Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

August 16, 2011

“Normal” People Do Yoga

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 3:13 am

When talking about successful recovery after TBI, one of my favorite things to say is:   if you don’t want to live a life that is totally consumed with brain injury, then you have to live a life that is not totally consumed with brain injury.

So, wanting to take my own advice, I try to focus on things in everyday life that are “normal.”  Stuff that everyone battles and conquers, enjoys and delights in, suffers and survives.  Car repairs, falling in love, fixing leaking pipes, getting ready for college football season, wishing corn- on- the- cob season would last longer, cleaning the garage, telling myself that cornbread really is a vegetable, etc. 

Today it was yoga.  Normal, wonderful, healing, helping yoga.  Yoga is my friend.

Now…Fifteen years ago I was younger, obviously.  I was more fit, more lean, more flexible, stronger. 

Today I feel like a Budha statue.

I knew yoga would help me to increase my flexibility.   I have to lose weight as well so I found online this fabulous ten minute workout called, “Weight Loss Yoga For Beginners.”

This!!!!! THIS, I tell myself, is my answer.  My normal.  My path back to being slim and fit and strong once more.   Everyone’s doing yoga, right?  It’s a typical, normal thing that healthy, normal people do.   No brain injury stuff to deal with.   I am tough, I tell myself.  I used to play quarterback in an all-boys football league.   How hard could this be?  It’s like poetry and ballet.  Pretty and happy like peeps at Easter.

Look out, size ten jeans, here I come!!!!!  Weight loss yoga for beginners…

My famous final words were, “What could possibly go wrong?”

Well, for starters, I don’t have a mat.  No big deal.  I’ll do it on the oriental rug.  Note to self:  buy kneepads for yoga. 

I’m a good fifteen feet from my computer monitor and can barely see what she’s doing but I’m feeling confident that I can simply make up what I can’t decipher.  How hard can this be?  It’s only ten minutes.

The woman has a low, easy, comforting voice.  She is lovely.  Like spring, she is.  The epitome of health and fitness.  Free, easy movements.  Flowing, glowing.  She is my hero, I decide.  This goddess of ideal health.  She is speaking and I find myself purring rather unexpectedly.  I may even have been giggling.

And then Holy Sh*t!! OMG!! WTF!!!  Did you see THAT!!!!!

She bent her body as if there were hinges, HINGES!!! at her waist.  I’m not lying.  Like a flippin’ piece of paper, she just folded straight down and I’m thinking WHOA!!!!   Nobody can fold down like that.   That is unflippinreal.

From across the room I yell, “Hey, Gumby woman!!!  You look like a sheet hanging out on the line.  No flippin’ way I’m folding down like that.”

She then moves onto other positions.  We do things on our knees that apparently shatter my kneecaps  into several large, jagged pieces.   I curse the lack of kneepads.

We allow energy to shoot out of our heels.  She has her face to the ceiling while mine is barely looking above the floor.  We put the pressure of tractors onto our shoulders, separating them cleanly at the socket.  Note to self:  look for brother’s high school football shoulder pads in garage.

I am now sweating profusely.  My arms are shaking.  I’m out of breath. 

Geez, how long is this workout….

I crane my head over my warrior pose arms, now “pushing the air down”  like she directs and realize….OK, it’s been almost two minutes now.

Crazy Gumby woman now wants me to do something called a Downward Dog.  Now I have owned dogs.  I know dogs.  I love dogs.  THAT does not look like any of my dogs.  My understanding of a downward dog is one of my German Shepherds laying down and rolling over, showing me a belly to scratch while chewing on a Beggin’ Strip.

No, this Downward Dog is something altogether different.  Like inhuman different.  There is no laying down.  My belly isn’t scratched.  No bacon anywhere in sight.   This crazy Gumby foldy woman is now walking her feet up towards her hands.  Walking them right up to her hands until she is closing like a CD case and it finally hits me.  She’s no Gumby.   Oh no no no no no…No normal person can do that with her body.  Foldy hinge woman.   No.  Nobody human does that. 

I know now.  It becomes clear to me.  This is bigger.  Far bigger.

This woman is Satan.

Now, admittedly, I was shaken.   The Bible said the Devil will come as a normal, likeable person whom crowds will flock willing to.

At this point I have to admit that I didn’t expect Satan to come as a yoga instructor.   My bad.

I am standing there in my Warrior Two Pose wondering what does one do when one’s yoga instructor is Satan?   Does she know I know?   Obviously she can see me here through the screen.   Do I make a run for it?  Can I even run, now that my legs have been reduced to mere pudding logs?  Was that her plan all along? 

I find myself wondering, is it wrong, somehow, to keep on with the session when you realize your instructor is Satan?  I’m up to six minutes now.  I hate to quit when I’m so close.

I remember how many times friends had told me, “Yoga is hell.”  DumDum, me.   They were warning me.  I had no idea….

Satan now tells me to cross my left elbow over to the outside of my right knee.  She does it with no effort.  I’m assuming she could have reached that left elbow around  and around her right ankle if she had felt like showing off.   I was half expecting her to tell me to twirl my flippin’ head around in circles until I spit out green stuff. 

She’s telling me in her soft, easy, I’m- hypnotizing- you- to- come- join -me -in- Hell kind of way,  to just breathe.  Deep breaths.   In and out.  Easy.  Soft.  Even.  Nice easy breaths. 

I’m panting and close to hyperventilating.  I’m starting to see white and I’m wondering if I should run to the white light.  Maybe this is how it works.   I can’t know for sure.   I collapse against the wall, resting my jagged knee puzzles.

Now she wants me to stand with my legs bent and make a triangle with my arm straight up and my other hand touching the floor.  She says, “As if you are leaning against a wall…”

I yell out, “Hey crazy foldy Satan bitch, I’m already leaning against the wall….”

She does not send lightning.  I find myself vaguely grateful.

We move onto pushups and I realize that, even with a brain injury, I have crystal-clear memories of doing pushups.   Somewhere in a happy place with toe socks and Shaun Cassidy posters and rock candy…

That was such a happy time.

Before Satan.

I assume by now that my elbows have sustained, at least, hairline fractures.

Eight hours or three days passed and I am face down on the Oriental rug, sweating profusely, breathing heavy, knee puzzles screaming, hips dislocated, thighs burning,  toes cramping, shoulders (see hips)…

I hear Satan say, “OK. Great job.  You’re done.” 

By the time I lift my head, the screen is blank.  She has disappeared.   Just like that. 

Well, of course she has, I say to myself.  It’s not like she would use a door.

I roll over and look down at my body.  Fearing she has somehow tattooed 666 on my arms or legs or forehead, all that is on my arms and legs and forehead are the indentations of the Oriental rug and some cat fur.

I have made it, I sigh.   I have a passing thought that one more day being “normal” might just be the death of me.   I say a prayer, just in case. 

And then I go hit the shower.



August 11, 2011

We’re So Damned Lucky

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 3:39 am

Nope.  Not kidding.

Now, before you conclude that my brain injury is obviously more serious than first thought, please hear me out.

My Mother used to always say something about, “having to pay the piper.”  I never really understood the quote but I knew what she meant.  It usually came hot on the heels of a wicked hangover I had just conceded.  Accompanied with a snip of a smile.

“Hot pipes, Swanson?  You got hot pipes?  Time to pay the piper.”

She’d laugh.

It seems, at some point in our lives, often several times, we realize it’s time to pay the piper.  There’s the guy sitting in the dentist’s chair with all kinds of horrifying things going on, sweating while he’s trying to figure out if the $ 1850 bill will fit on his all-but-maxed-out credit card.  He’s lamenting all the yearly cleanings and checkups he canceled and failed to reschedule over the years.

There’s the traveling salesman who still owes seven grand on a car that has just hit the 230,000 mile mark.  When the economy tanked and business screeched to a halt, so did his ability to keep up on his car maintenance.  Now he’s looking at a car the mechanic won’t even release because it’s too dangerous to drive.   He’s got a hemorrhaging engine, leaking transmission, no struts, no shocks, no power steering, brakes that are barely working and he just spent $ 800 to fix three additional things he didn’t even know were wrong.

There’s the woman who gave up her career to raise the kids and, now fifteen years later, she has four under twelve when the husband starts buying new underwear and coming home late each night smelling like someone else’s perfume.

Pay the piper.

We all do it.  Whether we let our health go or our waistlines, our homes or our cars.  Maybe it’s our relationships we don’t pay attention to, our kids we don’t keep an eye on.  Jobs we didn’t stay current on, warnings we didn’t heed.  Preparations we didn’t make.  Safety measures we didn’t take.

We end up in a situation that sucks the life right out of us.  There’s no measuring happiness or satisfaction when everything we do from the second we open our eyes each morning to the second we close them each night is spent getting ourselves out of the situations we find ourselves in.  Or not even getting out of them.  Just surviving them.

In this crazy world where most are working two jobs…where many take care of both their parents and their kids…where there are ten things to run around doing after work or three things to do between two jobs that start an hour apart and are twenty-three miles from each other…

Most people don’t have time enough to ask themselves what would make them happy.  Many don’t even have time to realize they aren’t or they sadly realize, given their situation, it doesn’t much matter because they can’t change it anyway.

The piper’s collecting in spades.

But what if everyone got a do-over.  A Mulligan.

What if time stopped.  All the craziness stopped.  Everything that you used to fill and overfill your days with.  All stopped.  What if you inserted a block of time, an intermission, a half time…

And you found yourself with time enough to figure out what would really make you happy for the rest of your life…

We’re so damned lucky.

Of course, most people don’t consider me lucky.  Or any of us survivors.  Other than the fact that we survived, we don’t get many envious glances.

True, there have been a couple of knuckleheads who told me I was “so lucky” to not have any balance because I get to park in the handicapped spot.   There was one person who told me I might be “lucky enough” to qualify for food stamps.

But, by and large, no one really wants to be me.

They think I’m crazy, in denial or just plain brain injured to be as happy as I am.  Happy as a clam.

Twisted bliss, they concur.

After all, I don’t, for a second, resemble the successful business woman I once was.  The money, the suits, the house, the car, the body, the freedom to spend, to go, to do…

But I’m damned lucky because I survived the tornado.  No, not the head injury one.

The life before it.

We survivors of brain injury are damned lucky because, for the most part, we are afforded and awarded a big huge adult time out.   The hurricanes we called our lives before we were hurt fall uncommonly still.   Quiet.  Utterly quiet.

And many of us find out it’s the first time in years, maybe decades…that we can actually hear ourselves think.

From a near-death experience comes the inevitable realization that, OMG!  we’re actually going to die one day.   And, as the world rushes by outside our windows, from the quiet of our new realities, comes the earnest whisper.   The nagging question.

How can I be happy?  What’s going to make me happy?

What’s truly great about brain injury is that most of us don’t have an endless supply of energy any longer.   Late in the day, most of us are cognitive mush.  Our brains slow down and we simply cannot cram our days silly with a thousand activities any longer.

So we learn what’s really important to us.  We learn what we really want to spend our precious time doing.

Many of us, when cognitively fatigued, can no longer depend upon our memories, our judgements and our sound decisions.

So we learn who in our lives we can really trust with our safety.

Many of us lose our financial stability, our credit ratings, and our incomes.

So we learn who in our lives has compassion, understanding and acceptance.

Many of us now have the time and a new perspective to look at our relationships.

So we learn who really makes us happy, who we simply don’t wish to tolerate any longer and who we want to spend our lives with.

And many of us find a clean slate and a new, exciting tomorrow that beckons us to recreate lives better than the ones we had before we were hurt.

So we learn to try new things, to recheck our dreams, and to cultivate new abilities.

We’re so damned lucky.

What a crazy path to take to sanity.   What an incredulous irony to find that it took our brains to be broken before we finally can think straight.

If anyone in their lives, brain injury or not, can:  Learn what’s really important to them and what they want to spend their precious time doing, learn who they can really trust with their safety,  choose the people who are willing to be helpful and who have compassion, understanding and acceptance, learn and decide to try new things, recheck their dreams and stop to measure and nurture their abilities….

That, I’m pretty sure, is a recipe for happiness.    That is a reason to feel damned lucky.





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