twenties and gets involved with already-men who leave her pregnant in her sophomore year of high school.  So many who leave ruins to today because they simply cannot accept that someone left them in the past, that something changed, that something happened.  Years go by and no one comes and no one stays and nothing changes and nothing happens…

What time is it?

Is it time to get help?  Is it time to step in?  Is it time to let go?  Is it time to get out?  Is it time to finally hear?  Is it time to finally forgive?  Is it time to reach out?  Is it time to choose differently?  Is it time to try again?

What does your clock say?

There are always symptoms that our clocks are broken.  It might be as glaring as our blood pressure numbers creeping up to tell us we are eating too much salt.  It might be as obvious as our orange jumpsuit when we land in jail because we didn’t realize it was time to get a job instead of steal, to let her go instead of kill her, to accept his choices instead of stalking him….

But sometimes it’s not as glaring as my chipped and cracked clock on the floor of my living room….

Sometimes it’s just realizing that, out of the 100 things you do in a day, you don’t really love any of them.  Or that person you love and have given everything to?  They are nice and kind and generous and thoughtful to everyone…except you.  Or maybe it’s that hidden, nagging jealousy when you see someone with more freedom to do as they choose.  Free time in their lives while you still have seventeen more things to do and eleven more stops to make before you collapse tonight.

Maybe it’s just realizing that your bestie just rolled her eyes because you are, for the thousandth time, complaining about the same thing.  Maybe you finally hear your spouse or partner saying they want to have some fun or they need to change things up.

There may be symptoms in the people you think you are giving everything to and yet are missing something important.  Your 12 year-old daughter is wearing way-too-sexy clothes and texting late at night.  Your husband, all of a sudden, has to travel for work and stay late at the office four nights a week.  You realize that all you do is bitch and complain at every turn.  You dread going to work every morning.  You put off your doctor’s annual exam because you never did join the gym for New Year’s.

I know, in my own life, I hear the ticking of things I need to do.  Things I need to change.  Things that are uncomfortable.  Things I’d rather not.

I’ve decided to start installing the phrase, “It’s time to….” in my every day.  I know, right off the bat, it’s time to stop eating like I’m 23 years old and 120 pounds of energy and calorie-burning muscle.  It’s time to stop working three jobs and make a road to return to my dream of being a writer, full-time.  It’s time to sort through all the boxes I brought here when we sold my parents’ house and our farm and everything just got thrown into a dozen boxes and stored on a shelf now years ago.

It’s time.  And time, in all her glory, keeps moving on.  Our lives keep moving on.  Moving towards their ends.

We can choose to do nothing about our dreams or about the things we want or no longer want.  There will be more than enough reasons and rationalizations and everyone will get it.  Everyone is busy.  No one seems to have enough time in their days.

But it’s up to us.  At the end of our time, what do we want our life stories to read like?  What do we want them to say?  To reflect back about our choices?

Only we can decide our time.  Only we can decide how we fill it.  We may make decisions or choose not to on behalf of people we love or people who come and go.  We may lament that this or that is taking up so much.  We may have built-in reasons for this choice or that.   But, in the end, our life story will be the one that we wrote.  Each year, each month, each week, each day.  There won’t be anyone else to blame if our time was wasted.  If it was frittered away.  If it was disregarded or disrespected.  If it was given to people or jobs that gave nothing good in return.

We can jump ahead in time.  We can stay in the past of time.  But our biggest life problems are so often the failure to realize what time it actually is and to honor that particular time.  Each segment of time has its place, its noteworthy presence.  It is hungry for our attention.  It tugs at our shirt tails.

We can pull a cake out of the oven too soon.  We can leave the lettuce in the fridge too long.  We can forget to use that coupon before it expires.  We can race to the bank to find it closed an hour earlier.

What time is it?

Our lives are spotted and splashed with remnants and reminders of instances when we had the wrong timing.  People we loved, people we hurt, choices we made, chances we missed.

I went onto Amazon and ordered a new clock.  It will get here this week.   I want to know what time it is.

Do you?

 

 

 

March 27, 2016

The Thing About Easter Is…

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 10:31 am

I was a girl still.  This was maybe thirty-five years ago or so.  Our modest Lutheran Church decided to celebrate a sun rise service out on the front lawn of our church.  There, in the dew drop coolness of a gorgeous Easter morning, we gathered.  In our Easter finest, with great joy and humility in our hearts, we broke the silent morning with a sweet and true celebration of the day.

And then a car sped past honking, flipping us off and yelling, “Fu**ing A%%holes”

Makes me laugh even now.

The thing about Easter is that it is the greatest decision in the history of religion.  In the history of faith.  In the history of history.

And it is ours, each, to make.

What do you believe?

There is evidence that a man was born and his parents named him Jesus.  There is evidence he lived during a tumultuous time when power and religion battled.  There is evidence he grew up and began to speak of life and of living, both on this Earth and in another, greater place.  There is evidence he gained both beloved followers and suspicious opposition.  There is evidence that political figures during that time were aware of him and struggled to balance his positive impact with a growing roar of fear and discontent.  There is evidence he was ultimately crucified as a threat to the rule and religion of the day.

And then comes Easter.

And then comes you.  And then comes me.

I am sitting here on a glorious Easter morning.  The sun has skirted the morning in hopeful glory and temperatures are promised near seventy.  Birds are flitting and singing outside my window.   I am enjoying recalling yesterday with my family.   Grateful for these people, great and small.  Huge and gentle hearts are theirs.  Smiling at all the beautiful colors of the day, the wonderful food, the blessings in my life too many to count.

It is a morning for everyone.  For some it will be church, for some it will be bunnies and colored eggs.  For some it will be just a regular Sunday off.  For others, a day at work, a day on the campaign trail, on the battlefield, measuring loss or gain, love and hatred, how much and how little, how better and how worse.

The decision we make on a day of great decisions, is ours and ours alone.  It is up to us, what we ultimately believe.  Broken down, it is like much of life.  We take what we know…we take what evidence there is….and then it is up to us what we do next.

Faith.

Do you, today, take the evidence you have been given, and choose to decide, in your heart of hearts, that the man they crucified that day rose from the dead three days later?  Do you choose to believe that, amidst all the preachers and teachers of that day and all the poor souls who were crucified in such barbaric manner for whatever perceived sins they committed, this man was the Son of God?

The power to decide is extraordinary.  It is yours.  It is ours.  And it is a glorious reminder that we are not victims of anything.  We wield mighty swords.  The shiny blades of choice.

In any of life’s moments….In any of our situations…Whatever we face…

How great the simple and grand power to choose.

If we have options, choices, possibilities…If there are multiple roads out…If there is even one…

Then we have every reason to celebrate.  Each day.  Each glorious morning or hope and of possibility.

If there is time, then there is time.  We’ve seen buzzer-beaters from beyond half-court.  We’ve seen people recover after dire doctors’ prognosis.  We’ve seen improbable comebacks and unbelievable finishes.

There is evidence of this.

What, then, do you believe?

In one lifetime, in one relationship, in one situation, in one disease, in one condition, in one problem, in one moment….

Let’s celebrate that it is ours to make.  Ours to seize.  Ours to grab.  Ours to chase.

On a quiet, sunny, Easter Sunday, we will choose, each, whether we believe that a crucified man was really the Son of God.  Beyond that, in each corner and crevice of our lives, we will choose.  Again and again.  Even not choosing is a choice in itself.

Believe whatever you want today.  But believe it is your choice.  Believe that you, alone, have the power and, with great power comes sometimes great change.

Are you willing?

Not many people, by all accounts, watched Jesus being crucified.  They stayed away out of fear, out of shame, out of hopelessness, out of handfuls of emotions we all sift through and suffer.

Are you going to take a leap of faith?  Are you going to summon up all the crazy courage and jitter bug dancing fire to blast through that door?

What are you going to believe?  That you can cure that bastard cancer?  That you can leave that lousy relationship?  That you can make that dream a reality, the one no one believes you can?  That you can come from the homeless car you sleep in and graduate from Yale?  That you, with your missing legs, can cross the finish line of that marathon?  That you can recover from whatever loss and rebound and soar?

What are you going to believe this day?

Are you going to turn a deaf ear to the naysayers?  A blind eye to the screaming gaps of odds in your favor?  Are you going to stand there in the morning sun and believe, even when those people are speeding by and honking and calling you an asshole?

It is your choice.  And mine.

Me?  I’m going to go for it.

Are you?

 

 

 

February 28, 2016

Let’s All Be Cats

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 11:56 am

I drove down a road near my old family house the other day and, instinctively, I looked down a particular side street like I’ve done for forty-some years.  Same road.  Same side street.

Forty+ years ago I was in the backseat of a car driven by my dad and I looked down that side street and, amazingly, I saw a young girl riding a grey horse.  Right down the street.  Now, mind you, I am not 100 years old.  This was not before cars.  We didn’t live out in the country.  For a young girl who asked for a horse every Christmas, this was stupendiforous.  This was over the moon.  It was proof that girls like me got to ride horses in the middle of suburbia.

It was hope.

I have glanced down that street every passing since.  Hundreds of times over decades.  Always looking for that horse.

What does that have to do with us being cats?

Some might argue that, with all the weight I’ve gained since my injury and all the nice afternoon naps I’ve taken in the sun, I’ve already adopted being a cat for a long time now….

My point about the horse on that side street four decades ago is that it didn’t occur to me back then that THAT wasn’t the norm.   That maybe that young girl rode down that street once in her lifetime.  The rest was just a story I made up.

Lately I’ve heard from a bunch of TBI survivors who, after this year and that, continue to struggle with what once was.  With all that is missed and all that was lost.  Hard to move forward.  Hard to embrace forward.

They keep looking down that side street, too.  Only their glances are in the rear-view mirror…

We’ve all heard the saying about a cat having nine lives and, when one escapes a particularly dangerous event or situation, someone will say s/he has used up one of its lives.

Maybe our old lives are that horse on the side street.

If today’s medicines and Kale and all the Internet vitamins and healthy body plans are going to get us all to ninety, then I submit, just for today, that we have nine lives, too.

If each of our nine lives, the cats that we are, lasts a decade, then it only makes sense that each life be new and different.

I read somewhere once that we should change our hairstyles every five years.   That, in today’s world, the average person will hold fourteen jobs in their lifetime.  That fifty percent of people get divorced.

Lives are meant to change.  All nine of ours.

Look at what we were meant to learn and do in elementary school, in our pre-teen years, as teenagers, in our twenties…

Each decade, each one of our cat lives, served to guide us, enhance us, compliment us, humble us, steer us, wake us up, save us, send us…

And then we go get our hair cut.

We can look at our decades and they have school.  Odd jobs, maybe.  This partner.  That spouse.  This apartment, that starter house.  Kids.   That one hamster and those two dogs.  Those favorite neighbors.  That great backyard.  That terrific boss.  That terrible mustache.  That fabulous car.  That lousy break-up.  Left that house.  Left that relationship.  Shaved the mustache.  Grew a goatee.  Sent the kids to college.  Down-sized to a condo.  Hook-up with an old flame that one night.  Company moved you out of state.  Dyed the hair red.  Got rid of that black lacquer bedroom set.  Adopted a cat.  Lost everything when the economy crashed.  Back to school.  Doctor said to lose weight.  Wife’s parents’ died.  Your parents moved in with you.   Kids moved back in with you.  Daughter pregnant.

And yes, brain injury.

In a hundred ways, for a thousand days, our lives have changed.  Everything does.

Each decade of our lives is different.  It’s supposed to be.

We take the good, when it’s ours to take.  Ours to choose.  It hurts the most when we wanted something or someone to stay.

Yet still time keeps on ticking.

That grey horse was not how everything was.  It was a special moment.  A gift, maybe.  A delight along the way.

How many of those nine lives do I have left?  Do you?

We have to look forward.  The grey horse is long gone and one day I promise myself I will drive that road and not look down that side street.

What life are you on?  Do you need a new hair style?  Do you need to take the great memory of that horse but realize it’s not going to be there again?

There’s no sense looking down that side street for something I know is never going to be there again.  It takes my eyes off the road when I am in the driver’s seat now.

Look ahead.  Keep forward.  Remember that horse and smile as you pass on by.  We are cats, remember.  We have many miles to run.

And maybe a perfect nap awaits in the afternoon sunshine.

 

 

 

 

January 15, 2016

I Choose

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 2:32 am

I tried a couple different titles before I selected this one.  We are past the Midnight hour and I’m welcoming a new birthday.  I’m so excited to be here.  Excited for the day.

I’ve been thinking lately about how last year I was crowning a new decade.  Turning 50.  This year, as I slide into 51, I realize that I was tempted to think this one wasn’t as important.  Not as glittery.  Fewer trumpets.  Less confetti.

I was wrong.

It is deliciously true that, as we age, we are gifted the opportunity to paint our lives with more brilliant colors than, perhaps, we had in our palette twenty, thirty years ago.  We have access to more subtle hues and, hopefully, the willingness and daring to use every medium and to try funky things and color out of the lines and cast caution to the wind as we fill in the masterpieces that are our lives.

I’ve found that, even as I acquire a little savvy to go with the crow’s feet now dancing around my eyes, I’m reminded that, often, age doesn’t so much give us new lessons as it clarifies the old ones.

I may strain to see that young Kara now in the mirror.  At five, at seven, at ten….Sometimes the truths we were given so far behind us are as elusive as those bright eyes and white teeth and smooth skin are now.  We forget sometimes.   We forget amidst the drama and the drama-makers.  We forget amidst the chaos of the every day and the screaming headlines of the moment.

We forget that a happy life is simple.

Sometimes it seems that everyone has forgotten, too.

Share.  Play nice.  Tell the truth.  Give it your best.  Work hard.  Learn.  Continue to learn.  Forgive everyone, including yourself.  When you know what the right thing is, it’s hard not to do it.  Don’t hurt anyone.  If you hurt someone, apologize.  Pick up after yourself.   Don’t stay with someone who doesn’t treat you well.  Decide whether or not to have sex when you are standing up, sober, with the lights on.   Dream big.  Go for it.  Call your Mom.  Dance with your Dad at every chance.  Get up early enough, even once in a while, to appreciate a sun rise.  Aim for balance.  The only thing you can count on is change. Everything in moderation.  Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.  Actions speak louder than words.   Don’t assume.  Don’t bite off more than you can chew.   Laugh every day.  Don’t go to bed angry.   Dare to love.

Too often, I think, we are waiting for answers we already have.  We forget that the truth is the truth, even if we don’t like it.

Because this is my brain injury blog, often I wait until the end of any January because that is the anniversary of my brain injury.   Now twenty years ago, I’m not waiting for that day any longer.  Not waiting for that milestone to tell me…..anything.

I have some favorites in that list of life lessons.   Because it’s my blog, I can add my own.  LOL.  That is, don’t be the same because nothing and nobody is the same.

Seems a lot of our drama and our angst and our disappointment and our anger is because something changed that we didn’t choose.  People in our lives evolve, make decisions, move, add other people, change the roles we preferred they play….

A lot of tears have been shed over sentences that begin with, “I used to….”, “You used to….”, “We used to…..”

“Used to” implies that something changed.

Something always does.

If you’ve seen me lately, you’ll know that my New Year’s resolutions haven’t been about dieting and working out in quite some time.  But I am thinning and trimming and moving, nonetheless.

My mind is in high gear and fine shape and running circles around my old one.

My goal is to really start gardening.  Gardening my life.  Pulling the weeds of missed opportunities and bad choices, regrets and failed moments…Removing all that continues to suck up the water and starve and strangle the healthy blossoms.  Blocking out the sun… I’m planting new seeds, new bulbs….

New ways to define me.

Are you?

We don’t have to be just one thing.  That’s how we get stuck in stale jobs and relationships.  Old habits may die hard but we don’t have to wait for them to die.  We can be off and on to a fabulous new adventure long before they go.  Not waiting for change to come.  Not waiting for life to happen.  Not waiting for someone to save us.

Now waiting at all.

Let’s not allow one thing to define us.  Not a person, not a relationship, not a job, not a title, not a skill, not a place.

All those things can go in a second and strip us our identity.

Let’s, instead, remind ourselves and each other that there are a hundred things on a menu.  There are hundreds of instruments to play.  Thousands of jobs to pick from.  A million places to call home.  Billions of people to choose from.

And countless paths to happy.

I’m in a great place in my life.  Twenty years after my injury.  Fifty-one years in to an amazing journey.  We can be a gazillion different things and live our lives that many ways and more.

It’s our choice.  That’s what I have learned.  It’s our choice, every day of it.

I choose happy.  I choose blessed.  I choose love. I choose recovered.  I choose peace.  I choose music.   I choose great people.  I choose dessert, sure.

It’s my birthday, after all. 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 24, 2015

Christmas Was And Is, Still

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 12:26 am

The other day I heard the old refrain, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go….” My initial thought was, No, it’s not beginning to look a lot like Christmas. It’s sixty degrees and I’m sitting outside with no coat on!!!

Christmas was always my parents’ house. Piles of snow until there was nowhere to put them and my Mom pulling us around the block on a sled. You could hear the crunch of the snow and smell the beautiful Yule logs burning in the chimneys. Sparkle-lit trees in every window. Shovels leaned up against every house.

Christmas was my Mom in her flour-covered, poinsettia apron. The swirling smells of a natural tree and my Mom’s reindeer cookies fresh out of the oven. The hundred-year-old ornaments she gently placed near the top where the star never seemed to sit just right. The old phonograph that glowed and hummed and got too hot when she kept playing, The Little Drummer Boy. Mistletoe hung and stockings hung, too. School project Santas stuck to the fridge. Hundreds of Christmas cards she’d send with a pack of poinsettia seeds in them.

Christmas was the same lights each neighbor put up every year. All around us, those huge, multi-colored ones. Ours were always tiny and blue. The delicious smells of leather and furs and perfume as my dolled-up relatives came jollying in from the cold to sit around our tiny kitchen, fogging up the windows and ringing it to life. My Dad would always let us use the nutcracker and he would do a little dance when Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree came on. Always racing in late for church. Stopping by friends’ and neighbors’, loud with the very goodness of together again.

Like a lot of you now, the parents’ house is gone. The parents gone, too. The old church is a rec center. The old neighbors have gone from the old neighborhood. Most of the relatives have had to go, too. I can’t seem to find that box of ornaments and I never learned to make those reindeer cookies of hers.

It’s sixty degrees here in Michigan and not even close to a white Christmas promised. The condo complex by-laws don’t allow us to put up lights outside, not even tiny blue ones. I pulled my tabletop tree out of the closet and plugged it in.

But in quiet moments when Faith remembers, Christmas comes again. I’ve realized that the true gift of Christmas is offered to all of us. Every year, shining bright as that star long-ago followed. Just in simple promise. Just in sweet hope.

It is under every tree each time this year, tabletop and plastic and all the rest.

The gift is to realize that Christmas is not a statue. It isn’t some cold, immovable stone. Christmas isn’t meant to lay wreaths at the feet of what was once, marking only what is missing and only what was better.

Christmas doesn’t stay in one place. In some far off place. Beyond our reach. In a past we no longer have access to. With people we’ve lost. With people we miss.

Christmas is alive. It is warm and well. It is moving and able. It springs to life and crackles, casting firelights into the blue-cold night. Restoring and healing, Christmas reminds us the very fortunes of our souls.

We get to take Christmas with us. We get to take Christmas wherever we go, wherever we land, wherever we choose to invite it.
And, thank God, it’s ours again this year.

Christmas is as much for the present and the future as it is for a treasured past. Why else would we get a new year to anticipate? And thank God, we have that, too.

The other day I got up and danced in my pajamas to, We Need A Little Christmas. I find that I don’t care to drive by our old house. I’m excited, instead, to go see my brothers’ new places. There are kids to buy for and people to call. Carols to sing and presents to wrap. Gorgeous cookies at every stop. Plans to see and enjoy those who make every year a dear one. Every returned embrace, a gift.

As I pulled in last night, The Little Drummer Boy came on and I sat watching the warm, Southern breeze twist and tickle the beautiful huge ornaments hanging from the trees near my condo. The moonlight made them flash and smile and I sang that song for my Mom. Laughing and crying in the carport.

I thought to myself then that, when so much seems to have left, Christmas hasn’t. Christmas has arrived. Christmas and all who defined it, fashioned it and scored it in the soundtrack of our lives.

And I remembered that Jesus never left, either. Even when it appeared so. He’s still here.
It’s His day, anyway. When we start every morning with that, there’s nothing left but joy. Joy.

Joyful Christmas and a Happy, Healthy, Peaceful New Year to you and to those you love.

Kara

November 26, 2015

If Just For The Choices

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 8:00 am

Apple pie or pumpkin?  Traditional cranberry sauce or out of a can?  White meat or dark?

Who are you?  This day?  As we pop the cork on another Thanksgiving, the answer to that question can be as easy as a perfect meal with family and friends and favorite side dishes and desserts.

Or it can affect your life, your family, your world…forever.

Who are you?  As you lift your head up to this day, all sleepy-eyed or bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, make no mistake.  You are being counted.  Another one up.  Another….

What?

If God is counting…If the Universe is tallying…If the cosmic forces are choosing their teams…

What are they saying when you get up?

When you get up today…?

Some will be counted in the darkness.   Some will be cheered in the light.  Some will raise their hands to be picked for good.  Some will slip out of bed in the morning chill and throw on their bad intentions.

Who will you be?

Today is our day of thanksgiving.  Although we can’t seem to agree on religion or politics or football teams or uncountable other things, we, amazingly, all decide to sit down on this day to share some version of the same dinner.

What do we bring to the table?   And, maybe more importantly, what do we leave with?

What are you bringing?  I mean, besides the green bean casserole or the extra pie?  What are you bringing to the table?

To these people you were born to…to these people you chose….to these people who will cross your path for whatever reason this day…

What are you giving them?  How will they count you?  You know they are counting…

We all try to have these Martha Stewart-like holidays, with glossy magazine-cover table spreads and picture-perfect dishes.  We find new ways on Pinterest to make our turkey moist, make our potatoes less lumpy, make our pie crust taste better.

And, too often, we just try to get through it.  The clatter and chatter drown out realities that just don’t match the beautiful table cloths.  Quiet problems screaming, unheard amidst the clambering for more stuffing and gravy.  The scramble to cook.  The rush to get back from the parade or to the game or off to shopping.

Let’s not miss the moment this year.  This day.  This time around.   That moment when we decide that “everyone’s here” and “the food’s ready.”  Let’s take this moment.  Let’s seize it and squeeze it and hold it dear.

And let’s each of us, be thankful… for the choices.  Among so many other things we may be blessed with, let’s count this near the top, near the best.

Our choices.  Our choices, each.

Because it is our great gift to choose that grants us to change how we will be counted tomorrow.   It is our choice to ask for help, to go get help, to move or to stay, to lower a fist or to raise one, to open our eyes or close them, to try a different way.

In a world that so many of us fear is growing darker, scarier and more dangerous….We can see this darkness as a doom.  As a scourge.  As a destiny.

Or we can decide that the darkness gives us the ability to better see the light.

What could that beautiful light cast upon you?

There are a lot of hidden things coming to dinner today.  Some will bring the screaming secrets of hopelessness, of depression, of anger, of pain.  Some will be at the end of the line, at the end of their ropes, at a crossroads, stirring their drink with a final straw….

Let’s remember to be thankful for the choices.  To voice them and share them, to give them and pass them around the table.  The sweet reminders that we don’t have to be counted the same each day.  That we can change.

That is our choice and, blessedly, ours alone.

We don’t have to be who we were back then, not even yesterday.  Life is not counted in Thanksgivings we get.  It’s counted in those we give.  In those we seek.  In those we choose.   As much as Thanksgiving tradition is about the past, Thanksgiving is about giving.  About giving forward, to a future just a moment away.

We can’t fix everything today.  Not about our meal.  Not about our lives.  Not about our loved ones.  Not about our world.

But let’s give great thanks for the choices because, with these, we have hope.  With these we have wings.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.  May you wake up tomorrow and be counted as alive and grateful.  May you be tallied on the side of good, the team of light.  Maybe you raise your hand and offer to be part of the solution, part of the right.  May you use your choices to take the high road and find yourself there….

With a great piece of your favorite pie.

 

 

 

 

September 20, 2015

You Have Made Me Think and This Is What I Came Up With…

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 9:22 am

For all these years now, I have posted a blog entry almost-monthly, after which I receive personal accounts and questions and comments from people all over the world.  They share how their personal situations relate to what I’ve written and, often, I reply to them aside from this wide-open forum.

Jerilynn wrote to me and stated that she wished I would share those replies because there are many more out there facing the same situation and are looking for answers.

Something about the vibe in her short note stuck with me.  Touched me.  Got me thinking.  Thank you for that, Jerilynn.

For twenty years now I’ve walked a fine line on so many planes.  I want people in my life to understand the implications of my injury and yet I don’t want to be considered less or to be seen as not able to make it on my own.

I want to write blogs that share the like threads of surviving our injuries and yet I don’t ever want to lump us all into one basket when our injuries are distinct and discreet to each of us.

I want to work and play and live and love in the “real world” outside of brain injury and yet there really are considerations and limitations that make my “real world” one that includes the permanent effects of my TBI.

Let’s break for coffee.

What I’m certain of for Jerilynn and those like her who love survivors of brain injury…

And what I’m equally certain of for myself and for those like me who strive to overcome the lasting effects of our brain damage….

Is that…while there are considerations and circumstances which demand “different” and “unique” in the relationships of survivors with people who are not brain injured, there are also strict and unwavering levels of behavior and care which both sides of a relationship must demand and strive for and not settle for failing at.

I’ve often said that, if you don’t want to live a brain injury-consumed life, then you have to live your life not consumed with brain injury.  It is in our intimate relationships with spouses, partners, friends and family where we simply cannot fail to strive.  We cannot refuse to change.  We have to dare to get help.  We have to force ourselves to clear away the denial of what actually is now instead of what used to be and what we preferred once was.

If we are going to enjoy successful, happy relationships, then the rules are universal to everyone on both sides of the brain injury fence and they are ones which we have to identify and embrace, adhere to and demand of ourselves.

I’m not talking about simple brain injury success strategies like making lists or taking naps.  Those can be integrated seamlessly into any successful relationship.

I’m talking about the ingredients of happiness and togetherness and partnership which face every couple, brain injury or not.

Everyone who wants to be part of a successful relationship has to feel safe.  Whether you struggle with brain injury rage or lack of self-awareness, whether the “governor” inside your brain is not working or you are overly burdened or stressed at work or under intense financial hardship or you struggle with alcohol or drugs or denial or a lousy childhood….

Whatever the case, every person, on each side of the relationship, deserves to feel safe and deserves to demand safety.

If you are endangered, threatened, frightened….If you are being physically or emotionally abused, mistreated, unsupported, disrespected, alone…

You leave.

Survivor, supporter, either one.

It doesn’t matter if you vowed to stay.  It doesn’t matter if you feel guilt because your partner is injured, damaged or struggling or you are the survivor and you feel guilt because someone is taking care of you and stayed with you after you got hurt.

Life is too short and you are too important.

No one deserves to feel threatened or frightened in any relationship.  No one deserves to be physically or emotionally hurt.  No one deserves to be held hostage, manipulated, cheated, blackmailed.

If these are our most intimate, closest, most precious relationships, then we need to demand as much.  We need to aim higher and highest.  We need to gift ourselves that, at least.  That, for our most precious relationships.

If you are a high-functioning brain injury survivor, then the stakes are high and the demands are higher.  We don’t get to cut ourselves any slack if we are going to run with the big dogs.  If we are going to aim to have healthy, happy, loving relationships, then we don’t get to play any TBI cards when it comes to the basic facets of a shiny, nurturing, healthy relationship.

Survivors:  Don’t get bogged down with things like needing to nap or having to use lists or having to stay away from big crowds or having trouble multi-tasking.  Those things may be symptoms of your injury but they are not deal-breakers for a healthy, happy relationship.  If they are, then you are simply with the wrong person.

The things that ARE deal breakers for a healthy, happy relationship are the complaints I receive here all the time and ones that are valid and reasonable. No spouse or partner wants to be on the receiving end of your anger.  Your feelings of being cheated in life because you are injured.  No one wants to be the partner of someone who displays natural feelings of fear and sadness with acts of rage and violence.

Your partner will move on, eventually.  If you want to stay back there and just choose to remain angry and resentful and refuse to try and embrace what you have and move forward and find new happiness, your partner will go ahead without you.

Brain injury can damage our filters, our ability to make reasonable decisions, our safety switches, our social behavior mechanisms.  Partners have written to me to lament their TBI-damaged partner has gambled away the house, now drives 90 mph, has burned the house down, has taught the kids to smoke…

Learn your injury.  Learn what makes it worse and what makes it better.   Install strategies that make it better.  Listen to what those around you are saying.  Hear them.  Trust those with no reason to lie or hurt you.  Know that getting help does not make you weak.  It makes you better.  It makes you willing.  It makes you mature.  It makes you safe.  It makes you part of an evolving relationship.

Those of you who are “well” and in a relationship with a TBI survivor, you have to learn the injury as well.  Your life has been injured, too!  And it’s important to realize and accept that the survivor is not automatically the problem.

Just as they have changed, so must you.

Knowing how the brain works and how the injury has specifically damaged your partner’s brain will help you contribute new ideas and strategies which can maximize cognitive potential and efficiency.  If you used to run marathons with your partner and then they got their legs blown off in the war, you wouldn’t expect them to run marathons with you in a few months.

The same can be said for many of the activities you once shared with your now-injured brain survivor.

Is your household still chaotic and noisy and crazy with off-the-cuff activities and loud music and multiple TVs going and kids rushing in and out?  Is the survivor back to work and coming home cognitively wasted at the end of a day and you are trying to get him/her to make decisions, participate in activities and talk about feelings?  Are you giving him/her too many choices and then rolling your eyes when he/she cannot make a decision?

Are you blaming him or her because activities you once enjoyed, maybe together with other couples, are now unrealistic and you are feeling isolated and alone?  Cheated at what you are missing out on?

Are you simply waiting for them to return to normal and not actively involved in creating a new reality that has a chance of making you both happy again?

Do you resent them now?  For changing?  For taking the old relationship you preferred?  Are you having to make all the money now?  Do all the parenting?  Make all the adult decisions?

Are you getting help for any of that?

There are so many angles.  So many issues.  So many possibilities.  This is a bugger of an injury.  It’s not a broken leg where you just have to figure out how you are going to shower and maybe someone is going to have to shoulder the driving responsibilities and most of the errand running for six weeks.

This is a bastard.

Make no mistake about it.

I can ramble on for endless hours but the bottom line is this:

Brain injury sucks.  It damages the brains of both partners in a relationship differently but in ways that can be equally-consequential to the partnership.  Both partners have a right to be happy and a right to be safe.  Both partners have a responsibility to change, to learn, to embrace a new direction.  To create better in any form they can enlist:  counseling, learning, medication, adjusting, accepting, adding new…

Nobody can walk in your shoes.  Your particular shoes.  Nobody can really know what intricacies are at play in any relationship.  Only you can answer to yourself and to your partner.  Only the two of you can vow to invest the best of you.  To commit to evolving into a new version of you.

Just know that different doesn’t always mean worse.  Brain injury is not strong enough to automatically doom a relationship.

I am in the most loving, healthy, nurturing, beautiful relationship of my life.  It happened after my injury.  It happens with my injury.  Together we have integrated the lingering symptoms of my injury into our normal.  The key, for us, is that we chose the right person.   We identified what was important and my symptoms and challenges ended up pretty low on the list.  Above that were safety and love and respect and attraction and unwavering support and fun and ease and friendship and the willingness to evolve.

Please don’t give brain injury the power to take more than it has already.   Do what you must, enlist all the weapons at your disposal to put up the good fight.  To battle for the relationships which once meant the world to you.  To battle for your happiness, for love, for someone special to live your life with.   Accept that sometimes the best thing you can do for a relationship is to let it go.  And, if you can live with all your efforts and know that you did try what you consider to be everything, then you wish each other well and hope they can find their happiness with someone else.   Sometimes that is the greatest gift we can give our partners.

I’m cheering for all of you.  Wishing you a happy, fulfilling, fun life full of love and someone to share it with.

August 23, 2015

Yes, I Admit, I’m A Hypocrite!

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 10:58 am

Boy, it’s hard being a U of M football fan.  No, not because we’ve been so awful the past seven years.   That’s hard enough, trust me.

It’s hard being such a football fan every college football Saturday when, for most of the rest of every week, I’m such a staunch cheerleader for the survivors of brain injury and for the prevention of it.

Damn.

Virtually even Saturday since 1974 I’ve watched my beloved Wolverines race through that banner at the Big House or take the field on the road.  As a kid, my Mom let me draw block M’s on Sociables crackers with canned cheese whiz.  She’d make her chili and we’d gather as a family and cheer on our Maize and Blue.

Those are some of my fondest family memories as a kid.

Today I don’t want my nephew to play football.

Hmmmmm…..

It’s hard to juggle this love/hate relationship when so much is on the line.

It used to be that head injuries acquired in football were seemingly rare.  Rare because we dumbed them down by saying a kid “got his bell rung” or was “seeing stars.”

Football players, by their very nature, are tough buggers.  Their coaches are tough.  Their fans’ expectations are tough, also.

Today we know so much more about concussion and head injury.  It has been proven that linemen repeatedly alter their brains IN PRACTICE.  We also know that people who sustain a concussion are both more likely to sustain another one and are extremely vulnerable to a worse second if they return to action before they have healed entirely.

And I can’t wait for the season to start.

ARRRRRRGGGHHHH!!!!!!

Beyond the University of Michigan football, the Detroit Lions are looking promising this season and I work part-time as a public address announcer for football at my old high school.

I love the sport.

So I tell myself things.  I tell myself that football has always been and will always be.  I tell myself that I acquired my brain injury driving and I haven’t given up driving or encouraged people to stop getting behind the wheel.  I pump myself up with reassurances that trainers are better aware and helmets are better equipped and laws are now scaling back on helmet-to-helmet hits.

And I pray a lot.

I pray that every person who is even remotely in charge of a young person’s future and cognitive health will take a moment before each practice and game to remind him or herself of just what’s at stake here.

Coaches, trainers, athletic directors, officials, parents….

The game we must win this season has nothing to do with the score on the scoreboard.  The winning numbers will be in the head injuries avoided and well-identified and cautiously-treated.  Those are the numbers we have to take aim at.  Those are the numbers which have to improve.

Football colors the landscapes of Autumn all across our country.  From Pee Wee to Pro, some would consider it a sacred tradition.  One that unites families, teammates, schools, fan bases and entire states.

As we buy tickets and new sweatshirts and grab a hot dog and file into the stands, let’s all prepare a little more.  Let’s take it one step further.

Parents and family members, let’s teach our kids the importance of fair play, safe hits, concussion awareness and self-reporting.  Talk to the coaches and trainers and athletic directors to find out what type of understanding and awareness and precaution and protocols are in place.   Rally for baseline tests and, if your school cannot afford them, design one at home.  Suffer the player’s shrugged shoulders and rolling eyes and drill it into him or her over and over until there is a new perspective and a new priority.

Let’s not worry so much about how fancy their socks and, instead, really take a good look at their gear.  Booster Clubs and parents’ football clubs…rally to raise money for the best brain-protective helmets on the market and standard, baseline testing for all football and soccer players.

These are our kids we’re talking about here.

The repercussions of concussions….

Make no mistake, the hits to the head of a fifteen-year-old kid could potentially affect everything about his life going forward.  Maybe not in glaring ways.  Maybe not as obvious as the cast and crutches of a player who blows out his ACL.

But in often subtle ways that may sneak in and steal milliseconds of reaction time, percentages on test scores, higher ranges of motor skills and cognitive processing speeds, fractions of abilities that govern judgment and behavior…

And that’s for the survivors who are fortunate.

This hypocrite is going to be the public address announcer when my high school’s football team takes the field Thursday.  I’m going to don my University of Michigan sweatshirt when my Wolverines kick off their season against Utah next week.

But before I call that first kick off, that first return, that first tackle, I will say a prayer for the safety of all those athletes.  Young and old, my team and yours.  I’ll pray that every parent who reads this will keep the conversation going and, when needed, have the guts to start it.

Taking care of our players.  Making their brain health a priority.  Changing a climate that has, for so long, belittled concussion….

That doesn’t make football any less than better.  It doesn’t take away the toughness that so many people love.  It doesn’t make a player soft or slight.

But it just might save more of these kids so that they have an experience they can actually remember fondly.  Or remember at all.

They are our future.  These deserve to have all their ammunition as they head out into their lives.

Let’s do what we can to help them.  It’s our responsibility when they bring so much joy.

There’s no bigger win for any of them.  Or for any of us.

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