Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

October 27, 2011

Halloween and Such

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 12:57 am

Halloween is quickly approaching.  The day we celebrate putting on masks.  I find this kind of funny, quite honestly.  We put on masks every day.  Seems the day we take them off should be a better occasion to celebrate.

Traumatic brain injury is the most clever of masks.   It parades us out there as normal people.   Many of us look no different than we did before we were hurt.  We keep hearing, “You look great!”

But it hides a darker reality. 

Most of the masks you see on Halloween are just the opposite.  They ARE the darker reality.  Vampires and ghouls and witches concealing the innocent young faces of our excited youngsters wound up on pillow cases full of sugar.

But, make no mistake, most of us are hiding.   We are trying not to be seen, to be caught, to be recognized, to be revealed, to be uncovered. 

For the brain injured, we hide symptoms which Society frowns upon.   Which our employers and friends, neighbors and family members all whisper about.   We are a handful of not-so-pleasant things that people without injuries keep forgetting are caused by injury and not the fault of failed characters.

Endless comparisons of who we were and how we were and, in most instances, we now fail to pass muster.  Sometimes we feel like we should be on the Island of Misfit Toys.

But I took off my mask years ago.   I was exhausted by it.   I had lied and covered up for a long time early on.   Months, maybe a year even, after I was hurt.  

I didn’t want people to know I had lost track of what they were saying.  I didn’t want them to know I had just fallen in their bathroom.  I didn’t want them to know I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember their name.

I didn’t report when I’d get lost or when I’d become confused or frustrated or scared.   It was easier to wear the mask then.  Easier not to alarm them or embarrass them or disturb them or make them uncomfortable.  

But, like the mask I wore when I was six, it gets hot under there.  Sweaty.  You can’t see well.  The elastic gets caught in your hair.  The plastic cracks.

At some point you just can’t wait to take it off.

And so I did.

It was reported this past week that hundreds of millions of tons of garbage from Japan’s tsunami and earthquake last March are slowly floating towards our shores.   All the remnants of a disaster.  From refrigerators to flip flops and plastic bottles and anything else that can float. 

It all comes ashore eventually.  All the remnants of disaster.

When I was a kid, I would come home and dump out all my candy and separate it into piles.   I kept the good stuff.  Milk Duds and Fudgies and caramels…

 The broken Pixie Stix and all the colored powder went in another pile.   The awful Black Crows, Clark Bars, black Chuckles and things I didn’t like went into a pile for my parents.

I took off my mask back then and made piles out of all that I had.  I separated them into things I liked and wanted to keep and things I didn’t like and wanted to give away.

Maybe we were all smarter at six.

After brain injury, our lives…our debris….comes crashing into shore inevitably.    It’s out there all right.  Out there, sure enough.  

It’s coming.  The remnants of disaster.

At some point we have to deal with the debris.  To go through it and find anything left to save.  Anything worth salvaging. 

But then, like black Chuckles and Black Crows, we have to give away what we no longer want and can no longer use.    If you leave the broken Pixie Stix in there, everything will be covered in sticky powder. 

We gotta look at the remnants of our lives before we were hurt.   We have to realize what we don’t even miss, what we have already replaced, what, perhaps, we have grown out of.

Often we are surprised to find that we have already moved on in more ways than we feared we might have to.

Monday I’m going to go and celebrate Halloween with my nephew and niece who are now seven and almost five.   I can’t wait to see how delighted and excited they are by the holiday.

But I won’t wear a mask Monday.   Never again.   It’s hot and sticky and the elastic gets caught in my hair. 

I’ll be me.   With all my stumbles and mumbles and bumbles, I’ll just be me.  That’s going to have to be good enough and, thank God, I’ve realized it already is.



  1. So true…Looking back, I tried to hide the effects of my injury from my everyone for almost a year, maybe two. I’m not sure I was really aware I was doing it. I’m really not sure I was even aware that I was injured. There are still times I find myself having a hard time accepting my new reality. As I strip away the layers, the “masks”, I have come to realize just how much easier it is to just focus on the on how or what I now can do to better myself or my family rather than it is to to focus on what was or what could have been.

    I’m not sure what debris are left to wash-up from my past but I doubt if there are any left worth salvaging. I’m moving forward with the clean slate I’ve been gifted.

    Happy Halloween!!


    Comment by Thomas — October 27, 2011 @ 9:44 am | Reply

  2. Good for you, Thomas! What start out as scary and unfamiliar, even painful, clean slates, hopefully become unique and wonderful opportunities to reset our courses in life. To do things better this time. To make perspective work for us in wonderful ways and to go forward knowing what isn’t important anymore and what absolutely is. 🙂

    Comment by karaswanson — October 27, 2011 @ 11:21 am | Reply

  3. Thank you for helping me to see this!!

    Comment by Thomas — October 27, 2011 @ 2:10 pm | Reply

  4. Well, give yourself some credit and some lovin’, Thomas. You’ve come a long way and you’re doing great in a situation that is positively stupid for anyone. We are forced to take our now-upside-down puzzles and turn them back over and start putting the pieces back on the board. No gig for sissies. I have a hunch you’re going to really make a gorgous picture out of all those pieces. 🙂

    Comment by karaswanson — October 27, 2011 @ 2:36 pm | Reply

  5. Beautifully said Kara! I love this!

    Comment by nathalie — October 27, 2011 @ 7:35 pm | Reply

    • Thanks, Nathalie. You always make me smile.

      Comment by karaswanson — October 27, 2011 @ 7:43 pm | Reply

  6. I completely understand. I recently took my mask off also! Here’s to being just who we are and loving it!

    Comment by Diane — October 27, 2011 @ 11:48 pm | Reply

  7. Way to go, Diane! Smiling here. Happy for you. 🙂

    Comment by karaswanson — October 28, 2011 @ 10:38 am | Reply

  8. Wonderful as always… Have Fun! We have not had treaters for YEARS, so this will be very new for us! Kind of excited!

    Comment by Barb — October 28, 2011 @ 7:14 pm | Reply

  9. It’s funny because part of the mask-wearing is to hide what’s going on, and part is to do anything to keep people on your side. I have some folks in my life who, unfortunately, never have conversations with me that go beyond “Hi!” “Hi, you look great! You’re doing so much better, don’t you think? Oh wow, I just see so much improvement! Keep it up. Great job.” This is literally the conversation I have with someone I see once every two weeks. How she knows I’m improving when all she ever lets me say is “hi” is beyond me. I don’t like when she forces it on me and doesn’t let me be honest with her. But she’s just letting me know that she doesn’t want to know what’s under my mask. I actually start to appreciate her forthrightness about it. At least she’s clear, and I know exactly where I stand with her. Say hi, smile, nod and agree that I’m just doing so amazingly well and nothing more. And if I want to tell someone I got lost on the bus ride there, I will find someone else to tell, because if I tell her what she’s clear she doesn’t want to hear, I might lose her as an ally, as superficial of one as she is. I actually wish more people would send out such clear messages and make their rules so much more apparent like she does. Small talk and social rules have been hard for me to relearn, and she is one of few people I know what to do with every time.

    Comment by Cheryl — November 4, 2011 @ 10:38 am | Reply

    • Hi Cheryl, I think we all have people in our lives like you describe. You are smart to know to go to the people who will meet your needs and not find disappointment and resentment in the ones who cannot or will not. I sifted through people after my injury and the ones who refused to accept my injury (for whatever their issues were) have been largely removed from my life. The few that are permanent who cannot accept I just don’t go to for any of my needs.
      We are often surprised at the people who show up and who meet our needs. Many who we thought we could count on bring issues that make it hard for them to help. They cannot tolerate our changes, our new and altered roles in their lives….Or they are soooo sad we are hurt that they cannot tolerate or accept the diagnosis (often parents) because they can’t stand to see us permanently changed.

      Comment by karaswanson — November 5, 2011 @ 11:26 am | Reply

  10. Wow- so moving, and once again, so nicely stated. One with a TBI knows exactly the true meaning of these words. You couldn’t have said it any better, Kara.

    You have been such an inspiration to me, and helped me in more ways than I could ever say. Keep the thoughts coming – I’m so enlightened every time I read your post.

    Comment by June — November 4, 2011 @ 7:16 pm | Reply

    • Thank you, June. Very kind words. Thanks. 🙂

      Comment by karaswanson — November 7, 2011 @ 3:04 pm | Reply

  11. You’ve captured some very true pictures in great phrasing, that I can really relate to. Family and friends think they are helping by suggesting I shouldn’t stay mired in the symptoms of disorganization and fearfulness. A year and a half later, just get “my mind off ot it” and move on. Isn’t that an oxymoron. Mind off of a TBI. I guess if they can make themselves believe I’m imagining or purposely extending my recovery then they don’t have to deal with the fact that I’m different now. That this permanent sense of apprehension is a change I have not fabricated, and cajoling me to “never mind” it, is not a useful solution.

    Comment by Sandra — November 17, 2011 @ 8:11 pm | Reply

    • Hi Sandra: I learned long ago that most of the time it’s about them, no matter what the subject. People react according to how it affects them. They prod you to move on because, more than likely. they want to move on. People want clean endings. They want us to have a broken bone that gets a cast and then the cast comes off and we’re back to normal again. I think people tire of us. Tire of the long and exhausting roads we are forced to travel, often alone or feeling that way. Sounds like you have a good understanding of what’s going on in your situation. Thanks so much for writing. 🙂

      Comment by karaswanson — November 18, 2011 @ 1:23 am | Reply

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