Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

September 5, 2019

Joan Rivers, Really

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 9:42 am

I’ve long-made it a habit to be inspired every day.  To make sure I seek out or welcome at least one story of strength, of overcoming, of successful thinking…

Last night I caught the life story of Joan Rivers.  I thought I might just take a peek at this over-the-top icon, not expecting anything more than a glimpse and a glance at her outrageousness.  But I was struck and glued.  What a fascinating story!

Because of hardships, quick-changes, doors closing, opportunities drying up…Joan Rivers reinvented herself over and over throughout her lifetime.

Her life story is a great example we can all take from.

When she was Johnny Carson’s permanent stand-in on The Tonight Show, she felt she was at the pinnacle of her career in a stand-up comedy world long-run by men.  She had made it.   She was a star.

But, apparently at some point, she caught a glimpse of an internal NBC memo naming ten possible candidates to replace Carson after he retired.  Her name was not on it.  Though, later, it was rumored that the list had been a ruse, NBC extended Carson’s contract by two years and only extended Rivers’ by one.  She felt the writing was on the wall and she took a huge gamble and grabbed the opportunity to go up against Carson in that premium late-night slot from an fledgling Fox station.  It was a huge gamble, going up against Carson.  A gigantic risk.

She and her producer husband were fired before a year was up.

From one of the pinnacles of any entertainment career, permanent guest host on The Tonight Show, to being fired from Fox and, eventually, black-listed by Carson, Joan Rivers found herself at an abrupt dead-end with nothing that looked like any kind of hope.

Like so many of us find ourselves after we are first-hurt.

And then it got worse.

Her husband, devastated after the firing from Fox and already long-suffering depression, took his own life.

What then?  What would she do?  What would any of us do?

What have we done now?

Black-listed, unemployed, grieving, alienated from her only daughter, Joan Rivers scratched and she clawed.  She swallowed her pride and she took small gigs anywhere and everywhere, just to try and keep the lights on and the roof over her head.  She called up every name on her Rolodex and asked, “What can I do?”

What can I do?

In the years that followed, she slowly climbed back from sleepless nights catching an hour of sleep between flights to uncountable and modest gigs in cities she hadn’t heard of.   From sharing the spotlight with comics who were half her age and who had no star power.

She did what she had to do.

Even as she reclaimed some of her star power, there were new opportunities and new failings.  A new nighttime talk show.  A morning show.  She started writing books.  She took a gig interviewing stars on the red carpet.  She starred in a show set in California where she would fly out there from New York, tape the show, and fly back.   She went on the road more.  She made guest appearances.  She accepted the new opportunity to sell a clothing line on a fledgling network (back then) just starting to sell clothing on TVs.  She helped establish a charity.  She won Celebrity Apprentice.  She wrote more books, 12 in all.

Joan Rivers’ life lessons often get lost in the outrageous quips and over-the-top comments she has been quoted and known for.  But she gave us so much more.

What an extraordinary lesson in not giving up.  In how to rebound.  In how to change direction after hitting a frustrating wall.  In how to be open to any opportunity and how to be courageous enough to try anything new.

Too often, brain injury or not, we get stuck or scared.  We start to cling too tightly because something is all we’ve known, because of expectations, because of perceived insurances and assurances.   And, when that comfort dries up or gets snatched away by circumstances in life, we are decimated.

Joan Rivers’ life story reminds us that our lives are big enough to dare broadly.  To strike out new.  To try anything and everything.

Our lives are big enough to hold a lot of new directions, new dreams, new starts and new ways.

Let’s not spend one more day anchored to what we cannot do.  Let’s, instead, embrace each day and challenge ourselves to find what more we are capable of.

In every direction.  In every area.  In every way.


July 18, 2019

One Lonely Frond

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 11:28 am

When my Mom died back in 1998, we received gorgeous flowers and plants enough to line every room in my house along all the walls and on top of every counter, table and stand.   I can still remember how lovely my home smelled for so long.  I close my eyes and I can picture it and smell it even now.

After all the cut flowers dried and browned,  there were still many houseplants that I was terrified of.  LOL.  Terrified because, until then, I had never been much of a gardener or successful keeper of such lovelies.

But I learned.

Each plant needed different things.  Some wanted morning sun and some wanted cool shade.  Some required water every day, just a little, while others preferred a good dose once a week.

I tell myself they all loved my singing.

Bad, sadly, after ten years or so, one of the multi-colored plants had suffered and sputtered down to a lone frond.

One lonely frond.

She stuck straight up out of the dirt all by herself.  All alone.   Nothing I tried worked and I tried everything, it seemed.  Still she stood…alone.  She had lost her colors and she had curled into herself.  She looked more like a long tobacco leaf than part of the broad, fabulously-colored plant she had once been.

I didn’t have the heart to toss her.  I was prepared to live forever with my one sad frond.  Because she was left from a time of such generosity and love from my family and friends, I could not give up on her.

When I moved to my condo seven years ago, I brought her along.  Through the unforgiving breath of January in Michigan.  Into the car, into the house.

I repotted her and put her in the front window and then the back.   I told her how much I believed in her.   I brought some more plants back to be with her so she wouldn’t have to be alone.

That was seven years ago.

Today that amazing frond sits waiting for her afternoon sunshine.  Together with all her friends, she has grown from that one last, lost frond to a sassy, multi-colored beauty again.

She has three strong base limbs and I just saw the other day that she is about to have another baby.   A tiny new bright green sprout is fighting its way to the sun.

The original frond has now grown from about eight inches to nearing four feet high.  She reminds me, every day, that all of us feel lonely at some point.  All of us lose our colors and our activity around us and our like support.

All of us turn into ourselves, even sometimes for many years.

And then we regather ourselves and we are sparked by some glory-fed new day.  We  reach for that sunshine and we begin to bloom again.

July 3, 2019

You Can Spread a Good

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 10:19 am

I belong to several support groups on Facebook, both for brain injury and for survivors of domestic abuse and intimate crime.   While most sets of issues are distinct to their group, they do cross paths in some ways.

One of the ways I have seen that members of both groups can suffer is with startle response and trouble with chaotic and loud noise.  With 4th of July season upon us, this is a particularly challenging time for many.

I have posted on my FB page a plea for people to choose not to ignite personal fireworks in their neighborhoods.  Beyond those of us who suffer noise and startle response issues, there is valid research concluding the concussive and disorienting effects of fireworks on birds.  There is also significant data to back up pleas from veterans who have returned with PTSD (and anyone suffering PTSD), babies who show increased anxiety and stress, pets who suffer horrifically during fireworks season, people who are trying to sleep for odd work hours and others.

In my FB post, I encouraged people to visit any of the dozens of area fireworks displays that are registered and properly scheduled.   Those can be planned for.

You can do some extra good in this world by posting your own struggles with PTSD or startle response or noise challenges, if you suffer these.   You can share my post from Facebook or send out your own.

This is such a tough time for countless people and animals in our homes and in our neighborhoods.  This is a great opportunity to do some good by reaching out to your people and by reminding them how damaging close fireworks can be.

Hope you all have a terrific holiday.   Cheering for you.  :)) Kara

June 14, 2019

Things That Have, Never Before, Happened

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 1:53 pm

When I fall back a little…when I stop from anticipating outstanding, even for a day….I look for evidence to re-inspire me to keep overachieving.  To keep anticipating extraordinary.

This week the Toronto Raptors won the NBA Championship for the first time in their franchise’s 24-year history.   The St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup Championship for the first time in their 52-year history.

Things can be done that have never been done before.  Things can be done that nobody thought possible.  Things can be done when people keep anticipating extraordinary.

Rock this life!!!

June 12, 2019

Mistaken Angst

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 2:56 pm

I think, for so many of us, there is such great fear and dread and anger for our futures because we fear that now Fate has tipped the scales against us.  That we will now and forever be measured from behind the eight ball.   That we will always be counted pennies short on the dollar.  That we will live unfair lives from here on out.

The truth is that, for those of us who did not suffer greatly-altering frontal lobe injuries that might prevent us from choosing our behaviors, we have been angst-ridden mistakenly.

Thank God.

In the end and until the end, we won’t be measured for brain injury or not.   We won’t be measured by how we fail to duplicate those lives we lived before.

That’s only in our heads.

We will be measured by things that are available to most all of us, still.

We will be measured like the one who can still work 80 hours a week and coach his kids on weekends.  We will be measured like the professional athletes, the school teachers, the President of the United States…

We will be measured like your spouse, like your kids, like your friends and neighbors.

We will be measured by whether we gave good or bad.  Whether we chose dark or light.

We will be measured by how we impacted each day and each person we encountered.  Selfish or selfless.  Honest or devious.  Helpful or unobliging.

That is the truth.  Our truth.  One to embrace.  One to cherish.  One to celebrate and to be grateful for.

That is the truth.  🙂

June 1, 2019

Everyday Status

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 12:11 pm

If you take a bit to actually look at the time line on your Facebook page, you’ll notice how, no matter what you post, everything makes its way down.  The greatest of achievements…the saddest of news…the cutest of goose videos….

All get bumped by newer things.

Unfortunately, for so many of us stuck in stalled recoveries, it’s like we wake up every day and go post on Facebook:

I sustained a brain injury!

We just keep re-setting each day and then, even if we DO post other new things, they are still never very far away from the last or the next post that we have a brain injury.

It anchors us to that bottom line.

If we posted that first day on Facebook that we had sustained a brain injury, chances are we would have received comments and emojis from virtually all of our family and friends.  Lots of sad and shocked emojis.  Lots of comments and cheers for a speedy recovery.

And then we’d post again.

And again.

You can imagine that, after several posts, there would be fewer comments.  Fewer responses.  Fewer emojis.  You might even start getting comments like, are you OK?  I’m worried about you….

People would tire of the same old post.  They might even unfriend you because the topic is a bummer and they would probably consider you to be a bummer, by then, too.

As it is on Facebook, we have to get out of our stuck place.  We have to stop starting each day with that one detail about us and start showcasing all the other facets in our shining diamond.  We have to allow our news to fall lower in our time line.  We must encourage it so by replacing it with newer things.  Fresh things to report.  Activities and accomplishments and special time spent with loved ones.  Every day.

Things that make us laugh.  Things that are new in our lives.  Things that are important to and about our loved ones.  Cute videos of goosie gooses, absolutely.


And living.


May 15, 2019

They Got Us To Here

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 12:21 pm

From those of us who grew up in the 70s and before, there is a deep, deep well of fond and funny stories of the cars we drove when we were young.  Before the sleek and long-lasting materials of today, most of us cut our teeth driving vehicles that generated stories we never tire of telling.

Everything rusted.   For those of us who suffered northern winters, we were usually pulling out the Bondo in Spring to try and patch the rusting ridges around wheel wells and fenders.  Heavy muffler exhaust pipes rusted and the holes would make our cars too loud to sneak home after curfew.

One of the most exciting aspects of owning a car those decades ago was the installing of a car stereo.  Back then cars arrived with factory-installed AM radios and, as kids, we couldn’t wait to buy that awesome 8-track and, later, cassette-playing stereo.  It was a great badge of honor to proudly wear for those of us who became savvy enough to install our own stereo.

My one brother had a car from the 70s whose color was a pale peach.  We called her the Peach Bomb and it took two people to start her (one to stick a pencil in the choke).  My other brother drove a late-sixties rag-top, Electra 225, that poured rain onto the passenger whenever he turned a corner.

One of my earliest cars was gifted to me when it was already 17 years old but had only 11 thousand miles on her.  Because she was barely driven all those years, the bottom had all but rusted away and, on the passenger’s side, all that stood between my passenger and the pavement was a floor mat.  When I’d drive in the winter with someone in the passenger’s seat, the snow and ice would fling up and fly up and spray them in the face.   It would swirl in the car like it was a blizzard-inside.  LOL.

One of my most-favorite car stories is of a handsome gentleman car that I drove for 8 years.  I took such great care of that car.  His name was Hank.  But, every time I would take him in to get an oil change, the mechanic would ask me why I didn’t take better care of my car.  I couldn’t understand that.  I was diligent and invested in all his upkeep and care.  I kept him clean and up-to-date on all his engine needs and maintenance schedules.

When I finally turned him in, the man at the car dealership told me that, unbeknownst to me, Hank had been totaled long before I ever met him.  Ten years before, Hank had been stolen, driven across the nation and totaled.  He was returned to the owners and, somehow, he was rebuilt and re-painted and sold under false pretense.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that…those cars got us here.  Got us through.  Protected us.  Escorted us to our favorite people, favorite events, jobs and life journeys.

They got us here.

The people of my generation who tell and retell their early car stories do so with a fondness and an appreciation.  Those cars, with all their funny stories and quirky traits and dear names were our companions during some of our most treasured life adventures.

And that’s where we come in.

Let’s promise ourselves that, when we are turned in for the last time, that those around us are amazed that we once had been totaled.  Let’s help get our favorite people to fabulous places.  Let’s be dear parts of their life stories, fondly told and re-told in the future.

All of us, after lingering injuries, will have our issues.  Sure.  We might need a pencil jammed in the choke to help us get started in the morning.  There might be parts of us that need a little Bondo and we may have some loose nuts or screws or rusted pipes that make our whole sashaying a little clumpy, a little loud, a little sputtering…

But let’s get ’em there.  All our people.  All our pets.  All our everything that matters.  Let’s get ’em there.   Let’s be willing.  Let’s be undaunted.  Let’s add what we can to sweeten the music we hear.

Let’s get ’em there.

April 30, 2019

Fig Lips

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 10:29 am

Here in Michigan, per usual, the Springtime comes in fits and starts.  We have enjoyed glorious days of breezy sunshine and blue skies in the seventies.  And then, with rare fail, we shiver and bump along, grumbling at the forecasts for late-April snow.

We wait and we wait, so many of us putting off our plans, our anticipations, our….happiness.

Yesterday the forecast said we would have chilly showers and struggle to reach the high 40s.  Through the early hours it poured a steady blanket of damp, November-like rain.  My headache stormed.  My arthritis bucked and cussed.

I was tired of waiting and so I made my own fresh start.  My own….Spring.

I went to the store and, at first, I began to fill my shopping cart with all my typical normals.  And then I thought, nope.  It’s Spring.  It may not look and feel like Spring and I may be tempted to wait again and longer.

But nope.  Not this time.

I cleared my basket and I started again.  I bought different versions of every staple.  New flavors and scents and versions of every hair product, shampoo, soap and body-fixer-upper I use.

I now have some kind of black coal face towelettes simply because I love the packaging and I am such a sucker for packaging.  I have sugar scrubs and lime mousse made for curls, even though I have poker-straight hair.

I am trying to inspire my hair to over-achieve.

Out of the dozen or more choices of Burt’s Bees tinted lip balms, I chose Fig.  FIG!  LOLOLOL.  I now am going to have soft, luscious fig lips.

And I am delighted to the point of giggling at myself.

We can’t just wait for Spring to come.  Not outside our doors and not inside the windows to our hearts and our souls.

We have to make Spring in any way and in every way we can.

I wish you all Spring, inside and out.  Go treat yourself to lips of watermelon, raisin or hot mocha.   I double-dog dare you to be as sassy as me.   Kiss your winter good-bye, both outside and in, with your sultry fig lips.  :)))))

Rock on, warriors!!!!!!

April 14, 2019

Where Is The Best Of You?

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 10:55 am

Most of us in the brain-injured community think that, without quibble, the best of us can be found pre-injury.  Back in the day….

We speak with sad fondness and some with sharp anger, still, of better days and better ways we enjoyed before these injuries plucked us from our fabulous and deposited us here, where find ourselves.

I recognize this “yesteryear longing” in my friends and loved ones who, only now, are old enough to recognize the fading and sagging and softening and blurring of aging bodies and minds.

Not to be a fly in the butter here but I think everyone’s wrong.

You were never more important than you are today.  Never more powerful and capable to affect the world around you.  Never more gifted the opportunity to imprint and impart good upon this world and to and through the loved ones in your life.

To be honest, no one much cares who we were back then, anymore than they care to hear yellowed stories from the so many who wish to replay their glory days of high school or college fame on stages and fields and courts and in classrooms.

Anyone who has glory days to recall are fortunate and good for them.  Those memories and stories and faded news clippings will feed egos for a lifetime.

But for us, any of us, brain injury or not, who we used to be isn’t going to help around the house today.  It’s not going to help our kids with their math homework or their confusion about sex or their golf swing or jump shot.  Who we were back then isn’t going to teach a proud son how to tie a tie or how to fill a tire with air.  It’s not going to help a daughter with her Spelling Bee words or her curveball or the confusing ways that boys are acting now.

All that good and better we used to be isn’t going to rub the tired shoulders or draw the warm bath for that partner who is so stressed and weary because he or she is carrying an extra load now.  It’s not going to clean the house or do the laundry or lighten the load in any way.

That’s for the us of today.

The people around us, the ones we love most, don’t care so much anymore of any long-fading glories.  When life is racing by in chaotic, noisy, changing households, the glory we have to give…need to give….is the glory of the day.

The glory of today.

Our loved ones don’t care that we can’t do what we did twenty years ago or ten years ago or two.  They want to know that we are joining today.  That we are battling with them. That we are sharing and reducing their loads, their stresses, their demands.

Our kids, our parents, our partners, our friends….they already know what we must learn as quickly as we can:

The person we left back there can’t help today.

But we can.

We can help today.

Can you spend a little time outside yourself?  Outside of this.  The loss and the anger.  Can you spend some time with them and for them, being NOT the person you loved before.  But, instead, being the person they might want to love again tomorrow?

For most of us, the bar is not set as high as we fear it.  The demands are not as great as we imagine them to be.

It’s simply about asking, “How can I help?”  “What do you need?”  “Is there something I can do?”

Makes all the difference.

If you can choose that…If you can choose now…

Then the best of you is right here.  Today and tomorrow and, God help us, the day after that.

That’s the truth.  That’s our truth.

March 22, 2019

“You’re Crippled…Get Used To It!”

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 8:00 am

“You’re crippled.  Get used to it!”  With all the uncountable things I’ve forgotten, that comment, said to me by a balance specialist more than twenty years ago, stays.

I wept in his office that day.  He abruptly left after proclaiming what he did.  His nurse came in and held me while I cried.  She apologized for him.

I have never forgotten.

Over the years I have realized the truth in it.  Yes, his delivery was disgusting.  His utter lack of compassion was appalling.   But, by definition, crippled means “unable to walk or move properly” and that is true.

What I also took from that moment was significant in my successful recovery.

For one, a doctor gives you his diagnosis, his prognosis, his best guess, his opinion based on your facts and his experience.   Some will prove true and some won’t.  Some diagnoses will beat us and some we will overcome.

But it is simply a capturing of a moment.  One that can change in a million ways.  It is up to us to respond.  To apply.  To investigate.  To try and prove false.  To continue to create a better outcome than we are sentenced with.  To get other opinions.  To try more than we’ve tried.  To try differently.  To change, as we have to.

In my mind, I am not crippled at all.

The other significant thing that that moment, crying in his office, taught me….was that we can avoid many many hurt feelings when we choose wisely the sources from which and from whom we seek compassion and understanding.

Survivors have told me for more than twenty years how they are so devastated that their spouses or their kids or their parents or doctors don’t understand what they are going through.

How could they?

We cannot keep hitting our heads against the wall, so to speak.  We cannot expect that a person without a brain injury would understand what it’s like to have a brain injury.

Yes, they can love us.  Yes, they can support us.  Yes, they can comfort us.  Yes, they can show compassion for our struggles.  But it’s not fair to them and it’s not fair to us to expect them to understand what this is like.   They simply cannot meet that need.

We go to a restaurant when we are hungry.  We go to a gym when we need to work out.  We go to a salon when we need a haircut.

You wouldn’t go to a priest for understanding of a troubled marriage.  You wouldn’t go to a middle schooler for understanding after you got a divorce or lost a child.  You wouldn’t go to a civilian for understanding of the nightmares of fighting war.

While they might have comfort, compassion, even sound counsel or guidance…they will not have understanding.

The people in our lives cannot be expected to give us what they don’t have and it’s not right for us to ask.

There are, sadly, countless people in our community in whom to seek understanding.  Support groups on Facebook.  Meeting groups in the community.  TBI Conferences…

Blogs by sexy gals eating cupcakes :)))))

Just please do not seek understanding from people who cannot gift it.  You can’t get your hair cut at a restaurant….Nobody needs the additional frustration or hardship or hurt feelings.

No, I won’t ever forget that time in that doctor’s office.   I wish I could remember where my keys are, instead.  But, for as much of a cad as he was and how cold he proved to be, I have sifted through it to find the good.  To make it mine.

What do they say?  Forget the pain;  Remember the lesson.

We will always welcome you here.   We will always meet you and greet you at the door with warm armfuls of understanding.

Happy Spring, everyone!!!


Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.