Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

November 5, 2019

Fighting For You

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 4:20 am

Imagine yourself at 99…

Picture the silver, shiny hair.  Thinning.  Imagine the colors less vibrant.  Imagine the sounds less clear.  Imagine the movements less spontaneous.  More measured.  More careful.  Imagine the activities not for you, then.  Imagine the considerations.  Imagine the knowing that the majority of life is behind you already and not much, realistically, is left ahead.


When so little is left ahead, most look back.  We look back and measure.  We look back and treasure.  We recall and we celebrate wonderful memories.  We judge our time.  Our time spent.  Our time lost.

In silence, surely, we regret some.

When time has all but entirely flown, we will surely regret the time wasted and lost.  Misspent, forsaken, given away to those we wish we hadn’t.

Though none of us can know how much time we have left, most of us forge on believing we have good amounts ahead of us.  Years and years and years.

We might one day, on a last day, regret time spent with a him or a her who mistreated us, abused us or took us for granted.  We might regret a relationship that was unhealthy or dangerous.  We might regret those we didn’t try to keep and those who we tried to keep but couldn’t.

Some of us will regret bellies too big and savings too small.  Bad investments, lousy jobs, rotten neighbors, fights with loved ones that went on for too long…

What will we regret of brain injury?

Let’s not regret one more minute of it.

I look back and I recall that early time of hopeful healing, of confused floundering, of determined learning, of re-making.  I don’t recall exact dates but I recall certain signposts, private moments, when I knew this particular thing or that had changed for good.

All told, was it more than a year?  I’m not quite sure but it was less than two.  Less than two and I was on my way.

On my way to better.

Too many of us regret it all.  Every inch.  Every day of this.  I fear there will be too many of us who, at 99, will look back and still regret everything that came after the day of the injury.

I hope not.

I believe the key in looking back from 99 is to know, right now, there is still a lot of living ahead of us.  When the colors are still vibrant, when the sounds are still clear…

I believe that, when each of us looks back, any of us, we may regret a bad relationship but we will never regret leaving it.  We may regret a fight, a squabble, course words…but we will never regret the actions we took to make those right somehow.

We’ll never regret fighting for ourselves.  That’s the whole difference there.

Are you fighting for you?

I know, if we do nothing after brain injury, we will regret that one day.  We will likely have a lot of time to regret it because most of our loved ones will have given up and left us by then.


Fight to keep the good.   Fight to make the good.  Fight to make better.

Of everything.

Strike out into each day without the injury.  Leave it behind.  No matter how it comes with us in terms of considerations and limitations and planning and strategies, leave the nag behind that tells you any of that matters to our loved ones.  Our best ones.

Fight to create a rest of days that you won’t regret.  Imagine what that looks like and start off in that direction.

People can be soured by lousy childhoods, terrible partners, rotten jobs, starving lots in life.  There’s all kinds of reasons to stop fighting for ourselves.

But all of that will be regretted then.  One day, surely.

Let’s, instead, take this time between now and the fading.  Let’s take this time and fight for ourselves, for our happiness and for the happiness of those we love.  Let’s fight to make everything better, knowing how sad and how disappointing it is to watch so many keep choosing to make it worse.

What’s the point of aiming for worse?


October 16, 2019

How Much Time Does Brain Injury Take?

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 9:02 am

I routinely spend a few hours a week on a couple of TBI support group sites on Facebook.  There I try to lend support to those, especially, who are early on in their recoveries and who are struggling with the overwhelming time this injury gobbles up.

I looked at my own life and my own routines just to loosely tally the amount of time still spent on my brain injury.    After more than twenty years, it isn’t much.

How much do you spend on your injury?  How much in a day or a week?

In that first year or, even, two, we spend a ton of time on our injuries.  We are measuring the lost and counting the cost.  We are seeking help and going to, seemingly, endless amounts of doctors’ appointments, rehab and such.  We are researching and learning.  We are struggling to keep employed or start paperwork for disability benefits.  Our people are still invested and interested and helping.  We are talking about it and, really, living the brain injury life.

But, for those of us who are fortunate enough, that early overwhelming time loses steam as we begin to know our bugger injuries.  We heal some.  We recover some.  We adapt and change our paths and our routines in order to make things work.

After all these years, maybe I spent a few hours a week on those TBI sites.  Some time invested in other people’s injuries and in supporting them.  I spend time each day creating a list when I’m rested and clear-thinking of things I have to do and carefully allotting the time needed to do them.  I plan.  Maybe that takes an hour?  Maybe.

When I announce football during this fall season, there is a little extra consideration when I walk up those bleachers because of my balance.  I spend extra time typing up my announcing scripts because I don’t trust my memory when there is a lot or late in a game when I’m cognitively fatigued.   Maybe my consideration of my injury is another hour then, on those days?

I guess my point is that….as we get better at these injuries….As the years go by and we have made changes to how we live and what we do in order to find happiness again….We need to be mindful of all the time we have freed up so that we don’t keep spending all of it on TBI.

We can spend that freed-up time living happy, successful lives.

I think it’s important for each of us to take a look every once in a while to make sure we aren’t still giving too much time to TBI.  For me, because I use that time early in the morning to map out a smart, efficient cognitive day, I don’t have to struggle with my injury much later.  I trust the plan I made and I go out and execute it.  That way, I rarely get caught in situations where I’m too tired and can’t think and get myself into an awkward, stressful or, worse, a dangerous situation.

See if you have or can now pare down the time spent on TBI each day.   Focus on what is still prickly to you and see if it is time to tackle that particular issue.  Continue to assess and trim off that TBI wherever you can.

And then enjoy that freed-up time on a good, happy, successful life.

Reconnect with people miss or strike out and find others if you are feeling lonely or left behind.  Invest in the lives of your people.  Do for them.

Start to identify what parts of your day are TBI parts and gift yourself the determination to enjoy all the other hours each day.   Challenge yourself to spend less and less time on that injury that stopped you and more and more time on all the ways it cannot.

Love you.

September 5, 2019

Joan Rivers, Really

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 9:42 am

I’ve long-made it a habit to be inspired every day.  To make sure I seek out or welcome at least one story of strength, of overcoming, of successful thinking…

Last night I caught the life story of Joan Rivers.  I thought I might just take a peek at this over-the-top icon, not expecting anything more than a glimpse and a glance at her outrageousness.  But I was struck and glued.  What a fascinating story!

Because of hardships, quick-changes, doors closing, opportunities drying up…Joan Rivers reinvented herself over and over throughout her lifetime.

Her life story is a great example we can all take from.

When she was Johnny Carson’s permanent stand-in on The Tonight Show, she felt she was at the pinnacle of her career in a stand-up comedy world long-run by men.  She had made it.   She was a star.

But, apparently at some point, she caught a glimpse of an internal NBC memo naming ten possible candidates to replace Carson after he retired.  Her name was not on it.  Though, later, it was rumored that the list had been a ruse, NBC extended Carson’s contract by two years and only extended Rivers’ by one.  She felt the writing was on the wall and she took a huge gamble and grabbed the opportunity to go up against Carson in that premium late-night slot from an fledgling Fox station.  It was a huge gamble, going up against Carson.  A gigantic risk.

She and her producer husband were fired before a year was up.

From one of the pinnacles of any entertainment career, permanent guest host on The Tonight Show, to being fired from Fox and, eventually, black-listed by Carson, Joan Rivers found herself at an abrupt dead-end with nothing that looked like any kind of hope.

Like so many of us find ourselves after we are first-hurt.

And then it got worse.

Her husband, devastated after the firing from Fox and already long-suffering depression, took his own life.

What then?  What would she do?  What would any of us do?

What have we done now?

Black-listed, unemployed, grieving, alienated from her only daughter, Joan Rivers scratched and she clawed.  She swallowed her pride and she took small gigs anywhere and everywhere, just to try and keep the lights on and the roof over her head.  She called up every name on her Rolodex and asked, “What can I do?”

What can I do?

In the years that followed, she slowly climbed back from sleepless nights catching an hour of sleep between flights to uncountable and modest gigs in cities she hadn’t heard of.   From sharing the spotlight with comics who were half her age and who had no star power.

She did what she had to do.

Even as she reclaimed some of her star power, there were new opportunities and new failings.  A new nighttime talk show.  A morning show.  She started writing books.  She took a gig interviewing stars on the red carpet.  She starred in a show set in California where she would fly out there from New York, tape the show, and fly back.   She went on the road more.  She made guest appearances.  She accepted the new opportunity to sell a clothing line on a fledgling network (back then) just starting to sell clothing on TVs.  She helped establish a charity.  She won Celebrity Apprentice.  She wrote more books, 12 in all.

Joan Rivers’ life lessons often get lost in the outrageous quips and over-the-top comments she has been quoted and known for.  But she gave us so much more.

What an extraordinary lesson in not giving up.  In how to rebound.  In how to change direction after hitting a frustrating wall.  In how to be open to any opportunity and how to be courageous enough to try anything new.

Too often, brain injury or not, we get stuck or scared.  We start to cling too tightly because something is all we’ve known, because of expectations, because of perceived insurances and assurances.   And, when that comfort dries up or gets snatched away by circumstances in life, we are decimated.

Joan Rivers’ life story reminds us that our lives are big enough to dare broadly.  To strike out new.  To try anything and everything.

Our lives are big enough to hold a lot of new directions, new dreams, new starts and new ways.

Let’s not spend one more day anchored to what we cannot do.  Let’s, instead, embrace each day and challenge ourselves to find what more we are capable of.

In every direction.  In every area.  In every way.

July 18, 2019

One Lonely Frond

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 11:28 am

When my Mom died back in 1998, we received gorgeous flowers and plants enough to line every room in my house along all the walls and on top of every counter, table and stand.   I can still remember how lovely my home smelled for so long.  I close my eyes and I can picture it and smell it even now.

After all the cut flowers dried and browned,  there were still many houseplants that I was terrified of.  LOL.  Terrified because, until then, I had never been much of a gardener or successful keeper of such lovelies.

But I learned.

Each plant needed different things.  Some wanted morning sun and some wanted cool shade.  Some required water every day, just a little, while others preferred a good dose once a week.

I tell myself they all loved my singing.

Bad, sadly, after ten years or so, one of the multi-colored plants had suffered and sputtered down to a lone frond.

One lonely frond.

She stuck straight up out of the dirt all by herself.  All alone.   Nothing I tried worked and I tried everything, it seemed.  Still she stood…alone.  She had lost her colors and she had curled into herself.  She looked more like a long tobacco leaf than part of the broad, fabulously-colored plant she had once been.

I didn’t have the heart to toss her.  I was prepared to live forever with my one sad frond.  Because she was left from a time of such generosity and love from my family and friends, I could not give up on her.

When I moved to my condo seven years ago, I brought her along.  Through the unforgiving breath of January in Michigan.  Into the car, into the house.

I repotted her and put her in the front window and then the back.   I told her how much I believed in her.   I brought some more plants back to be with her so she wouldn’t have to be alone.

That was seven years ago.

Today that amazing frond sits waiting for her afternoon sunshine.  Together with all her friends, she has grown from that one last, lost frond to a sassy, multi-colored beauty again.

She has three strong base limbs and I just saw the other day that she is about to have another baby.   A tiny new bright green sprout is fighting its way to the sun.

The original frond has now grown from about eight inches to nearing four feet high.  She reminds me, every day, that all of us feel lonely at some point.  All of us lose our colors and our activity around us and our like support.

All of us turn into ourselves, even sometimes for many years.

And then we regather ourselves and we are sparked by some glory-fed new day.  We  reach for that sunshine and we begin to bloom again.

July 3, 2019

You Can Spread a Good

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 10:19 am

I belong to several support groups on Facebook, both for brain injury and for survivors of domestic abuse and intimate crime.   While most sets of issues are distinct to their group, they do cross paths in some ways.

One of the ways I have seen that members of both groups can suffer is with startle response and trouble with chaotic and loud noise.  With 4th of July season upon us, this is a particularly challenging time for many.

I have posted on my FB page a plea for people to choose not to ignite personal fireworks in their neighborhoods.  Beyond those of us who suffer noise and startle response issues, there is valid research concluding the concussive and disorienting effects of fireworks on birds.  There is also significant data to back up pleas from veterans who have returned with PTSD (and anyone suffering PTSD), babies who show increased anxiety and stress, pets who suffer horrifically during fireworks season, people who are trying to sleep for odd work hours and others.

In my FB post, I encouraged people to visit any of the dozens of area fireworks displays that are registered and properly scheduled.   Those can be planned for.

You can do some extra good in this world by posting your own struggles with PTSD or startle response or noise challenges, if you suffer these.   You can share my post from Facebook or send out your own.

This is such a tough time for countless people and animals in our homes and in our neighborhoods.  This is a great opportunity to do some good by reaching out to your people and by reminding them how damaging close fireworks can be.

Hope you all have a terrific holiday.   Cheering for you.  :)) Kara

June 14, 2019

Things That Have, Never Before, Happened

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 1:53 pm

When I fall back a little…when I stop from anticipating outstanding, even for a day….I look for evidence to re-inspire me to keep overachieving.  To keep anticipating extraordinary.

This week the Toronto Raptors won the NBA Championship for the first time in their franchise’s 24-year history.   The St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup Championship for the first time in their 52-year history.

Things can be done that have never been done before.  Things can be done that nobody thought possible.  Things can be done when people keep anticipating extraordinary.

Rock this life!!!

June 12, 2019

Mistaken Angst

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 2:56 pm

I think, for so many of us, there is such great fear and dread and anger for our futures because we fear that now Fate has tipped the scales against us.  That we will now and forever be measured from behind the eight ball.   That we will always be counted pennies short on the dollar.  That we will live unfair lives from here on out.

The truth is that, for those of us who did not suffer greatly-altering frontal lobe injuries that might prevent us from choosing our behaviors, we have been angst-ridden mistakenly.

Thank God.

In the end and until the end, we won’t be measured for brain injury or not.   We won’t be measured by how we fail to duplicate those lives we lived before.

That’s only in our heads.

We will be measured by things that are available to most all of us, still.

We will be measured like the one who can still work 80 hours a week and coach his kids on weekends.  We will be measured like the professional athletes, the school teachers, the President of the United States…

We will be measured like your spouse, like your kids, like your friends and neighbors.

We will be measured by whether we gave good or bad.  Whether we chose dark or light.

We will be measured by how we impacted each day and each person we encountered.  Selfish or selfless.  Honest or devious.  Helpful or unobliging.

That is the truth.  Our truth.  One to embrace.  One to cherish.  One to celebrate and to be grateful for.

That is the truth.  🙂

June 1, 2019

Everyday Status

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 12:11 pm

If you take a bit to actually look at the time line on your Facebook page, you’ll notice how, no matter what you post, everything makes its way down.  The greatest of achievements…the saddest of news…the cutest of goose videos….

All get bumped by newer things.

Unfortunately, for so many of us stuck in stalled recoveries, it’s like we wake up every day and go post on Facebook:

I sustained a brain injury!

We just keep re-setting each day and then, even if we DO post other new things, they are still never very far away from the last or the next post that we have a brain injury.

It anchors us to that bottom line.

If we posted that first day on Facebook that we had sustained a brain injury, chances are we would have received comments and emojis from virtually all of our family and friends.  Lots of sad and shocked emojis.  Lots of comments and cheers for a speedy recovery.

And then we’d post again.

And again.

You can imagine that, after several posts, there would be fewer comments.  Fewer responses.  Fewer emojis.  You might even start getting comments like, are you OK?  I’m worried about you….

People would tire of the same old post.  They might even unfriend you because the topic is a bummer and they would probably consider you to be a bummer, by then, too.

As it is on Facebook, we have to get out of our stuck place.  We have to stop starting each day with that one detail about us and start showcasing all the other facets in our shining diamond.  We have to allow our news to fall lower in our time line.  We must encourage it so by replacing it with newer things.  Fresh things to report.  Activities and accomplishments and special time spent with loved ones.  Every day.

Things that make us laugh.  Things that are new in our lives.  Things that are important to and about our loved ones.  Cute videos of goosie gooses, absolutely.


And living.


May 15, 2019

They Got Us To Here

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 12:21 pm

From those of us who grew up in the 70s and before, there is a deep, deep well of fond and funny stories of the cars we drove when we were young.  Before the sleek and long-lasting materials of today, most of us cut our teeth driving vehicles that generated stories we never tire of telling.

Everything rusted.   For those of us who suffered northern winters, we were usually pulling out the Bondo in Spring to try and patch the rusting ridges around wheel wells and fenders.  Heavy muffler exhaust pipes rusted and the holes would make our cars too loud to sneak home after curfew.

One of the most exciting aspects of owning a car those decades ago was the installing of a car stereo.  Back then cars arrived with factory-installed AM radios and, as kids, we couldn’t wait to buy that awesome 8-track and, later, cassette-playing stereo.  It was a great badge of honor to proudly wear for those of us who became savvy enough to install our own stereo.

My one brother had a car from the 70s whose color was a pale peach.  We called her the Peach Bomb and it took two people to start her (one to stick a pencil in the choke).  My other brother drove a late-sixties rag-top, Electra 225, that poured rain onto the passenger whenever he turned a corner.

One of my earliest cars was gifted to me when it was already 17 years old but had only 11 thousand miles on her.  Because she was barely driven all those years, the bottom had all but rusted away and, on the passenger’s side, all that stood between my passenger and the pavement was a floor mat.  When I’d drive in the winter with someone in the passenger’s seat, the snow and ice would fling up and fly up and spray them in the face.   It would swirl in the car like it was a blizzard-inside.  LOL.

One of my most-favorite car stories is of a handsome gentleman car that I drove for 8 years.  I took such great care of that car.  His name was Hank.  But, every time I would take him in to get an oil change, the mechanic would ask me why I didn’t take better care of my car.  I couldn’t understand that.  I was diligent and invested in all his upkeep and care.  I kept him clean and up-to-date on all his engine needs and maintenance schedules.

When I finally turned him in, the man at the car dealership told me that, unbeknownst to me, Hank had been totaled long before I ever met him.  Ten years before, Hank had been stolen, driven across the nation and totaled.  He was returned to the owners and, somehow, he was rebuilt and re-painted and sold under false pretense.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that…those cars got us here.  Got us through.  Protected us.  Escorted us to our favorite people, favorite events, jobs and life journeys.

They got us here.

The people of my generation who tell and retell their early car stories do so with a fondness and an appreciation.  Those cars, with all their funny stories and quirky traits and dear names were our companions during some of our most treasured life adventures.

And that’s where we come in.

Let’s promise ourselves that, when we are turned in for the last time, that those around us are amazed that we once had been totaled.  Let’s help get our favorite people to fabulous places.  Let’s be dear parts of their life stories, fondly told and re-told in the future.

All of us, after lingering injuries, will have our issues.  Sure.  We might need a pencil jammed in the choke to help us get started in the morning.  There might be parts of us that need a little Bondo and we may have some loose nuts or screws or rusted pipes that make our whole sashaying a little clumpy, a little loud, a little sputtering…

But let’s get ’em there.  All our people.  All our pets.  All our everything that matters.  Let’s get ’em there.   Let’s be willing.  Let’s be undaunted.  Let’s add what we can to sweeten the music we hear.

Let’s get ’em there.

April 30, 2019

Fig Lips

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 10:29 am

Here in Michigan, per usual, the Springtime comes in fits and starts.  We have enjoyed glorious days of breezy sunshine and blue skies in the seventies.  And then, with rare fail, we shiver and bump along, grumbling at the forecasts for late-April snow.

We wait and we wait, so many of us putting off our plans, our anticipations, our….happiness.

Yesterday the forecast said we would have chilly showers and struggle to reach the high 40s.  Through the early hours it poured a steady blanket of damp, November-like rain.  My headache stormed.  My arthritis bucked and cussed.

I was tired of waiting and so I made my own fresh start.  My own….Spring.

I went to the store and, at first, I began to fill my shopping cart with all my typical normals.  And then I thought, nope.  It’s Spring.  It may not look and feel like Spring and I may be tempted to wait again and longer.

But nope.  Not this time.

I cleared my basket and I started again.  I bought different versions of every staple.  New flavors and scents and versions of every hair product, shampoo, soap and body-fixer-upper I use.

I now have some kind of black coal face towelettes simply because I love the packaging and I am such a sucker for packaging.  I have sugar scrubs and lime mousse made for curls, even though I have poker-straight hair.

I am trying to inspire my hair to over-achieve.

Out of the dozen or more choices of Burt’s Bees tinted lip balms, I chose Fig.  FIG!  LOLOLOL.  I now am going to have soft, luscious fig lips.

And I am delighted to the point of giggling at myself.

We can’t just wait for Spring to come.  Not outside our doors and not inside the windows to our hearts and our souls.

We have to make Spring in any way and in every way we can.

I wish you all Spring, inside and out.  Go treat yourself to lips of watermelon, raisin or hot mocha.   I double-dog dare you to be as sassy as me.   Kiss your winter good-bye, both outside and in, with your sultry fig lips.  :)))))

Rock on, warriors!!!!!!

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