Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

May 5, 2022

Love the Steal

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 10:16 am

I love it when I can steal and share thoughts and quotes by people more clever or wiser than I am…

I saw an episode of Blue Bloods recently and Grandpa was talking about aging and memory and compensatory techniques. When I heard on of his lines, it made me smile. I have been doing the same thing since I was hurt 26 years ago. Wanted to share…

In the episode of Blue Bloods, Grandpa told his grandson that, every morning, he awakes and recites his Social Security Number, former Badge Number, etc. So helpful!

Even those without a brain injury can likely commiserate with how easy it is to forget the myriad passwords, bank card numbers, and clue answers we have to muddle through each day just to access accounts, use an ATM, get through our phones, etc.

I learned the hard way many years ago when I was locked out of my PayPal account because I couldn’t recall the answers to my security questions. I thought, “Of course I will remember those!”


When it came to answering, I was locked out. Was my first car a Chevy? A Nova? A Chevy Nova?

Good God.

Since then, I regularly test myself, like Grandpa on Blue Bloods. I will recite my SS#, my driver’s license #, my bank passwords and number codes. I will recite the names of my elementary school teachers or mentally picture the homes in my childhood neighborhood and name the families I grew up with. I will spell the long names of friends I have or try to name all our states.

Every day.

I think of it as propping the doors open. Keeping the doors of my brain open and accessible.

I had a Great Aunt. Her name was Helen. Loved that woman. I recall asking her what her first husband’s name was and, in her late 70s, she told me she couldn’t recall. I thought that was really funny at the time.

Not so much, anymore.

They say “use it or lose it” and, if you are around my age, you know how true that is when it comes to muscle strenght.

But our brains need that exercise too! We need to keep turning on the lamps in all the cells of our brains where all our glorious information is stored. Keep breathing life into all the far reaches and corners or our wonderful working machines.

Hope this finds everyone well. Wishing all the Moms out there a Happy Mother’s Day weekend. Missing my Mom. Take care. xo

April 16, 2022

After March Madness

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 5:19 pm

Any college hoops fans out there? For those who don’t know, March Madness is the term for the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments each year. They are an exciting, one-and-done format grouped in arenas around the country that end up crowning the men’s and women’s National Champions.

While there are exciting stories of Cinderella teams going on improbable runs and knocking out higher-seeded teams, back stories on extraordinary young men and women realizing their dreams, brackets played in families, offices and in betting sites all around the country, there is also…

Terrible heartbreak and heartache.

When a team loses, they often show the losing bench as time ticks down and the winners celebrate and get ready to move on. The losing team, often filled with tearful seniors, realizes their season is over, just like that.

I watch March Madness each year. I always think of us.

Most of us suffered injuries that closed down our familiar lives in a second. Just like that. Over. Done.

Like those seniors who have lived chosen, structured, familiar lives of their choosing, everything changes in an instant.

I’ve often thought about those seniors and I gain inspiration from them. What did they do after they took off that jersey for the final time? What did they do after that long plane ride and bus trip home? What did they do the next day after they cleaned out their lockers and there was no practice to plan for, no more games, no more…

They suffered some, surely. Tears were shed. I’ll bet there was a transition time when they didn’t quite know what to do with themselves when, for often four years, their schedules had been set.

For the successful ones, they allowed that sting to lessen. They allowed those tears to dry. They began to fill that practice time and those game days with different things. Some finished up degrees. Some trained for the upcoming professional draft. Some started wondering what the heck NEXT looks like, now that it had arrived.

You don’t hear about all of them, just like we don’t hear about how everyone with a brain injury moved on. Those who lost partners or children, lost jobs, lost important things.

I know that many struggle and I hope they find themselves here one day, realizing they aren’t alone in the new. The unfamiliar next.

Wherever you find yourself today, I hope you know that there are a bunch of us cheering for you. The next chapter is a lot of things-shocking, sad, confusing, painful…But the best thing is that the next chapter is yours.

Wishing all of you a great door to walk through after all of our Madness.

March 26, 2022

Precious Time

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 10:43 am

One of the great ways I found to boost my recovery was to really look at how much time my brain injury was actually consuming each day. By targeting those prickly, stubborn symptoms, I was able to reduce the amount of time I spent ACTIVELY being brain injured.

We begin these brain injury journeys in shocking places. Sometimes in an ER, sometimes in our homes or work places. On the ground under a large tree. On a sports playing surface. At the hand of a an angry domestic partner…

Brain injury is like some big, thick blanket of darkness at the beginning. It encompasses everything, seemingly. It affects all of our routines and work/play lives, our thinking, our financial situations, our loved ones, our choices.

As days turn to weeks and then months, most of us find that our injuries are very isolating. Our people move on, needing to. The acute emergency of our injuries falls back some, replaced by new news and developments, world events and the twists and turns of our loved ones’ lives.

It is difficult to maintain momentum when, often, answers are spare and therapies are, at best, just a little help. For many of us, we don’t even realize that we begin to recover BECAUSE we fail to heal. We begin to recover because we need or want to do something and it is important enough to execute in a new way, a different way than before.

Successful recovery ends up our ability to reduce the hours when our injury is befuddling us, taunting us, frustrating us and breaking our hearts.

My recovery has been successful because I reduced and reduced until my injury no longer kidnapped my days. To be honest, I don’t think of it much any more, especially in terms of how it prevents me. I am like my old self because I fail and succeed, I soar and fall, I choose wisely and not so wisely…I am like my old self, just a different version. Fatter, surely. Ha. But better in so many ways!

As you navigate your own recovery, see if you can pinpoint how much time the injury actually gobbles up of your day and target that. It might be emotional outbursts and impulsivity. It might be the short-term memory challenges. It might be the headaches or the cognitive fatigue.

If you can target each time-stealing part of your injury, like a fire to put out, you will claim back more and more of your days. Instead of thinking of your injury as this gigantic monster that ruined everything, try to think of it as smaller, as only able to damage/challenge parts of your whole. Then pick one for Spring and do your brain injury Spring Cleaning. 🙂

As we Spring Forward on our clocks, let’s Spring Forward in our recoveries. This is our time. Our precious time. Whether you can tackle the emotion outbursts by choosing therapy and talking with your doc about any new med possibilities…or whether you might finally stop relying on a faulty memory system and get your schedule into a day planner…or whether you might rearrange your schedule and begin to insert naps and downtime to help stave off cognitive fatigue…

Spring Forward! Let’s take back some hours each day where brain injury has been holding our time hostage. It’s precious time. Our time.

February 11, 2022

Inspired By Olympics

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 2:32 pm

I love watching the Olympics, the winter games, especially. Each time I think I’m “not into it this time” but then I get drawn to the athletes, their stories and will and spirit and resilience.

It is magnetic and intoxifying and inspiring.

I don’t watch the Olympics to remind me of what I cannot do any longer. Instead, I listen for the stories of these powerful people. Their unlikely stories of triumph.

I think about them and how they have fallen, skidded, shorted, over-leaned and tipped millions of times. In private and on the stage before billions. They have been bruised and broken and sprained. They have been heartbroken and humiliated.

Yet here they are.

Some changed sports because they didn’t have the money to keep paying for equipment or training. Some failed badly or lost by a whisker in one, two, five Olympics before this. Some were counted out. Some couldn’t shoulder the pressure.

Yet here they are.

While most would say they are the best of us, I have come to see them as all of us. We may not have sequins on our costumes and Lord only knows I could never do a triple toe loop in my livingroom with pillows attached to my limbs…

But we have fallen, and skidded. We have shorted and over-leaned and tipped. We have been bruised and broken and sprained. We have been heartbroken and humiliated.

Yet here we are.

January 25, 2022

Go With The Ones

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 11:59 am

I was watching NCIS last night and there was a scene where two characters were discussing loss and what to do with those empty voids when someone leaves.

I thought of us, immediately. Lord know we know what it’s like to suffer the loss of our former selves in ways that most can’t understand.

I’m paraphrasing here but the one character told the other that, “People leave sometimes. You go with the ones still here.”

I loved that. Seems most of us spend an awful lot of angry time wondering why this injury happened and why us and why this and why that.

The truth is, people leave sometimes. This life journey is a quirky one, a surprise, a joy, a disappointment, a high, a low. It’s a journey filled with so many things we never could have imagined when we were young and just imagining all the good it might be.

People leave sometimes. That is the simple truth. Those former versions of us weren’t meant to take us the entire way. What we thought should have been our choice didn’t factor in, as far as we know. All that’s left is that people leave sometimes and it’s up to us to “go with the ones still here.”

For us with these cruel injuries, that means we go with the one in the mirror. We are being propelled forth, carried, sometimes dragged…

By this beautiful warrior who is a survivor. This beautiful, dented version of glorious.

Go with the one who is left.

These brains and bodies of ours will all be dented and dinged, scarred and traumatized. By not just these injuries…but by life. By everything that affects everyone. We go with the ones who are still here, the ones who are dinged, too. Everyone will carry their buckets of disappointment, of hurt, of loss and regret.

I am so grateful for my brain and my body. They are warriors. They are wonderful. They are resilient and determined and steadfast.

Let’s appreciate them. Let’s love them and help them. Let’s go with them.

Let’s go.

January 14, 2022

Even If You Were Big

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 2:55 pm

For many of us, each New Year brings the same old promise to do better at eating, working out, walking more, slimming down. We pledge to get smaller.

I was thinking that…maybe after brain injury we should think the same way.

Many of us miss old pre-injury lives because we were successful. I’ve read countless stories of frustrated survivors who are so broken hearted because their previous life was huge: big jobs, big accomplishments, big titles, big stories…

Right after the injury, they want to return to big. Gather back all the huge.

And that’s where the frustration and, often, hopelessness sets in.

I love reading people’s stories. I watch documentaries. I love hearing about the NFL coach who started as a ball boy or the huge mega movie star who began doing neighborhood theatre out of their parents’ garage for a nickel a show. The awarded news anchor who used to interview classmates during recess. The famous rock bands who played bad restaurants for free spaghetti dinners.

While our memories might be damaged, let’s not allow ourselves to forget how we got to huge. How we made it the first time. How we started being fabulous the first time around.

And then, let’s get small.

The largest tree started from a single acorn, after all.

The greatest wildfire began with a single strike.

Let’s throw out all the expectations from former accomplishments that not drip with the overwhelmed feelings of, “There’s no way I can do that anymore.”

No sense to that.

Without limiting ourselves and without cheating ourselves, let’s start something without knowing how it will all work out. Start writing a page of anything. Start painting with any color. Start moving the furniture around without a plan. Start researching a topic you love without knowing where it might take you. Play a few chords. Pick up some crayons and start coloring again. Download that app that teaches a new language. Pick a random book or magazine from the rack in the grocery line and start reading. Buy a harmonica from a second-hand store. Wear a hat you’ve always liked but never dared.

Let’s allow the goal simply to do something that feels good. Something new, something fresh, something exciting in its mysteriousness.

Let’s start filling holes with good. With new and fun and unknown. I’m giggling just sitting here imagining.

January 1, 2022

Happy New Chapter!

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 3:02 pm

For me, Betty White’s life, her famous love and devotion to animals, hot dogs and vodka, her body of work, her example of hard work delivered with kindness…all remind me of how lucky we are to live at this time. I see so much anger in this world. So much hate. And I think…geez, we are so blessed and fortunate to be living during this time in history. To witness, to claim as our own, so many extraordinarily talented entertainers, minds and exceptional people. I think of Whitney’s voice, Princess Diana, Michael Jackson, Prince, Michael Jordan, Barry Sanders, Tom Brady, Sean Connery, Robert Redford…So many more! Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett and Kate Hepburn…Some of us got to witness the Beatles and Elvis. This is our time in history. We are blessed in uncountable ways. Happy New Year, all. Chime in below with who are some of your favorites from our lifetime. OUR LIFE TIME. Our time in history. Let’s celebrate it together. Let’s treasure it and support each other and wish each other well. Let’s honor Betty White. Order up a vodka and a hot dog, work hard, be kind and love animals. Make ’em laugh. Imagine how good we can be.

This is our New Year. Each of us, a new chapter. So exciting to see what we’ll do with the chance. Best wishes to all of you for a best-ever new year, new chapter, new step.

December 12, 2021

Merry, Your Way

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 12:33 pm

There are some who don’t recognize Christmas, overwhelmed by the stress of it or turned off by the commercialism of it, or because their faith honors a different ritual. Some people who celebrate Christmas do so on Christmas Eve. Others, Christmas Day. Some open one present Christmas Eve. Some leave all for Christmas morning. Some do not give or receive presents. Some donate to a charity in their loved one’s honor. Others gift their time to soup kitchens or drive around handing out bags of food or warm clothes to the homeless.

There are those who cut down fresh trees or buy them fresh off a lot. There are some who have huge artificial trees in brilliant colors. Others have tabletop trees with attached lights or ceramic trees or they put lights on a house plant in the corner.

There are those who swear by Christmas ham. Others, turkey. Some, roast beef. In between are the ones who don’t eat meat or who can’t chew any longer or who grab McDonald’s along the way.

Presents are a whole other thing and you know what I mean. Some gift hand-written notes or poems or foodstuffs or heirlooms. Others, and we all know them, have umpteen visits from Amazon dropping packages for weeks at their doorsteps. Ha.

There is egg nog, sure. Holiday adult beverages. Cocoa with marshmallows and coffees, now, in fifty different flavors. Toasts and hidden flasks for sleigh rides and for carolers singing in the snow.

Christmas cards on line, pasted on FB, through email, Christmas letters in the mailbox and traditional cards sent.

The point is…Christmas, like everything else, has changed from a time we grew up with or a time that we knew. There is no one great way to do Christmas. The options for every facet of the holidays have not made any of them wrong, they have allowed us all to do the holidays how we like them. How we see happy. How we feel joy.

The past is not supposed to be a prison where all of our happiness is kept, out of reach. The holidays of 50 or a hundred years ago were done with what people had. That is true today, still. They allow us more options to join as we might, participate as we can.

My wish for you is to honor what makes you happy and what brings you peace and joy. Your holidays don’t have to look like anyone else’s or yours from before. We are just so darned fortunate to be alive and able, in whatever way, to celebrate something good and wonderful in our lives. Let’s do that.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you in ways big and small. In ways old and new. A nod to the past and a welcoming hug to the present. A genuine invitation to a future holding hope and good times and better days and happiness for everyone.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year. I love you.

November 23, 2021

Wishing You Hope and Anticipation

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 2:57 pm

For so many of us, brain injury or not, life seems to wear us down some as we get older. We didn’t end up doing some of the things we planned. We don’t look like we thought we might. We fell short here and there. Some important people left. Abilities were lost.

Thanksgiving, to me, is a fresh reminder of what might come, what is promised, what is fun to look forward to.

Without hope, without anticipation, people lose their Thanksgiving. They lose the spring in their step, the sparkle in their eye.

I can’t wait for stuffing and pumpkin pie 🙂 You? I can’t wait for that smell of Thanksgiving as the turkey browns and the stuffing cooks and the potatoes mash and the rolls warm…

Each new season offers the chance to anticipate and hope. Especially here in Michigan, where we are lamenting the temps diving and the leaves falling and the forecasts of snow coming.

Seems just a minute ago I was bummed that the days are already dark by 4 and I had to close up my windows and turn on my furnace.

And now it’s time for stuffing and pumpkin pie and the chance for the Lions to win their first game on Thanksgiving Day and a chance for U of M to be Ohio State for the first time in ten years on Saturday.

Hope. Anticipation.

For me, Thanksgiving is filled with all that has been, all that I am grateful to already have had and have now. But it’s also a time for feeling so thankful that I choose to hope and anticipate good each day. It is a choice to. Our choice.

Wishing you and yours a day filled with too many blessings to count and a sparkly eye toward the future, many, many things to look forward to.

Happy Thanksgiving. I am thankful for each of you sharing this journey with me. I happen to think you are fabulous. Love you.

October 31, 2021


Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 10:58 am

I heard a great quote the other night that I knew, immediately, would inspire a new blog post connected to brain injury recovery. Because of my own injury and memory problems, I cannot recall the quote. LOLOL. The one word I recall from the quote is AIM.

Super word.

We can go through days, seasons, years…

Drifting. Wafting, really. Floating. Gliding. Whirling.

For many of us with brain injury, the world around us feels big and oft overwhelming in its noise and chaos. Too much interference. Top many distractions, choices, steps…

It’s hard to stop the ping-pong, pinball results of life in order to make any of it look like how we want it to.

To me, aim is about making smaller. To say that we want our lives back after brain injury is big. There are so many effects, so many ripples and losses and consequences. We want it all to go away and to return us to our old lives like Dorothy on the Wizard of Oz getting deposited back in her bed in Kansas.

Without aim, the big picture feels too big. Symptoms, like gallons of wild-color paints, just tossed against the canvas. Splashing, dripping down, mixing, staining.

It’s all a glop.

Successful recovery from this injury requires aim. It begs for it. When there might be 15 new problems because of your injury, pick one. Aim. Solve that problem.

Is is anger? Aim. Get good therapy to help you sort the brain damage to areas of the brain which control emotion from the response to this huge thing that has happened to you. Which is it? Work it. Invest in this aim. Small and focused. Do you need medication to take the edge off? Do you need to process or start looking differently at what has happened? Do you need different support people?

Aim. Work it. Knock it off the list. Move on to the next.

There are strategies to greatly help most of the symptoms of brain injury. But they need their investment from you. They need their time. They need your attention and focus.

They need aim.

We can enjoy improvements to problems with anger, adjustment, acceptance, self-initiating, timeliness, focus, interpersonal skills, mobility, depression, cognitive fog, and more.

But we can’t tackle them all at once like a fantasy where it’s all going to suddenly be all good.

Maybe make a list. Ask a trusted someone to help you. Take on the issue/s that is alienating or straining your dearest relationships.

Promise yourself not to spend any more time in a place that you hate. We can improve something. Most of us can improve a lot.

Pick something. Make it small. Aim. Knock it off the list and move on.

Rock this life!!!

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