Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

May 8, 2012

Symptoms of Living

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 1:51 pm

Sit down for a night of TV and you will be treated to a seemingly endless march through commercials proclaiming to cure everything from baldness to dark facial spots to dry mouth and athlete’s foot.   Go into any drug store or grocery store and you can have your pick from literally rows and rows of vitamins and supplements.   You can look on-line and find which food to eat, which supplement to take, which vitamin to boost…in order to cure or relieve whatever ails you.

Grab your credit card and a phone and order any number of workout systems designed to slim your belly, improve your shoulder muscles, tighten that butt.  Order that book that details how to makeover your heart, your shape, your messy closet.

Change your life, improve your life, turn back that clock!

Well, when that clock doesn’t seem to turn back as many years as we had hoped, we come to understand that life comes with its challenges.  We do what we can.  We treat the symptoms.  We try to eat better.  Work out more.  Cut down on sugar, salt.  When that fails, we can buy slimming undergarments.  The more wealthy among us might choose a little nip here.  A tuck there.   Smooth the wrinkles.   Tack back the sags.

Some cut off too many years and simply look ridiculous.  Some tan themselves into orange/brown-wrapped leather furniture.  Some give up and buy the elastic waistbands.

We’re all just doing the best we can here.

I wear reading glasses now.   I take Glucosamine/Chondroitin for achy, arthritic hands.   I’ll take my fish oil and my multi, grab an extra E here and there, maybe  a CoQ10.   I’ll drink my green tea and I’ll take garlic caps.

My friends and I will get on the phone and we cannot believe we’ve become our mothers, talking about the newest thing that ails us.

We tend to lament how everything seems to be falling apart when, in reality, we’re simply experiencing the symptoms of life.  Of living.   What a great day for Kale!!!  Ha.

So many of us who suffer brain injury struggle so mightily with our symptoms and the endless seeking of a cure for them.  A return to then.  A Mulligan.

The truth is, those symptoms, after a couple of years, whatever’s left, are probably here to stay.   And we have to choose the time when we realize that they are simply symptoms of living.  Symptoms of our lives.   No cures.  Just finding tools to quiet them long enough to resume our lives, redesign our lives.  Get back on track.  Back to living and dreaming and moving forward.

In the last ten years, from the time I was 37 til now, all sorts of shit has happened to my body.  Laughing here.   Some of it my fault, yes.  Some of it my Mom’s fault, surely.   Ha.  Some of it simply the symptoms of my body’s age.

My one brother, the Optometrist, is very bright.  We were discussing age-related eye symptoms and he was telling me how so many people suffer similar sight problems at roughly the same age.   He mentioned something that I thought was interesting.  He said, “Kara, our ancestors weren’t built to live to be 85 years old.  They lived to be 35 or 40.   So maybe around that time, our bodies are starting to sputter a bit.”

That made so much sense to me.   Today we are kept alive by the antibiotics, high blood pressure and high cholesterol pills, the now-standard procedures, the advances in dental care…that our ancestors did not enjoy.   But it doesn’t change the fact that the same equipment is being asked to go that much further.

So it fails some.   The eyes need a little help reading those menus and phone numbers.   Our skin sags or sinks.   It acquires tags and brown spots and boasts shiny scars from a lifetime of falls off our bikes, birthing babies and untimely appendix explosions.

Our skin isn’t as soft anymore.  Our hair isn’t as full and shiny.  Our eyes and teeth are not quite as bright white.  Our butts start climbing up our backs and our boobs start climbing down our fronts.

The symptoms of life.

So, when those of us who are brain injured are so frustrated by the symptoms we cannot make leave, I offer up the simple option to consider them no different than that extra chin that didn’t used to be there or that aching sciatica or the evil facial whiskers…

Consider them symptoms of life.   Signs that you are living.  Testaments to your survival.  Chapters in your life’s story.

Treat them as best you can.

Just as I will grab my reading glasses when I need to read a menu now, I will also take a nap late in the day when my brain is fatigued.  Just as I will shop for fish oil supplements or protein powder or vitamin C boosters, I will use my cane to assist my balance.

My brain injury symptoms are no different to me.  Considering my brain injury in my daily life and what it might require is no different than considering the foods I need to eat, the behaviors I need to avoid or the supplements I need to take to deal with my other symptoms of living.

For most of us, we did not improve in a lot of things after we were hurt.   Just as, for most of us, aging is not improving our eyesight, hearing, flexibility, skin, hair…..

But, even as our brains are broken, we can improve our minds.   Even as our hearts are broken, we can improve what they feel.

I am the proud bearer of lousy balance, rotten memory, and the inability to handle chaos and stimuli.   I am also the proud bearer of sagging spotty skin and thinning hair and failing nearsightedness.

I am alive.

I am living.

I am enjoying the heck out of writing this story of mine, complete with all its flaws and warts and imperfections.

And that includes brain injury.

We can’t go into a store and find a vitamin to cure brain injury.  But we can make it better through strategic choices.  Smart choices.  Knowing our selves and our injuries and creating environments in which they will thrive.

Symptoms of living.

Everyone’s doing the best they can here.   We’re all fighting different versions of the same fight.   We’re all waking up every morning and looking in the mirror and noticing changes we cannot believe are happening.

But the beauty of it is that we’re waking up in the morning.

Another glorious day to suffer the symptoms of living.

I hope this thing called life is chronic.  That we will all suffer it every day for many, many a year to come.

Enjoy your day.   Enjoy your life.  Embrace the symptoms of living and treat them with heavy doses of love, laughter and joy.

I’m cheering for you.



  1. Kara, I appreciate you! Thank you for continuing to move forward. You inspire me to will myself to stay strong.

    Comment by Nicole L. — May 8, 2012 @ 3:31 pm | Reply

    • We have to inspire each other, Nicole. Back and forth, we go. Pulling each other forward. Always forward. Away from the worst of it. 🙂

      Comment by karaswanson — May 9, 2012 @ 11:01 am | Reply

  2. 35 or 40 would have been a great time to exit , like our ancestors, without all these Owwies! I waken to (out of much needed sleep for my Brain) ribs that feel like someone beat me all night long, a neck perpetually kinked, hips and lumbar swollen from side sleeping, headaches that pre accident days would have been 911 are now the norm. Eyes so blurred from my medication Lyrica that I can hardly believe I’m me at all. No longer can I twist pull bend or arch Free throws are sooo painful to my shoulders and I can’t imagine where I’ll be in 10 years. On my own, with no insurance, just daily anger over a broken judiciary system that has succeeded in breaking me down further. Ten years of physical and mental torment. It’s just such Bullshit. But I LOVE being a part of this insane evolving planet, and there’s so many worse off and happy, The sun rises and we too, are determined like our ancestors, who foraged and scraped by to survive, millenia later, We SURVIVE:) and by doing so we will be there when duty calls, that spiritual part of us that flows in out and around one another, for eachother, Angels Unaware! LOVE and Thank You Angel Kara! Sue Kurrle

    Comment by sue kurrle — May 9, 2012 @ 9:22 am | Reply

    • Sue: Chronic pain is one monster that no one can imagine. I have a dear friend whose advanced MS leaves her in chronic white-hot pain, nearlly head to toe. Every day. Every day. Almost too much to bear. I have so much respect for those of you with such chronic pain and yet you keep answering the bell every day. With some kind of faith and hope and determination. I admire the heck out of you guys. I pray you will find the right combinations of relief that don’t have side effects you cannot manage and tolerate. Thanks for writing. We’re all battling together. Hang in there!!!

      Comment by karaswanson — May 9, 2012 @ 1:51 pm | Reply

  3. You always give food for thought! I love reading your work Kara, it always speaks to me.

    Comment by Barb G — May 9, 2012 @ 10:26 am | Reply

  4. Thanks, Barb 🙂

    Comment by karaswanson — May 9, 2012 @ 10:59 am | Reply

  5. Well stated… No need to pretend they’re not there… Learn to live within the framework…

    Comment by Jennapher Frankie Lawson — May 15, 2012 @ 8:44 am | Reply

    • Exactly, Jennapher!!!! We don’t have to pretend they’re not there. We exhaust ourselves trying to hide all our challenges. By being honest about our struggles, we teach people what they are and how we succeed in spite of them every day. We don’t need to be ashamed of these. I tell people when my day is ending. I tell them when my balance or my thinking is starting to falter. They are relieved. They don’t judge me for it. Not the people who are important. They help me get home or to a quiet place or whatever. None of those challenges have the power to make me anything bad. They are just things to consider every day when I’m planning my day, charting my course. :))

      Comment by karaswanson — May 15, 2012 @ 10:10 am | Reply

  6. Thanks Kara,
    It is the learning to accept, or rather embrace myself that I still struggle with. The mental side. I’m can to deal with the headaches, the seizuzures and everything else but getting over that hump of comparing myself to the old Tom is still the hill I am climbing.

    I am however learning to live within my framework, I just need quit comparing my now to my then. I know I will get there and I will be fine but somedays just really suck!!

    Comment by Thomas — May 21, 2012 @ 2:17 pm | Reply

    • Yes, Tom, I agree. Some days really suck! I don’t compare much any more because I don’t do much from my old life. I have replaced those things with stuff I CAN do well so that I’m not always paling by comparison. All the new stuff feels great. Victories!!!! I can say I can’t play basketball as well now. Instead I say I’m a good sports announcer. I can say I can’t play the guitar like I did back then. Instead I say wow, I can play the piano now. Once we get victories starting to pile up on this side of the fence, the other side of the fence doesn’t look quite as green any longer. :))) I’m go glad you wrote. We’re all cheering you on here, believing you will soon be piling up all sorts of victories of your own. 🙂

      Comment by karaswanson — May 21, 2012 @ 7:39 pm | Reply

  7. Kara, I adore the Blog. I also love to read the additional comments! I learn so much from each side. Hugs!

    Comment by Barb — May 21, 2012 @ 2:59 pm | Reply

    • Thanks, Barb. I learn from the comments too. :))

      Comment by karaswanson — May 21, 2012 @ 7:39 pm | Reply

  8. Dear Kara, were you ALWAYS this wise or has it come with age? 🙂 As years pass, I am learning that few of us really age gracefully. Instead, I ask for nothing more than to age IN grace. Keep writing and pouring your heart out for all of us. You have no idea how much it really means.

    Comment by Jean — May 22, 2012 @ 7:13 pm | Reply

    • And you have no idea how you have made my day, Jean. Thank you for the kind words. 🙂

      Comment by karaswanson — May 23, 2012 @ 12:51 am | Reply

  9. Such a wonderful post! Too often it seems so easy to feel lost amid the sea of marketing hype. It seems there’s a product for everything, a cure-all, a miracle service, or a some new message to buy. Even as we try to feel “normal,” too often one can feel agonizingly lost or broken when confronted by so many mixed messages about what “normal” really is. I think a lot of us are searching for confirmation or validation that we matter, and that our struggles weren’t for naught. Thanks so much for sharing. Very nicely done post. One must never forget the “human” element. Cheers.

    Comment by Dani — May 23, 2012 @ 2:07 am | Reply

    • Boy, Dani, I think you are right-on! We try to feel “normal” when that ship has sailed. It is awful and we look toward people and watch ads and commercials to see what normal is supposed to look like. In reality, normal is here. All of us here. We integrate these symptoms every day into lives that have been changed forever. We consider and we change and we compensate….Just know that those air-brushed versions of perfection are NOT normal. Not to anyone, brain injury or not. YOU DO MATTER!!! You will find your validation here, in a community that welcomes you. Amidst a bunch of people facing similar challenges to yours. We are here, cheering each other on. Forging ahead. Breaking down roadblocks. I’ll take you guys over those fake perfect pictures any day. Any day, Dani!!!!

      Comment by karaswanson — May 23, 2012 @ 10:22 am | Reply

      • Rock On Kara:) LOVE YOU!!

        Comment by sue kurrle — June 11, 2012 @ 6:45 am

  10. Reblogged this on Broken Brain – Brilliant Mind and commented:
    And there we have it… texture for our lives

    Comment by brokenbrilliant — June 9, 2012 @ 9:25 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: