Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

March 16, 2014

Harder Going Out

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 9:15 am

For over a year now, my brothers and I have been slowly clearing our childhood homestead, readying it for sale.  I had spent my time there largely carrying out the myriad “loose” items that had collected over the years.  Easy to bag and box and carry and drag.  My Mom’s scrapbooks from when she was a little girl.  My Dad’s artwork.  Eight thousand rubber bands and plastic margarine containers my Mom kept.  Every holiday card they ever received.  A thousand odds and ends of dishes and glasses and silverware and pots and pans…

There were the file cabinet drawers filled with taxes and cancelled checks from the 70s.  Stocks of china and books and things people left when they went to college, moved out, moved back in, left for different states, different lives.  Left for….Heaven.

Now that we are down to near-empty rooms, there are items that, when moved in, had no intention of ever leaving.  An entertainment center that even the movers told me that first day, “Tell us where you want it because it’s never moving.”

Well, it’s moving.

My brothers dismantled it and dragged it up the stairs.  That heavy-as-hell workbench and that storage bin that I never could of imagined where we got it or how it even fit downstairs for fifty years….

It’s all harder going out.

Like entertainment centers and steel file cabinets and seemingly unmovable work benches, we move thoughts into our minds at an earlier time.  When we are younger, when we are excited and hopeful, perhaps when we are naïve.

We take in “stuff” over the years….Things we’ve heard and things we’ve learned and things we’ve rationalized and stories we’ve told ourselves.  We pile in the rumors and the family stories and the beliefs and attitudes.  Most of the time we don’t research them to find out whether they are true or valid or need to change.  We pile them in and soon we just vacuum around them.

It’s harder going out.

Collectively, as a Society, as a human race, we are so slow to change our beliefs on so many things.  What skin color means and what a woman deserves to make and what a family should look like and what a government should do….

More close to home, we set in stone what we mean, ourselves.  What roles we play and where we shine and puff out our chests.  We find comfort in the piles and bags and boxes filled with stuff we will never again use because they reflect a comfort time.  They validate a life’s work, they prove we were loved or able or popular or important or successful.

It’s harder going out.

Each month I sit down at my kitchen table and I write out bills and I log how much they were on a sheet I brilliantly titled the Bill Log.  Genius.

I was looking at the amount totals for gas, electricity and water and I was amazed to find they are virtually the same.  Every month.

Within a dollar, within pennies, I am such a ridiculous creature of habit that there is virtually no change in my utility usage over an entire year.

As simple as it sounds, if I want to change my utility bills, I have to change how I live.   I have to take a shorter shower, wash clothes a couple of times fewer each month, use paper plates or cups….Whatever.   In order to change those numbers, I have to change the behavior driving them.

One of the hardest parts of recovering from brain injury is the realization that, by and large, once that brain is struck and damaged, things are immediately changed.

We might not know it yet.  We might be preoccupied with hospital stays and therapies and surrounded by medical bills and overturned realities….

But we have already changed.

The reason my brothers are dismantling that entertainment center and dragging out my parents’ bedroom set and carrying up that old work bench is because we are different now.  Not everything fits anymore.  We don’t need some of those things.

I moved to a condo because I have just spent more than half my life cutting the lawn on a double lot that has fifteen trees to trim and leaves to rake and lines to edge and bushes to shape.

I’m not a young kid anymore and I’m not heading in that direction.

I have changed.

And so have you.

There are beliefs and traditions and practices and roles and comforts and routines and yes, furniture, that no longer fit any more.  Somewhere along the way we came to think of that as a bad thing.  As a failure or a problem or a shame. 

In reality, we are meant to change and evolve and clean out and give away and drag up from the basement.

Perhaps we were duped by growing up in a time when everyone worked at the same job for forty years and left with a gold watch, a pension and a chicken buffet dinner.  We slapped bondo on our cars and drove them for twenty years.  We saved plastic containers and wire bread ties and we actually sewed the holes in our socks.

Sometimes it’s more effort to stay the same.  To keep dusting and vacuuming around that work bench or that entertainment center or that treadmill that no longer fits.

I made a Time Capsule for each of my parent’s things.  Stuff that was sooo them.  Special things.

I threw out my Mom’s garter belts and her bathing cap from 1962.

Suffering a brain injury or any major life change is like moving out of a house.  If you haven’t been clearing it and maintaining it over the years, it’s harder going out.  There’s just so much clutter.

I’m in a beautiful condo now.  It is clean and well-repaired and it reflects the styles and personality and place that I’m at now.  I don’t need that entertainment center any longer.

Beyond the obvious setbacks and devastating realities of significant head injury or life change lies the whisper that beckons.

It sneaks in and makes the curtains dance.  It smells of freshly-cut lawn after a long winter.

It is a fresh start.  It is change.  It is Spring. 

Nobody can take or belittle or make frivolous the remarkable changes that a brain injury brings.  You have suffered a personal winter for the ages.

But it’s unnatural to wear our parkas and our boots when the storm breaks.  When the skies clear.  When the sun warms.

You deserve Spring.  You deserve to start anew without all the thoughts and roles and practices and routines and work benches of a life before.

Now I sit in my new condo in the quiet mornings when the sun streaks through my front window.  I smile as it reflects through the beautiful green glass on a copper lantern that was my parents’.  I smile at how wonderful the few pieces of furniture I kept compliment my paint and carpeting choices.

And I laugh.  And I hope.  And I dream.




  1. Kara, I have to admit I always find myself waiting for your newest post. This one has been so worth the wait. Your happiness and contentment shine through each and every word. On your journey through life you have met brain injury and sadness and loss of loved ones head on. And it sounds as though you have come out safely on the other side where the sun shines in a blue sky and life is for celebrating and you happily embrace all the gifts God has given you. I especially love how you talk about all the things we accumulate over the years and hold onto for years even though we long ago outgrew the need for them. But you are right. They bring comfort. They remind us of childhood. And those we hold close. And the simpler life we led then. The older I get I find I savor memories of family and friends and, yes, things. All things sentimental. The comfort that comes with all of that just washes over me. It’s my hope for you, Kara, that you are always blessed with friendship and love and most of all, Comfort.

    Comment by Jean — March 16, 2014 @ 9:07 pm | Reply

  2. Boy, Jean, you always come with such kindness. Thank you so much. You make this place and this space better. I find myself looking forward to your words, too. Thank you for that. xoxo

    Comment by karaswanson — March 17, 2014 @ 6:55 am | Reply

  3. Kara, you have such a beautiful style of writing… What struck me personally were the words: “You have suffered a personal winter for the ages. But it’s unnatural to wear our parkas and our boots when the storm breaks.” Gosh, it feels like it’s been winter for a very long time! But you raise the hope of Spring time and getting on with it.Thanks so much. Steve

    Comment by Steve Roberts — March 18, 2014 @ 6:59 pm | Reply

    • Hey, Steve!!!! Your comments made my entire heart smile. I’m cheering for you. Please come back again and share us a progress report so all of us can cheer for you. :)))) Kara

      Comment by karaswanson — March 18, 2014 @ 8:09 pm | Reply

  4. Such a wonderful piece, Kara. So meaningful –equally meaningful to anyone facing difficult changes, whether sought, or by accident. Thank you for writing it.

    Comment by lindy rymill — March 18, 2014 @ 10:10 pm | Reply

    • Oh, I’m so glad. Thank you!! 🙂

      Comment by karaswanson — March 19, 2014 @ 6:40 am | Reply

  5. Moth balls from the thirties, rubber bands from the fifties, tubes of acrylic paint from the seventies – and Mom’s clearing it all out of my grandmother’s house in New Jersey as I rehabilitate, not only from a TBI but also a drug and alcohol addiction, here in Michigan. She is doing it alone and I must fight feeling guilty that I am not there to help. But I am “cleaning house” myself as I practice AA’s steps and principles. I am “clearing away the wreckage of my past” so I can be “happy, joyous and free”. Mom is coming to Ann Arbor to visit in a few days and spend my one year sober anniversary with me this Sunday. Amends are in order, truly – and not so much for not being there to help her throw away all those old moth balls, rubber bands and paint tubes, but more for not being there for her, (and my grandmother too) during all the time I was drunk or high. I must apologize for my self centered behavior, and with each “I’m sorry” that she accepts, I will feel that much closer to making progress on my efforts to clean up. Thank you, Kara, for your blog. I always get a lot out of your words and your wisdom.

    Comment by Hilary — March 20, 2014 @ 11:27 pm | Reply

    • We all fail the people we love at some point or another. It’s what we do as humans. Especially in our families. I’m sure you mom failed her parents too. We are all on our own paths and sometimes those paths require us to travel alone in order to learn what was meant for us. You have walked alone now, for a long time. Supported and cheered yes, but needing to navigate the worst of the terrain with only your own guts and determination. What will matter most to your mom is not that you left but that you have returned. That is a gift better than any. Hopefully you won’t bog yourselves down with any unrealistic expectations Sunday. Just be. Just be grateful for this second shot together. That is a gift so many don’t get. I’m happy for you. You’ve earned it. I hope you both enjoy the heck out of it. Good luck!!!!!

      Comment by karaswanson — March 21, 2014 @ 6:23 am | Reply

      • Hi Kara, this weekend I got the opportunity to do something that I’ve put off for twenty five years: I got to make amends to my mother…and she accepted ! We had a WONDERFUL time together: we went to an orchid show at the botanical gardens, and got to see a little of Ann Arbor when I brought her to my favorite book store / coffee shop: Crazy Wisdom. We went to an Alanon meeting at the Alano club where I go daily for AA and NA meetings and it didn’t even feel as shameful / awkward / embarrassing as I’d thought to do introductions: “hi, I’m Hilary and I’m an alcoholic and a drug addict”. (I suspect that Mom had already figured that out by now anyway !!!) It was such a neat experience for me to get to see what an awesome person she is. She trimmed my hair and I didn’t even snap back some snide response when she commented on how grey my hair was getting. Mom flew back to Maine yesterday and as she hugged and kissed me before she left, she beamed, “Hilary, you’re back” she said. Our smiles were so big.

        I’m so happy for you!!!! What a beautiful weekend. Big smiles here for both of you!! Kara

        Comment by Hilary — March 25, 2014 @ 11:04 pm

  6. Wow, Kara… this hit on so many levels. Thinking of my own aging parents and all of their belongings… trying to make sense of and minimize my own. I continue to try to simplify my life and belongings to decrease stress and scaffold myself. Nearly 4 years since my accident, there still tends to be both grieving and relief in going through that process. “Not everything fits any more” and “not headed in the same direction” since TBi really hit home for me. It is so hard to let go of both things and roles that I know have significance and value – or that other people aren’t ready for me to let go of yet. The reality is, however, that the struggle to find and organize materials (if I even remember that I have them) can be overwhelming and defeating. If I understand what I read, too often I lose most or all of the information when I look away and go onto the next task. It is a celebration that I am able to do so much more now than I could earlier in my recovery, but I know that I am different, that there are things I simply cannot reliably access….. and things that I am not likely to ever be able to do again. These realities feel like mirrors …. reminders that I must accept and embrace the “current me” and even more change. Things definitely work far better when I am realistic about what I can do now – today…in this moment. Also, about what I “need”. Having a TBi continues to help me get to the heart of what really matters – what I need to make my life work and to find some sense of peace. It is true there ultimately can be joy and appreciation in the “fresh start” – especially feeling grateful for small gains and developing deeper empathy, compassion, self-acceptance and self-care after our accidents. As you said so well,Kara – oh, what a long “personal winter” there can be to suffer through to get to that point. I agree that it is worth the effort, though. I finally am more in touch with “spring”, however, I think I still have a few “large, heavy bookcases” to deal with! Tonight, thinking of you enjoying your home – your “new fit’ – helps me to remember that taking each next step is worth it! Thanks so much! ~ Kathie

    Comment by Kathie — March 24, 2014 @ 2:02 am | Reply

    • Just so you know, Kathie…You sound positively healthy. 🙂 Despite your challenges and all the obstacles, you sound like you are balanced and sane and, dare I say, well-adjusted. Ha. This is no gig for sissies, as my Dad would have said…But you sound like you are making your way and carving out a path that works for you and that’s all any of us can do. To take all the things we have left after injury, grab them up and head forward. You sound like you’re doing well and we’re all cheering you. Big smiles here. :))) Kara

      Comment by karaswanson — March 24, 2014 @ 6:17 am | Reply

  7. hello Kara,
    My brother has been in a minimally conscious state for four months. He improves little by little, but I am so afraid that my brother will not be okay in the future. I wanted to thank you for making this blog because it has brought me light. You seem like a wonderful person and if my brother becomes anything like you or recovers anything like you, I will be happy.

    Comment by James — March 26, 2014 @ 6:26 pm | Reply

    • Hey, James. Check out my personal message sent to your email. Kara

      Comment by karaswanson — March 26, 2014 @ 7:54 pm | Reply

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