Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

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.







  1. Thanks Kara – you have such a lovely way of writing, and I hope I can keep learning and growing from your messages. It has been hard for me to accept the enforced break in my busy life, but I am sure of one thing now: I don’t want to go back to what I was before. It has been very easy to see what a crazy life I had before my accident, and it has also been a good opportunity to observe some of my friends and their crazy lives. I do feel like I have a ‘half life’ at the moment, but it isn’t all bad – when I manage to get to the top of the hill on my bushwalk it is a such a great feeling of accomplishment and every single time I take time to reflect, look down upon the city and think “well, it’s better than being down there working”. Thanks so much for your wisdom. Cheers, Jill.

    Comment by Jill — August 11, 2011 @ 7:17 am | Reply

  2. Thank you for sharing, Kara. I appreciate the comfort of your words and intentions always!

    Comment by Nicole — August 11, 2011 @ 9:39 am | Reply

  3. My partner and I were just about to end our 5-year relationship when I had my injury. The demands to communicate appreciation or protest, ask for help, accept help, and face myself after the injury created the space for us to get back together, and we are a stronger partnership than before the injury. He tells me all the time how much better I communicate, even when I’m melting down in a cognitive mush state. And I do. I am so lucky I had the time and rehab to learn better communication and to learn how to appreciate when I have something (someone) valuable in my life. I was too caught in the rat race, too focused on going higher and faster, and throwing out stale things in my life to replace them with shinier, updated versions to see what was in front of me. Can you believe I thought of a person in those terms? I’m not like most, probably, in that my relationship got stronger *after* an injury that made me a grumpier, flightier, moodier, tireder person. I know how these changes can break people apart, and several of my friends have disappeared. But I am so lucky for all the new brain-injured friends I have whom I wouldn’t have met otherwise. I am so lucky to be out of the rat race. I help my partner see that when my income is $0/year, and my food stamps don’t cover all the food I eat, he does not really need to count how much paid time off he has down to the minute and plan vacations around maximizing every single second of pay possible instead just vacationing to relax. He’s learning that. He even just took a new job that should have him home 2 hours earlier every evening even though it comes with a pay cut. Amazing! I’m glad he could learn a little bit of it without needing to get injured. We are both very lucky people.

    Comment by Cheryl — August 29, 2011 @ 10:27 pm | Reply

    • sounds like you both “get it,” Cheryl. Smiling here. I’m always reminded how gifts can come in cleverly-disguised packages. :))

      Comment by Kara — August 30, 2011 @ 1:24 am | Reply

  4. Thanks for your postings. I’ve just discovered them. I agree yet still dis-agree but that could be because I still have not let go of the anger of the loss of who I once was or maybe it is I haven’t accepted who I now am? The loss of my high paying job, my friends and status, the fatigue and lonliness I now have are really starting to take a toll on not just me but my Family as well.

    Having the time to see my Son off to school each day is a blessing & may be considered “lucky” but I’m not sure the price we are paying for it as Family is really worth it???



    I am going to continue to read your past post as well follow your future posts if you do not mind. Ilike your writings.

    Comment by Thomas — October 24, 2011 @ 2:37 pm | Reply

    • Thomas, I know this is no easy gig. it can be a VERY isolating and lonely venture. I’m so sorry you are injured and struggling with it. I hope you keep in touch. There are a lot of us and we root for one another. Keep writing!!

      Comment by karaswanson — October 24, 2011 @ 5:33 pm | Reply

  5. Thanks, I am trying…through many tears, sleepless nights, unwarranted fears I can go on as I am sure you are well aware of. I did read in one of your postiings that these fears and the anger that the fear produces just feeds my “Injury Beast” or soming like that and my wife, son and I are trying to get through all this with counciling but it really is tough stuff. So far we’ve been fortunate enough that between my savings, her job my insurance settlement and LTD we have been okay financially but the fear of having the LTD pulled, a very real possibility as I have to be re-examined by an Insurance appointed Doctor in two (2) years has me scared. I am well aware of how that process works and how some guy in a cubical is going to make decision about me that will have a huge impact on my family.

    As much as I try to focus on my healing and on the tasks I have to do today, How Can I Heal When I Can’t Stop Thinking About The Guy in the Cubical???

    Comment by Thomas — October 25, 2011 @ 2:56 pm | Reply

    • Thomas, do not allow the insurance company to bully you. Unfortunately, this happens an awful lot. You hire a lawyer and can file a claim within 3 years of your accident against the insurance company if they refuse to cover what they are legally obligated to do. You can also get a case manager to help to coordinate the proper care for your recovery. Ask around to get referrals from folks in your area (if there is a support group or brain injury organization) for case management. This will not be a cost to you; it will be paid for by your insurance company. In the meantime, get all of the medical and neuropsychological care that is helpful for your recovery. You’ve gotta fight to make these things happen. For you and for your family, all of it will be worth it!

      Comment by Nicole — October 25, 2011 @ 3:12 pm | Reply

      • Thanks again,
        I do have an Atty. and have/had been getting both Neuropysch. physical & speech therapy @ a very well known hospital that specilizes with head trauma and brain injury rehab. I have been/was released once my employer & I parted ways. I left with Disability Retirement but it was not pleasent & I am still working though some anger issues I have towards some of those I used to work with as I was not treated very well as I tried to return to work but that is a whole differnt story. I’m going to survive just as you have. Thanks for having the strength to write your journey. I have a blog but I never keep up with it nor is it as raw as yours. Your emotion really shows.

        Comment by Thomas — October 25, 2011 @ 3:45 pm

  6. Hi Thomas: I saw that Nicole wrote you a note as well. Thanks, Nicole. See, Thomas? Lots of people cheering for you. I get that you have a lot of fears. That’s understandable. That “guy in the cubicle” is a real fear because we all know of horror stories. Helps to be as detailed as possible when filling out forms for disability. Always think of it in terms of your ability to work. Like, for me, I can report that my sharpness and focus and ability to be productive drop off severely late in the day. That I am not efficient days in a row. That, when I go into “cognitive mush” at the end of a busy day, I am not safe and my decisions cannot be trusted. This type of description of one of my challenges helps the “guy in the cubicle” apply your real situation to a work environment.
    But that is a ways off for you. We’ll all be here when you have to go through it. I’ve long ago learned that fearing and worrying is only inviting things we don’t want. There is a lot to be said for how we turn around our thoughts and start to bring in good things that we want. I’m hoping you will enjoy this too. I’m glad you are getting help with a counselor and that you have an attorney. All good steps. hang in there!! Kara

    Comment by karaswanson — October 25, 2011 @ 11:25 pm | Reply

    • I’m sending out a collective, healing hug for all who have read and heard the words from Kara’s blog and are needing some support and strength. You are not alone. We need to keep moving forward, for our own recovery and for the collective recovery of others. We are here to help each other on this journey! Have faith in yourself to do what it right, in the people you love who you can trust with your heart, and in seeking what you need if you are in doubt of any of these things.

      Comment by Nicole — October 26, 2011 @ 12:12 am | Reply

      • Thanks, Nicole. I think we can all use a collective hug. Smiling here. You’re the bomb. 🙂

        Comment by karaswanson — October 26, 2011 @ 12:16 am

      • Thanks to Both of you!! Nicole, I I thought I was writing to Kara so I apologies. It was, as Kara puts it, a cognitive mushy moment. I have another brian injured friend who now compares her brain to swiss cheese as she is always navigating around the “brain holes” she now has. Both of these are GREAT analogies that can continue to use as I try to figure out my path though this maze. I really do appreciate, need and want all and any help I can get from anybody I find along they way.

        Maybe our new purpose is just this? To help one another? To become more compassionate and understanding? To slow down? Maybe I can make something out of the Do-Over. I have been looking at this from the wrong perspective. Thanks for giving me some hope!!!

        Comment by Thomas — October 26, 2011 @ 10:40 am

  7. Yes, Thomas!!! I really DO believe that we are meant to help one another, to become more compassionate and understanding. I believe we are meant to take this “Do-over” and do it differently, do it better. To step out of the craziness that was our earlier lives and find simpler meaning at a slower pace. To recognize that which flies by those still racing by in a blur in the rat race. In one of my blogs, I talk about how satisfying it feels to help those around me. How it doesn’t feel “disabled” when I can be of use to those I love and those I meet. Prior to our injuries, we did those lives that we don’t have to do again. We did them well and now we can move onto something else. Something different. Something better. You will! I truly believe that you will. 😉

    Comment by karaswanson — October 26, 2011 @ 1:42 pm | Reply

  8. Having mixed feelings about this post. Very adult perspective and I can relate to it. But hard to relate for a child who was involved in car accidents and had others injure her with objects flung at her head that now have left her with post-concussive syndrome. We find this very isolating and it seems it can be even more so in middle school where it is already hard enough and then you add the sensory, balance, memory, speed processing challenges on top. Hard to look at this s a pause when it is such a right to just go to school daily and feel scared for the future and being able to learn in the present. But my take away message is to focus on the community of TBI survivors and know that others get it and can provide support even when the rest of the community can’t understand it and can’t or won’t offer empathy. I am grateful for bloggers willing to share their experience and create a community that cares and can help others improve their quality of life and embrace living. Thank you!

    Comment by Tanya — November 18, 2014 @ 1:08 pm | Reply

    • Hey Tanya, thanks for writing. I don’t think there is anything easy for any kid trying to make it through that age and that part of their life in the best of circumstances when kids can be so cruel and punishing. There is no easy way to get through when you are anything but the most popular kids, let alone if you are struggling with physical and/or cognitive challenges. I think in any case with a young person, the best we can do is to create a home anchor which is so complete and strong that it allows the kid to return each day to a salve to match the bullying. Maybe it helps to explain to kids just exactly what’s going on. That this is, in many ways, the hardest part of their entire lives but it is a short one. Powerful but short. To provide them an overwhelmingly positive message and good, real information about just what it means to be in this horrid stage and why kids bully and what it says about them. I know of many many people who were bullied as kids, whose parents never told them that it has nothing to do with them. That kids at that age don’t have the maturity nor the tools to cope or express in better ways. To make the message consistent about how virtually everyone gets bullied. That even Derek Jeter got bullied…
      To help them create an understanding that allows them to stand apart from such meanness.
      Having said that, my heart goes out to you and your family. I have been called mean things due to my injury and they hurt at first, even when I was already 31 at the time.
      I’m sorry your family has to go through this and I really hope for great and happy days ahead. Kara

      Comment by karaswanson — November 19, 2014 @ 7:54 am | Reply

      • Thank you for your compassionate response. We are grateful for the Internet that alllows us to connect with a community that understands and gives virtual hugs through their posts. Words make such a difference and it is our choice to use them positively or not. It is so helpful to know we are not alone. The school administration certainly doesn’t understand, but we see it in the small actions of the teachers who try to make accommodations to help her get through the day. And though my daughter’s entire social groups changed as a result of the accident, I see that there is one friend that came into her life during this time period and what a difference it makes to have someone by your side, especially during middle school. Referring back to the title of your post, that is lucky. Thanks for your response and thank you especially for continuing to blog because your voice makes a huge difference. People need to connect and you provide much food for thought, support, resources and a voice for many who cannot or who are not willing to post about the TBi experience and recovery.

        Comment by Tanya — November 19, 2014 @ 8:57 am

  9. You sound like the kind of person, the EXACT person, your daughter needs as she navigates this challenging life. “Lucky” is what I’d consider her to have you to come home to every day. Blessed and fortunate and I am grateful for people like you. Best wishes, Kara

    Comment by karaswanson — November 19, 2014 @ 9:16 am | Reply

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