Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

January 5, 2009

A Slice of Compassion

I was in line today behind an older woman who was having trouble getting her lottery tickets, change and car keys in and out of her purse.   Not the kind of trouble that would make you think she was in danger or a danger.  Nothing alarming.  Her hair wasn’t screaming purple or anything.  Just an older woman slowing down and struggling a bit with the fumbling demands of every day.

I was behind her in the parking lot when she pulled out left and I heard the sound of a loud horn, honking over and over.   Probably a good half-dozen times.  It was a truck that was glaring and blaring at her, having decided she pulled out too slowly in front of him.   She didn’t cause him to swerve or even to slow down.  I felt he over-reacted and it pulled hard at my heart to imagine how shaken she must have been.   I’ve thought of her several times tonight.   I wish I could have told her I didn’t think she made any mistake. 

Of all the gifts my brain injury has given, perhaps it is compassion that I cherish the most.  I know too achingly well how it feels to try and count change with a line behind you late in the day when your mind just won’t count correctly…I’ve felt the hot impatience of people racing by me when I can’t move as quickly as their schedules demand.  I’ve had mothers admonish their children, telling them, “You don’t stare at cripples!”  I’ve been called disabled on a good day and  “retard” on days I’d rather forget.

It’s scary and embarrassing and panicky for people  to feel they are no longer sharp enough, smart enough or fast enough for everyone’s liking.  When they realize physical abilities that betray them and memories that fail them…

You feel vulnerable and it courses through you like panic and fear and dread and grief.  

My brothers and I took care of our  parents for fifteen years, through six strokes, before their deaths.  I used to pray for help in keeping them safe, first off.  But also for help in preserving their dignity.  In keeping them from getting scared.  Oh, how I didn’t want them to feel scared…

One day everyone who lives long enough will know what it’s like to no longer be hailed the young and strong and healthy and able.   I was so fortunate to learn at 31.   To imagine that the person in front of me driving a little slower might be someone elderly or a person who just found out their son died or who has lost a job or a house or a beloved family dog.   How I wish people would imagine that before they go blaring the horn and flipping them off as they race by.  Slamming their fist on the steering wheel or mocking them…

If I could, I’d serve up compassion like pie.  Whatever I know of it.  Make it, bake it, lavish it, share it, pass out it’s recipe.  Because, as soon as you know what it’s like to feel shoved aside and rushed by…As soon as someone rolls their eyes at you or taps their foot or emits a heavy sigh because you’re too slow for their liking…

Then you’ve been given the gift of compassion.  To embrace it and welcome it and gift it to yourself.  To demonstrate it at every turn to those whose feelings and struggles you recognize in your own.   And to lavish it, share it and pass it around as pie.



  1. Hi, just found your blog – will have a read! I’m 31 too and recovering from MTBI.
    I had a moment on the bus when the driver got grumpy with me for having a $20 note so he made me sit for a few stops until he had change and I then forgot where I put it… I fumbled and search for so long and for the life of me couldn’t find any money (I promptly found it in my purse as soon as I got off the bus of course) and it was so embarassing. I don’t think I looked “retarded” so the guy was just rude to me and let me have it for free just to get me off his bus I think! So embarassing though and hard to tell anyone in my life who thinks I’m pretty much fine the stupid things that happen to me.

    Will have a good browse through your blog now!

    Comment by kazzles — January 5, 2009 @ 8:24 am | Reply

    • I enjoyed your bus story. I think our community has a treasure trove of stories like that. Ha. My injury was when I was 31. I’m 43 now. Glad you can find the humor in our challenges. That’s half the battle. Thanks for stopping by my blog. Good luck to you. Kara

      Comment by karaswanson — January 5, 2009 @ 5:54 pm | Reply

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    Pingback by A Slice of Compassion Kara Swansons Brain Injury Blog | ELDERLY AID — January 5, 2009 @ 1:42 pm | Reply

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  4. How much are you still effected by it and how did your injury happen?

    Comment by kazzles — January 6, 2009 @ 1:29 am | Reply

  5. A woman ran a red light going more than 50 mph and t-boned me on my driver’s side. That was 12 years ago. 13 at the end of this month. My balance never fully recovered, nor did my ability to tolerate noise, long days or multi tasking. I still get headaches. Still get cognitively fatigued and my legs get wobbly and I get caught on words. But those things are minor. I’ve recovered. My injury is so much a part of me that I don’t really think about it anymore. I still utilize strategies that help me to succeed but, despite the challenges that never healed, I consider myself fully recovered.

    Comment by Kara — January 6, 2009 @ 5:27 am | Reply

  6. Wow – and you were considered mTBI? Great you consider that you are fully reovered – I’m sure I am still better at some things than some people anyway (I keep telling myself).

    Comment by kazzles — January 6, 2009 @ 6:08 am | Reply

  7. Well, I don’t think it’s fair to you to compare yourself to others who are not injured. I don’t think it’s fair, either, to compare yourself to how you were and who you were before your injury. I think that being fully recovered has more to do with finding ways to succeed around and in spite of your injury. To develop a new strategy for your life that is realistic and open and that sets you up to succeed instead of to fail. It’s about letting go of the anger, the disappointment and the allowing the person you were before to, for lack of a better word, die. It’s a new life and one with countless opportunities. It’s a gift that we survived and I think, if we’re going to compare, we need to compare today to the day after our injury. Not the day before. 🙂

    Comment by karaswanson — January 6, 2009 @ 6:14 am | Reply

  8. Wow, that is good. Someone who hadn’t spoken to me for a long time was chatting tonight online and saying how it doesn’t seem right that someone like me could be effected like this. It was nice in a way she said that but the comparison to what I was before actually isn’t helpful. Yes, I may well get back there (though I like to think that the accident will change me in some positive ways so I don’t really want to be just back where I was before anyway) but probably on a bad day it’s the thing I struggle with the most – the unfairness of it. Though I know things could be soooooo much worse and I should be grateful. I think it’s good advice to let the person you were before die – though I’m not sure others in my world would let me do that. Hmm – that’s interesting!

    My father has a severe brain injury and has had it for almost four years. I find myself constantly saying to close friends that Dad is not the person he was before, part of him died with his fall and we have to grieve it. You can avoid it all you like, but there are just times that he is so different to what he used to be and it’s hard.

    It’s really interesting to see Brain Injury from both sides!

    Comment by kazzles — January 6, 2009 @ 12:25 pm | Reply

  9. […] after-effects is now it both connects me with the world and separates me from it. On the one hand, like Kara Swanson says over at her blog, a brain injury can teach you a whole lot about compassion and help you extend it to people who […]

    Pingback by What a difference a year makes… « Broken Brain - Brilliant Mind — January 10, 2009 @ 11:23 pm | Reply

  10. Maybe you could serve up some compassion to my neurologist 😉 (that is, my soon-to-be EX-neurologist – there’s only so much rushing I can take). I wish more professionals, especially in health care, could find your blog and your book. If they could see things through our eyes… take the time to consider what it must be like to be in our shoes… it might change the way they relate to us.

    I also think it’s important that we tbi survivors remember that our brains can change in positive ways. And some of our losses may even be gains, in some ways. I am definitely slower than I used to be — my neuropsychologist says I’m dramatically slower than they expect me to be — and I can’t sustain my attention for nearly as long as I used to be able to, before my last fall in 2004. But in the past, one of the things that got me into so much trouble, was going TOO fast. And in the process of moving at light speed, day in and day out, I missed out on a lot of life when I was at my “peak”.

    Slowing down has its advantages, even in this world that values instant gratification. I just have to remember that, when I’m getting into trouble for taking too long.

    Thanks for the great post!

    Comment by brokenbrilliant — January 10, 2009 @ 11:31 pm | Reply

  11. Hey BB:
    I’d bet my last dollar you’re more “at your peak” now than you were when you were racing through life Mach 2 with your hair on fire. It’s like taking a train ride in the middle of the night. You know what it felt like but you can’t tell anyone what it looked like. With doctors, I try to look at their motive. The ones who work for big companies don’t set their quota, their bosses do. And small, private doctors often don’t make much money and need to see as many patients as they can to stay open in this economy. I’m not letting them off the hook. You’re right, many DON’T give their patients much more of the “pill and a pat, forget the chat” service. It’s a good thing that, with brain injury, most of your healing and your answers are going to come outside the doctors’ office walls anyhow. They’re going to get you through the crisis and prescribe meds and rehab but, after that, it’s up to us to redesign our lives and to create new routines that work. It’s up to us to dream again and to find our way in this new life. Best to you. I know you can!

    Comment by karaswanson — January 11, 2009 @ 4:06 am | Reply

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