Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

March 11, 2011

What Does Your Scar Tissue Look Like?

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 2:04 am

One of the most ridiculous things about brain injury is that it’s, for all intents and purposes, invisible.   I call it the Invisible Monster.

Many of us have no proof that we are injured because so many brain injuries occur without the courtesy of leaving an imprint on a CT or PET Scan.   The lack of something to look at, to pour over, to show to friends and loved ones, is often frustrating because people seem to prefer, even need, proof.

Insurance companies, employers, suspicious friends and family…Some start to look at you sideways and whisper behind your back because, as they are so happy to say, “You look great!”

What could possibly be wrong?

Not many of us have props.   I use a cane and, sometimes, a wheelchair.   But it’s not like I have a big old cast on my head.   It’s not all wrapped up in ACE bandages.   I don’t have any scars to show on my scalp.   Except for the too-frequent bad hair days, my head looks fine.

So, how do we convey to those in our lives we most need to believe, understand and accept us?   These people we want so badly, not to understand (that would require their own injury) but simply to try…..

What this is… What this means…What this feels like…   In the absence of proof, how do we paint a picture you might get of what it feels like when, in an instant, what we knew of normal will never show its face again?

Brain injury is the first moment you walk into a funeral home and see someone dear to your heart lying in a casket.   It is the daughter who gets pregnant at 15.    It is the addicted brother who is now homeless.   It is the best friend whose doctor calls and tells her she needs to come into the office to discuss her test results.   It is the neighbor who walks away from the home they’ve lived in for forty years.  

Brain injury is the first time you get your heart broken.  It is the spouse who tells you the affair didn’t mean anything.   It is the any time you’ve put a beloved pet down.   It is the call from a child who has just been arrested.   It is the moment a parent starts to forget things.  

It’s not so hard to understand the unseen when you have felt those same feelings.   The same loss, fear, dread…It’s like any bad news you received over the phone.   You didn’t have to see it to believe it and to feel its pain. 

And, for those of us with the pain, how long is it supposed to last?   If you can’t even see it, how are you supposed to know when it is over?  When are we done being hurt?

Rose Kennedy:

It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.

So, what does your scar tissue look like? 

What do you cover your pains with in order to go on?  To return to the well, the living, the soaring?  

I was talking to a friend of mine yesterday who had burned herself pretty seriously and we were discussing our scars.  I was looking at my body, counting them, recalling them, returning to the moments that caused them.

The bike kickstand that split open my shin.   The thin line on my face from my cat’s claw.  That slide into second base.   That fall from the fence.  That slip of a carrot peeler…

Each fading from red to pink to white.   Each softening over time.

I imagine my brain is scarred.   But, in the absence of proof, of some battle-weary badge of honor to display, I know what the scar tissue looks like.   I know what I’ve used to cover my wounds.

My scar tissue is a great cup of coffee, a simple perfect brownie, a tender, juicy steak.   It is college football and Autumn leaves and cider mills.   It is cherry blossom trees in Spring and the smell of rain coming through the window in summer.  

My scar tissue is a dozen jobs I’ve done since my injury using abilities new and old.   It’s day trips and vacations and long drives along the water in a vehicle specially equipped for me.   It is doing the Twist in pajamas and watching movies in the middle of the night.  It is friends on-line and a phone call away.  

My scar tissue includes all these incredible young people in my life whose futures I can’t wait to witness and share.   It is the music friends play, the pictures they take, the stories they tell…

My scar tissue is falling in love.   Laughing so hard I’m crying.   It’s curling up on a winter’s night with one cat next to my head and the other one pushed against my leg. 

What is your scar tissue?   What does it look like?   Feel like?  Taste like?   

What have you chosen to cover your wounds, your pains, your Invisible Monster?

Your answer determines when your pain ends and when your life resumes.   

Cheering for you!



  1. My scar tissue (on a good day) is dark, black comedy. I’m in an upcoming version of an on-going local performance for people with disabilities called “No One Wants to See the Wires.” It’s an apt name, especially when your disabilities are invisible like the wires, and some days you’re not sure who’s the puppeteer operating them! I wrote a comedy cooking show sketch for people with brain injuries in which the food never manages to get cooked. I’m writing a fake manual for family members that painfully twists around all the un-understanding things people say to me (like “you have a sweet deal, sitting at home not working…”) into jokes about exactly how to not care for your family member with a brain injury. I can fall into a rage when someone laughs at my screw ups, but in the moments when I can make myself laugh, it is a sweet, blissful sensation of overcoming the struggle. It’s nice when you can replace “I screwed up” with “All I have to do to write comedy is journal about my day.” I wish I was there more than I am, but a start is a start. And storytelling is such an amazing start.

    Comment by Cheryl — March 13, 2011 @ 7:33 pm | Reply

    • That is fabulous Cheryl. Humour is what gets us by too…without it we would be lost.

      Comment by Christa — March 14, 2011 @ 6:21 pm | Reply

  2. Love this, Cheryl. I think that’s awesome.

    Comment by karaswanson — March 14, 2011 @ 12:13 pm | Reply

  3. My scar tissue is reminding myself that in this recovery process, it truly is all about me. I can choose to never complain and never explain, or I can embrace it for what it is (which I’ve just recently done after 2.5 years of trying to hide my deficiencies), and make the best of those rough days. I’ve struggled at my job, and started doubting my own intelligence and ability to do what is needed of me. I actually feel paranoid sometimes, and I’m not sure if that feeling is warranted. I hung a few sayings around my desk, discreetly, that make me smile. I’ll share them here, in case some of your readers share my sense of humor and need for quick lifts here and there:

    One is a sign in the shape of a bullseye that says
    “Bang Head Here.”

    Another says “The mountain of paperwork on my desk makes me envy the trees that died to produce it.”

    My favorite, when I’m feeling like people might be judging me for my new deficiencies, is “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Eleanor Roosevelt

    Thank you, Kara, for this blog, and for articulating what I can’t.

    Comment by Vanessa — March 15, 2011 @ 3:10 pm | Reply

    • Oops, forgot one more. On someecards.com, someone made one that cracks me. It says “Thank you for continuing to remind me of the same thing over and over again just in case I may have forgotten since you last reminder me 5 minutes ago.” I printed it out, and it is directly over my monitor.

      Comment by Vanessa — March 15, 2011 @ 3:12 pm | Reply

      • Loved this, Vanessa. Thanks for sharing your sense of humor. Ha.

        Comment by karaswanson — March 16, 2011 @ 1:33 am

  4. I am reading your blog for the very first time tonight. I absolutely agree with a whole lot of what you have to say and truly would like to be friends with you maybe as a pen pal that I can talk to when I am having a bad day. I fell and hit my head on a cement floor when I was about ten years old and they told my mom that I had a concussion. After that day I constantly had a shake in my hands, I would tremble constantly. I could not carry a cup of coffee without spilling it. Then at the age of 21 I got married and on the way back from our honeymoon we were in a car accident. Everything seemed ok at the time but now as I think about how this injury could have gotten it’s start, it seems I should have figured it out long before now, like dah Kim. Soon after we got home, I got pregnant and not far into my pregnancy I began to lose my balance and walk into walls a lot. They discovered I had hydrocephalus which is extra fluid on the brain and it causes a lot of pressure which had to be relieved with surgery and shunts or tubes being placed in my brain to drain the fluid. I have now had a dozen surgeries mostly to repair the tubing. I call it fixing my plumbing. I now have shunts on both sides of my brain and my problems are so similar to yours that I could have written the same book as you, “I’ll Carry the Fork”, but I am not that talented at writing. I would love to get to know more about you and others like us. Oh, and I rewashed a load of laundry today that I forgot was in the washer for three days. I just started reading your book last night and can’t seem to put it down. I sure can relate in a whole lot of ways. I am so lucky to have finally been able to get my hands on your book and now I found your blog. I am truly blessed today because of you, Kara. Thank you for sharing your ride on the bus with the rest of us. I sure hope to hear from you soon via e-mail. Sincerely, Kim Shaw

    Comment by Kim Shaw — March 29, 2011 @ 8:15 pm | Reply

    • Welcome, Kim. Thank you for your kind words. Please check your personal email. Kara

      Comment by karaswanson — March 30, 2011 @ 12:20 am | Reply

  5. You may have heard it before, and you may have forgotten it already, but you are an inspiration and an encouragement to so many.
    Thank you for making a positive difference in a world filled with damage and despair.

    Comment by Gaeyle Gerrie-Boss — November 3, 2011 @ 2:58 pm | Reply

    • You made my day, Gaeyle. Thanks so much for the kind words. 🙂

      Comment by karaswanson — November 7, 2011 @ 3:05 pm | Reply

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