Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

February 2, 2013

Recognize The Symptoms

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 6:47 pm

I recently moved.  I was in the moving process from Thanksgiving to my birthday in January.   Through Thanksgiving and Christmas and over New Years and until the movers showed up on the morning of my birthday.

It’s been quite a process.

Those of you with brain injuries will understand just how much of a mental circus moving is when you aren’t cognitively firing on all cylindars.  When you remove the very things that keep us efficient (routines and familiar confines), it’s not a huge leap to unglued.

Closing and packing and ordering up utilties and new insurances….changing addresses and mailing in and mailing out….scheduling helpful friends who paint and fix walls and plumbing and cut access panels…replacing locks and waiting on deliveries and inspections and making lists and amending lists and losing lists and starting new lists….

For six weeks I lived between two places.  For the brain injured, a lovely invitation to disaster….

My purse soon proved ridiculously ill-equipped for the task of keeping paperwork and more paperwork and two sets of everything from medicines and tooth brushes and forms to fill out and forms to mail.

I started carrying some of it in a bag.  Just a normal grocery bag.  Now I had a purse and a bag.

Well, the bag then only held the stuff from the old house and not the new house so I started carrying another bag to keep all the paperwork from the closing, home warranty info, etc.   Now I had a purse and two bags.

My friend Linda lives just nearby so I started keeping some things there.  Nice things that I needed for occasions between the move.   I started puttiing my jewelry and watches and some odds and ends into the bag for her house.

Now I had a purse and three bags.  When that became too much, I gave up the purse.  Now I had three bags.

Crazy as I felt and overwhelmed and out of sorts with all the details and demands, it never even raised an eyebrow when, one day, a small box occurred to me.  It was a nice sturdy box and the weather was lousy so I put some of my things in the box.

Three bags and a box.

By the next week the box was too small and so I got a slightly bigger box.

Three bags and two boxes.

Now mind you, I’m carrying these from house to house to Linda’s and to work and back and forth and inside and out.

Linda saw that I was inching ever closer to undone and so she bought me a tote.  She told me I could empty all of my things into this nice new tote.

Now I carried my two boxes and three bags in a tote.

One morning she was going to drive me to my niece’s birthday party.  I needed a bag again for my outfit and of course my tote with the two boxes and three bags.  I stood in her doorway with my tote with three bags and two boxes and my new bag with my better outfit in it and I held up my one boot and dumped it upside down.  Out came my jewelry.

Three bags and two boxes in my tote bag plus my outfit bag and now my boot bag.

Recognize the symptoms….

She gave me a hug and I cried.

Too often when we, as brain injured, dare to leap….dare to branch out…dare to dip our toes in the pool of “normal”, we end up with a tote, four bags, two boxes and a boot bag that holds our jewelry.

Change can be overwhelming.   Paralyzing.  New and unfamiliar come at us like asteroids and we flail at the flurry.

Sometimes it takes a while to realize that six bags, two boxes and a boot aren’t really the way to go.

When I started writing this blog, “Recognize The Symptoms” was going to be about recognizing when our lives, activities and situations trigger our brain injury symptoms.  To be aware of when we are getting out of our comfort zone and straying too far from where we know we are able.  But what I realized is that it’s more than that.

Thank God.

What feels more true to me, right now, is that maybe we need to recognize the symptoms of living too.  Of reaching.  Of growing.   Too.

Not just the symptoms which automatically tell us to stop right there and start retreating.  But maybe the symtoms which tell us, Ok, this might be new territory so be careful but it’s OK.  Keep going!!!!

Maybe we spend so much time being so keenly aware of when we are inching too close to “too much”  that we don’t allow ourselves some times to realize that we have grown enough to manage more, go further, reach higher….

Maybe six bags, two boxes and a boot are OK, after all.

Maybe we all need to accept, maybe better, INVITE our growing pains.  Maybe we need to welcome safe new steps out of the shelters that have kept our wits about us.

Maybe some times it’s OK if our wits get away.  🙂

I now say with pride that moving is chaotic and stressful for any and every one.   Brain injury or not.  I moved.

The holidays can be chaotic and stressful for any and every one.  Brain injury or not.  I moved throughout three holidays.

Winter can be difficult and challenging for any and every one.  Brain injury or not.  I moved throughout three holidays and in the middle of winter.

It’s a wonder I was only carrying six bags and two boxes and a boot.   I’m surprised I didn’t show up with garment bags and bowling bags and sleeping bags and vacuum bags.

Recognize the symptoms.

Recognize the symptoms of life and of living.

I made it through because I knew Linda and others kept an eye out for me.  They were making sure I was safe.  And that’s the key.

Stretching our wings and taking new strides will always be great victories for those of us with brain injury.   As long as we have people around us who can recognize the symptoms too.

It’s a great feeling, writing to you in my new home.  I made it.  Bags and boxes and all.  I feel accomplished.  I feel rewarded.  I feel satisfied.  I feel flippin’ exhausted.  Ha.

I can look back and know that I did something that, for a long time, never even occurred to me as something I might try.  Something I might figure out and manage and devise and execute.

The house I left has a door in the kitchen.  On the inside of the door are marks which noted how tall my brothers and I were growing.

We need to remind ourselves that we keep growing.

That we might just be able to accomplish something that seemed impossible just a handful of wits ago.

Let’s keep testing our wings.  Those same wings that failed.  Those same wings that bent and broke and twisted.

Let’s keep checking to see if maybe those wings aren’t ready now to fly.   🙂



  1. Oh how I am excited to be the first to comment today! I love this! I can see you (as always) in my mind, with your bags and your boot. I can imagine how your face lighted up at the thought of the box. And the tote. I can nearly feel how tired you must have been after that last day of moving in, and that first night of sleeping in your new home. Just this thinking makes me tired.

    Kara, as always, you make me smile and cry and laugh.
    Glad you are safe.
    WELCOME HOME!!!!!!!!

    Comment by Barb — February 2, 2013 @ 8:15 pm | Reply

    • Thank you Thank you. Big smiles here. 🙂

      Comment by karaswanson — February 4, 2013 @ 12:11 am | Reply

  2. As always I find myself nodding as I read…. recognising the all too familiar. I have not moved home since my injury but I am still struggling almost two years later with the consequences of someone trying to be helpful by surprise decorating the one room in the house that is purely my space…this kind person stripped my room and stacked everything in boxes and bags and made my room look beautiful…new flooring, complete redecoration, new furniture and even set up my pc on a specially adapted table and gifted me a lovely new ceiling light… My reaction? Horror mixed with blind panic! Two years later and some of those boxes and bags are still stacked in the spare bedroom…(oops!)

    Moving home is one of the most stressful things we ever do…and you did it! In winter, over the holidays…that is amazing and wonderful… and I wish you much happiness in your new home – you deserve it!


    Comment by Christa — February 2, 2013 @ 8:44 pm | Reply

    • What you described would have totally sent me into a panic as well. Oh my. The best intentions can go so wrong. Sorry you had to deal with that. I’ll bet you totally freaked out. I feel for you. xo

      Comment by karaswanson — February 4, 2013 @ 12:13 am | Reply

  3. Kara, I could have wrote your post. I did the same thing. I moved from my house of 14 years and bought my first house right before Thanksgiving. I didn’t move in until the middle of December. I thought for sure I would lose my mind. i’m still trying to adjust to a new neighborhood, house and new routines. I also felt sad because i had my beloved dog at that house for 14 years. He passed away last summer. He was there and helped me through some tough times. It felt like i was leaving him there.

    Not until I read your post did I realize the last time I moved I was 14 years younger and I didn’t have a brain injury.

    I had 1 backpack, 2 bags and 2 planners 2012 and 2013. I’m glad I’m not alone. BTW, I don’t think I will ever move again.


    Comment by Natalie — February 3, 2013 @ 12:09 pm | Reply

    • Oh, my heart aches for you having lost your beloved dog. I still grieve the loss of mine many years ago. Congratulations on your move. I hope you can enjoy some down time now so you can rest up and start to manage your new surroundings. I know you will knock it out of the ballpark. You are so smart. Treat yourself to some good down time. You’ve earned it. 🙂

      Comment by karaswanson — February 4, 2013 @ 12:24 am | Reply

  4. Kara, no matter how bent and broken and twisted you may feel your wings to be at times, always remember you have people who love you and wildly cheer you on in every endeavor you undertake, big or small. While you may not know us personally, we are those people who adore what you share with us in your posts. We are those people who feel as though we know you through your words. You have our hearts. Always.

    Comment by Jean — February 7, 2013 @ 9:49 pm | Reply

  5. And Jean….you and so many others are the reason that I consider my life such a blessed and fantastic one. You have welcomed and supported me, cheered me even when I’m stumbling along. My challenges, just as all of ours, are safe here. Understood, gathered up and dusted off. We have become quite a band of merry travellers on this wonderful journey of life. Thank you. Thank you. You’ve made my day yet agaiin.

    Comment by karaswanson — February 8, 2013 @ 2:45 pm | Reply

  6. I have people point out how inefficient and ludicrous my bag, box, and boot are. I see them wish I would do things more methodically (as in, less like a brain-injured person). But I get done what I want and need and have a good time doing it. Sure, there are bumps along the way and things get lost. But how about “Cheers for doing it!” instead of “Gosh, you do things so weirdly.” Cheers to you for moving and organizing all that and making, as always, a great story out of it.

    Comment by brainreel — February 10, 2013 @ 1:48 pm | Reply

  7. I think you have the right idea, brainreel. Once we realize that there is no real “normal”. we can celebrate getting what we want done in any fashion that works. It’s all good. I like how you think. 🙂 Thanks for writiing. K

    Comment by karaswanson — February 10, 2013 @ 11:52 pm | Reply

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