Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

February 9, 2014

Measuring Cups, Moguls, Apples and Oranges

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 11:56 am

I can remember sitting in class in high school, seemingly a lifetime ago, and hearing my teacher talk about how we needed to learn the Metric System because our country was planning on switching over and naming the Metric System our designated, official system of measure.  It was a big deal back then, I recall, with many in an uproar that we would change, so significantly, the way we measure.

I watched the Olympics last night and saw American Hannah Kearney take the bronze in what was, for her, a cutting disappointment after her gold medal four years ago.

I saw that little flub they spoke of.  I saw her knees come apart as the hills gauged her and stole her dream finish in that split-second.

To the world, we marveled at her ability.  Wow!  To tackle those moguls and to flip and flip backwards, to land, to maneuver.

But, for her, it was a performance that disappointed, didn’t measure up, brought her to tears.

It’s funny what we remember about things…

I can vividly recall being in 9th grade swim class, standing there self-consciously with my arms crossed, trying to cover my belly.

I weighed 119 pounds at the time.  I could run a mile in under 7 minutes and I could bench-press 150 pounds.  I had teardrop muscles for thighs and I was all taught and hard and the strongest I had ever been.

There wasn’t a belly to be ashamed of.

Too often we grab measuring spoons and cups that simply no longer serve us.  No longer are valid.  No longer matter.

We turn a deaf ear to the overwhelming roar of the else, the everyone else.  We are so determined to find where we don’t measure up.  Where we disappoint.

Our ears are too big, our boobs are too small, our bellies too big, our penises too small, our chins too big, our bank accounts too small, our this and our that.  Always seemingly too….something.

It seems to me that we needn’t worry so much about what we measure with, which system we choose, but, rather, the things we measure them against. 

And maybe the everyone else should have a voice, a listen…

I hope one day that Hanna Kearney realizes what an outstanding, top-tier Olympic athlete she has been.  Wow, what an accomplishment.  To toe the podium in two consecutive Olympics.  That is truly a remarkable feat.

And the rest of us?

Do you think I should feel shame that my body is no longer as trim and muscled as it was when I was 15?  Do you think that we should waste one more moment lamenting how we no longer are as good as we once were?

It’s time to re-assess what we are comparing.

Too many of us after brain injury spend months, years, even the rest of our lives, comparing our abilities to those without brain injury,  even (and most nonsensically) ourselves before we were hurt.

We all do it.  We’ve all done it. 

And we’re all simply mistaken.

We have to allow ourselves to be right here, today.  To be who we are and make something great of that.  To know that we aren’t supposed to be younger or older or this or that.  That we are supposed to live today.  With all of the abilities, opportunities and choices available to us right now.  Right here.  This moment.

It doesn’t matter what we were twenty years ago, in as much as we compare today.  It doesn’t matter what we made, what we weighed, how we had this or did that.  All that matters is what we have now and how we bend that to sculpt a tomorrow we want.

Let’s not compare our skiing to a two-time medal winner in the Olympics.  Let’s not compare things that are not fair, not logical.

They are apples and oranges and apples and oranges are for eating, for treating, for painting of and for nourishing us.

Let’s nourish us.

Let’s take every day and see how light it travels without all of yesterday’s expectations and disappointments.  Let’s just take this day and see what we make of it.  Maybe we will get thinner today.  Maybe we will get stronger today. Maybe we will be sober again today.

But maybe we will get fatter today.  And maybe our health will deteriorate today.  And maybe we will fall off the wagon.

And then let’s try again tomorrow.

We don’t have to carry everything with us.  We don’t have to shoulder everything, a lifetime of how we failed to measure up.

Why don’t we just take today and enjoy the heck out of it.  No hurries, no worries. See if we can’t take the opportunities and abilities at our disposal and do something that makes us feel good.  Feel valid.  Feel happy.  Feel loved.  Feel accomplished.

We aren’t supposed to be what we were back then.  Not in high school.  Not in college.  Not before our injuries. 

We are what we are supposed to be right now.  The trick is to make something delicious when maybe we don’t have all the ingredients we thought we had or forgot to pick up or finished the rest of last time we cooked.

Let’s make something wonderful, anyhow.  Just today.  The best of today.  Let’s not worry about how it was before or how it might have been.  Let’s not even fuss about how it might be the next time.  Let’s just enjoy how we make it today.  Let’s feel light in the knowing that we are exactly where we are supposed to be and we are just plain flippin’ fabulous here.

In the now.  In today.  In this glorious moment.




  1. What a wonderful way of looking at our changes and differences. Each of us has ups and downs… we sag, we zag… we OOPS.
    Thanks as always my friend!

    Comment by Barb — February 9, 2014 @ 12:53 pm | Reply

    • Yes…sag, zag and oops. Ha. Made me laugh. Thanks for that. xo

      Comment by karaswanson — February 10, 2014 @ 1:20 am | Reply

  2. 020914
    Kara, I enjoyed your post and you are so right. I think people who suffer a great duress in their lives (and their caretakers) can understand this concept more fully than those who do not.

    I find it truly amazing to watch my husband, who suffered a TBI in January 2005 accept his new life and make the best of it. He lost a lot! Pre-trauma he enjoyed running, racing cars, playing racquet ball and softball, and exercising, and generally living his life to its fullest. Though his TBI left him severely physically disabled, he hasn’t let it rule his life.

    He could measure his new life against his old one, but what good would it do, besides leaving a bittered-man. He still lives his life to its fullest.

    You and he are good examples for the rest of us who do measure ourselves daily against what could have been. This reminds me of the adage, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Mmmm.

    If you wish, you can read more about David at TidBits About Donna #41 Living Nightmare



    Comment by donnaodonnellfigurski — February 9, 2014 @ 2:55 pm | Reply

    • Thanks, Donna. Sounds like both you AND your husband are soaring and I congratulate and cheer you. Thanks for the kind words. Yes, I’ll check out your blog. 🙂

      Comment by karaswanson — February 10, 2014 @ 1:19 am | Reply

  3. Kara,
    i so appreciated your perspective on this subject. Coincidentally, just yesterday I was writing a friend about how one of the great gifts of my tbi and physical injuries has been learning to better accept who I am and what i am capable of each day, as well as the personal limits that I have little or no control over in any given moment. There is a certain grace in knowing that I can’t expect “perfection”, and relief in knowing that I don’t need to be perfect. Out of necessity, I can’t hold myself to all of the crazy high bars I used to. I know that I will drop balls and make mistakes because of my cognitive challenges. I know that fatigue will cause me to be utterly inefficient or unable to make myself do things at all. I’ve really learned to simplify and let go because I really had to. Gratefully, I’ve learned to be more compassionate with myself. I appreciate what I can do so much more now. I continue to celebrate each regained skill at whatever level I can do them. It has taken me nearly 4 years post injury to get to this leveof insight and acceptance, but I am feeling so much more peace and contentment because of it. Having a great medical team, and the support, commmon experiences, and perspective of other TBI survivors has made all the difference in reaching this point. Thanks for your book and this blog! ~ Kathie

    Comment by Kathie mayer — February 9, 2014 @ 3:21 pm | Reply

    • Kathie, you sound positively well and healthy and absolutely fabulous. Big cheers to you. :))

      Comment by karaswanson — February 10, 2014 @ 1:31 am | Reply

    • Kara, what a treat it is to read comments from other members of our own support group! Kathie is a sweetheart, and I am so thankful to be able to be in the midst of you all. Blessings!!!

      Comment by Barb — February 10, 2014 @ 10:22 pm | Reply

  4. OMGOsh I didn’t even notice the SAG and ZAG comment! TEEE HEEE!!!

    Comment by Barb — February 10, 2014 @ 10:23 pm | Reply

  5. Yes, Barb, it’s one of my favorite parts of this, too. People here, people sharing their wonderful stories of how they are rocking things in their own lives. This is one powerful group that inspires me everyday. And that includes you!!!! 🙂

    Comment by karaswanson — February 11, 2014 @ 6:40 am | Reply

  6. Realistic Role Models Vs Impossible Icons, or, Making My Limp My Swagger
    Hi Kara, I think back to the first Olympics that I ever remember having watched; the summer games when Nadia Comanici scored perfect tens in women’s gymnastics. I recall listening to Mozart as our family ate dinner together in the 1970’s. My measurements for perfection were high, indeed ! I took gymnastic lessons but could not flip and twirl and swing and soar like Nadia. I took piano lessons but could not play music like Mozart. Stroking out behind the wheel of my car when I was 19, I had to accept that, with right side paralysis, I would never do any more flips. With severe memory problems, I would never learn to play the piano. Accepting myself now, as a T.B.I survivor is one of the hardest things with which I still, 25 years post car accident, struggle with and it’s one of the reasons I am at Rainbow. I’m learning to take all the ingredients: experience, open mindedness, enthusiasm, etc and create for myself a revised system by which I measure my recoveries; TBI and addiction. With the help of my counselors, my AA sponsor and my peers in my recovery groups, I can begin marveling at my own progress. So today, I swagger with confidence, not stagger with intoxication. I nourish relationships with the role models in my life now; my AA, NA and TBI groups as I work on valuing and nourishing a gentle relationship with myself. Thank you Kara for reminding me to take today and see what to make of it: your blog really nourishes me !!! Smiles to you from Ann Arbor !

    Comment by Hilary — February 12, 2014 @ 12:37 am | Reply

  7. A wake up call! I’ve been bemoaning my lack of progress after 15 months. Seeing some things I would have easily cranked out before the accident. But now i struggle with doing any of it. Using the wrong logic here. Being a counselor you’d think I would have seen through it. So, thank you, Kara, for getting me back on track. I should be celebrating that seeing clients isn’t affected. That this love of my life still works when so much else doesn’t. Thank you, so much.

    Comment by Steve Roberts — April 19, 2014 @ 7:13 pm | Reply

    • Hey, Steve….You think you needed that? Ha. I needed your words, too, this morning. Thank you for that. I’m glad we could help each other. Makes my heart sing. 🙂 Kara

      Comment by karaswanson — April 20, 2014 @ 6:03 am | Reply

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