Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

October 8, 2017

Everyone Finds What They’re Looking For

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 11:49 am

In a brain injury blog, where so many of us struggle daily with our brain-damaged memory function, it’s almost comical to write, Everyone Finds What They’re Looking For…

But it’s true.

We’ve had a tough few months of natural disasters.  A slew of devastating hurricanes, earthquakes and wild fires.  Millions fleeing homes only to return to nothing.  Millions more without power, without clean water, food or neighborhood versions of normal with schools and churches and stocked, well-operating shops.

There is the back and forth banter between the leaders of the United States and of North Korea.

Also, recently, the huge media-saturated coverage of NFL players taking a knee during the National Anthem and the horrible shooting tragedy in Las Vegas.

There’s been a lot of stuff to consider, to decide within ourselves, to post opinions about and to discuss at dinner tables and around water coolers.

Everyone Finds What They’re Looking For.

Some will consider the natural disasters just par for the course during a regular hurricane season.  Some will enlist those disasters to back up their rallying cries of a warming, increasingly-unstable planet.  Some are checking their bibles and searching the skies for locusts as they become more convinced that all of these hurricanes, earthquakes and fires signal the end of the world.

Between the United States and North Korea, some will sound alarms that we are headed for nuclear war.  Others will consider both leaders’ rhetoric to be, largely, just the saber-rattling of school-yard boys.

Witnesses to the NFL players’ kneeling during the National Anthem will split into groups of self-proclaimed patriots who are offended and First Amendment advocates who staunchly defend the right to peacefully protest.

The fallout from the horrible shooting in Las Vegas will become less of a human story and more a political one as people on both sides of the gun rights debate shine a spotlight on this tragedy as evidence of their particular stance.

Everyone Finds What They Are Looking For.

There will always be evidence, in any given situation, to support what we believe.  That is the common thread in a tangled mess of conflict in an ever-increasingly, complex world.

Closer, more intimately, each of us will suffer hardships and setbacks with regard to our brain injuries, our relationships and our positions in our families and our communities.

Everyone will find what they’re looking for.

Maybe more than ever, we are now bombarded with the overwhelming opportunities to take a look at what it is exactly we are looking for and see if, maybe, THAT needs to change…

What do they say?  Two is coincidence and three is a pattern?

Each of us has to decide, for ourselves, how we will slant the experiences in our lives and the events in our world.  We have to take in, sort, identify and categorize all that affects us.

What is the goal?

A long time ago I chose my goal.  I want to be peaceful and optimistic.  I want to keep moving toward a gentle light and away from the drama and fear of the dark.  I want to believe that good people, all full of light, will always rise to the top and help to propel us forward from the hardest of times.

And so I find what I’m looking for, too.

In all of those horrendous natural disasters and, too, the shooting in Las Vegas, I focus on the people who, time and time again, chose to help strangers.  From California to Houston, from Mexico to Florida and from Puerto Rico to a country concert in Las Vegas, first responders in the form of police, fire, paramedics, rescue dogs, hospital and morgue staffs all chose to find what they were looking for, too.

A chance to save lives.  A chance to save homes and communities.  A chance to heal victims or comfort victims’ families.

Beyond them are uncountable volunteers in shelters and on-scene to assist however they could and can.  Neighbors helping neighbors.  Ordinary people offering their communities hoses to help put out fires, boats to help find survivors, shops and cars to shelter during a hail of bullets.

What did you look for and what did you find?

Opinions are a dime a dozen.  They are as diverse and changing and particular as style and fashion.  In the end, when it comes to your injury and how it affects your life, only your opinion has the power to make better and to invite improvement.

If your goal is to find evidence that this brain injury has ruined your life, you will find that evidence.  If your goal is to stay convinced that this injury is only about what you cannot do any longer, then you will find that evidence, too.

But if your goal is to uncover evidence that this injury is not stronger than the good of you, you will be amazed at how much of that evidence exists.  And if your goal is to live an enriched life that invites new people, new experiences and new abilities, you will find that evidence too.

What is it exactly you are searching for?  Decide carefully because you WILL find it.



September 10, 2017


Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 12:13 pm

As I’ve watched coverage of these hurricanes, first Harvey and now Irma, I am struck, like many times before, by the parallels of any disaster.

I have compared brain injury, for all these years now, to a hurricane or a tornado that comes and shreds the worlds we knew and the lives we created.   In my book, “I’ll Carry the Fork!  The 20th Anniversary Chapter,” I talk about how one of the cruelest truths of our injuries is that, like these hurricanes we have been watching, a storm turns any way.

Sometimes you end up watching it from your safe living room on the Weather Channel and sometimes you end up with twelve feet of water in your living room.

How the similarities really hammer home for me is in two ways:

First, there is attention and support in the acute phase of a disaster.  For each of these hurricanes, the world’s attention and media coverage blanketed these areas and all of the local and federal government’s resources were offered in order to help the victims.  Support and supplies arrive from, literally, all over the world and everyone bands and bonds together in the immediate aftermath.

Similarly, when we are brain injured, most of us enjoy immediate and gathering attempts and offers to help from the medical community, insurance, family and friends.

But the second way that I see our injuries and how they resemble these disasters is more important and, often, more damaging to us.  It is in the later.   The after.

Already coverage of Houston and the greater areas of Texas has given way to coverage of Hurricane Irma.  In another two weeks, the media will be focused on the next wild fire spreading or hurricane coming.

Similarly, with our injuries, after the initial crisis period, most of the help that was ours to enjoy in the immediate aftermath runs out or moves on or returns:  treatment, insurance, support.

It is a lonely process then.

Those folks in Houston, three weeks later or a month later, are left with homes that are just devastated.  Like those of us with brain injury, they are faced with two choices:  either they do not return to their old lives or they return and begin the process of re-building.  There is no in-between.

Those folks cannot return home to a house full of water with fish and crocodiles in the murky stew and everything sodden and growing mold and bacteria.  They cannot just sit down on the sofa and hope for better.

You wouldn’t imagine any storm victim would return home and sit in ten feet of water and flip on the lights where there is no electricity and open the fridge where it hasn’t worked in two weeks and take out food to eat and try to use the toilet when the sewage is all over the neighborhood.

It is glaringly clear that, in order to return to their old lives, things must be fixed and re-built.

Similarly, we cannot just return to our lives after a significant injury and just expect everything to be the same.  If we have suffered damage, if things are actually broken, then we cannot expect to simply resume where we left off.  It’s not going to happen.

For us, we have the power to re-build lives and re-create them and be successful and happy after that.  But if we do not accept the changed reality, then we are just sitting on a sodden couch with fish in the water and bacteria and mold growing on everything we’ve ever known.

TV crews won’t catch most of the hundreds of thousands of families in Texas when they tear out their carpet and drag all their belongings to the curb and rip down the drywall.  Those families will be alone when they try to heal the rashes from wading through the muck and when they try to get their kids into new schools somewhere too far to travel when their cars are all washed out.

Re-building is lonely and it is difficult.  For us, as brain injury survivors, it will affect a hundred daily decisions, routines and familiarities.  It will challenge our comforts and it will force us to give up some of the things we held precious.

But we gotta get busy before the mold grows.

The longer we wait, after brain injury, to get busy re-building, the more the mold grows and the more precious things we must drag to the curb as garbage.   For hurricane victims is will largely be material goods they lose.  For us, it will likely be our self-esteem, our relationships and our places in family and community.

It’s up to us.  It’s a lonely, overwhelming challenge to re-build.  But the question we must ask ourselves is this:   How do you see the next 20 or 30 or 40 years?

Depending on when you were brain injured, you might live way more years brain injured than not.  For me, in another ten years, I will have lived just as many years with a brain injury as I did without one.

What are we going to make those years look like?

If those folks in Texas and, soon, in Florida, just sit in their houses for the next year and do nothing, the decades before them are going to be filled with negative and dangerous ripple effects that will plague them the rest of their lives.

But, if they do the arduous, lonely, awful work of re-building, they may be back to enjoying life in another year or two.

Can you live with that?

For us, we are faced with many of the same scenarios.  The longer we wait to accept our injuries and to adjust to them and to re-build lives that succeed despite them, the more of our remaining years we will offer up as disaster ruins.

It’s up to us.

Before we can get busy enjoying our lives again, we have to get busy doing the dirty work of rebuilding them.  It may include new jobs or no jobs, new equipment, new meds and new strategies.  It may include new thinking and new awareness and new humility in accepting help and honesty and limitations.  It may include help that we feel we would never need or should never need like depression meds or therapy.

But it’s all worth it in order not to sit there in cold, wet, smelly lives that are covered in mold.  It’s all worth it if the alternative option is us living alone the rest of our lives with our pride and our egos because we refused therapy to help with our relationship problems or meds to relieve our depression or anger.

In any life, we will be forced to do things we never imagined we could or would choose to.  There will be people in hurricane-ravaged areas literally dragging crocodiles out of their living rooms…

For those of us who are brain-injured, we may have to choose to admit we need help to cope or help to walk or help to think or help to love and participate in our relationships again.

If recovering and re-building takes a year or two, even longer in some cases, I’ll still believe it’s better than the mold on the sodden couch, any day.

Let’s get busy building new, better, happier lives!  Rock on.  We can do this!!!  :))))

P.S.  A big thank you and shout out to those of you who have reached out recently and shared the stories of how, “I’ll Carry the Fork!  The 20th Anniversary Chapter” helped you in your recovery.  Can’t tell you how much that means to me.  I consider some of that writing to be my best ever and I was starting to think that the only people who would ever read it would be a Swanson.  LOL.  Thank you, thank you.  You really touched my heart.  xoxox

August 5, 2017

How, Exactly, Do I Do This Thing?

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 9:34 am

In several blogs, and all throughout the 20th Anniversary Edition of my book, I talk about living a grateful life and I explain some of the ways I enlisted to get me here.

I end up hearing, then, from people who are struggling and trying to find better ways to cope with their injury and, basically, don’t feel that living a grateful life is in their capability.  They imagine the task too great, given all of their challenges.  They remind me how, all around them, they find screaming elements that they aren’t very grateful for.

I am not oblivious to this.  I know that, over the last 20+ years, this bugger injury has made its way into just about every deep corner of my life.  Each day, like so many of you, I have considerations to make and coping strategies to employ and it really does seem like it is never-ending.

And yet I really do live a grateful life.  One that is lighter and filled with hope.

What I hear is that people don’t know how to start living a grateful life because they are overwhelmed with the size of the mountain.  The task seems so big when there is so much, all around them, that they simply ARE NOT grateful for.


Because it’s so much a part of me and so ingrained in my everyday, I sometimes miss the exercises I do all throughout my waking time.  I caught myself doing it again last night and I thought, hey, this might be small enough to share.  It might seem just easy enough for those of you really struggling to try.

It’s worth a shot.

The biggest challenge is often talking about the throw pillows when you have an elephant in the room.  Yes?  Sometimes, for so many of us, brain injury absolutely consumes our lives and gobbles them all up and it’s hard to find space and air for anything else.

What I’ve done for many years now helps to remind me that, although brain injury is bad enough, there are absolutely a lot of other things that could have or still could go wrong.  Knowing this allows me to feel genuinely grateful.  It is a step in the right direction.

I watch TV.  And, for a long time, commercials were for running to flip my laundry or run to the bathroom or text someone or grab another something to eat.

When I stayed planted throughout the commercials, I started doing something that has assisted my daily commitment to living a grateful life.  It works for me and it is easy to do.

I really believe that thoughts are things and so, when I hear people say things like, “I’m the unluckiest person in the world” or “only bad things happen to me” or “everything bad happens to us”….I cringe.  It literally scares me.  I think, oh God, don’t say that!!!

If thoughts are things and if our lives and our happiness are the crops that grow from our thoughts, then we have to really tend our thoughts.  That’s where the commercials come in.

Whenever the commercials start, so do I.  I’ll see that one about the guy who is blind and he’s talking about his blindness.  I say to myself,  “I am not blind.  I have excellent vision.”  When I see the commercial about sick kids, I say to myself, “My niece and nephew are healthy and able and high-performing and high-functioning.”  When I see commercials about hearing aids or bladder protection or meds for back pain or braces for knee pain, I remind myself, “I hear well.  I have a healthy bladder and my back feels great and my knees are healthy.”

I do this all the time.  Literally every night while I’m watching TV.

Those reminding and positive statements to myself seep into the places where maybe I could, instead, fill them with bad thoughts about what I can’t do and what damage has been done.   They are good, solid reminders of how many things work well and how blessed and fortunate I am to have so many great things working on me and for me.  I have gotten to the point where I do them without thinking now.  I see the commercial and I tell myself the good part.

It lifts me.  Silly as it may be, it equals out the darker thoughts.  It is a measure of good.  Just one of the exercises I do every day but one that is easy to share and easy to take up.  No push-ups required.  Ha.   It just strengthens the fabrics which heroically hold us together and keep us able and achieving.  It’s part of the good when there is always the temptation to give into the bad.

It’s worth a try.  🙂

June 10, 2017

Thoughts Like Meadows Of Flowers

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 2:15 pm

If thoughts are like meadows of flowers, stretching far and wide with choices in all of God’s colors….

If thoughts are as numerous, even uncountable, as the stars…Reaching out to the hills here and the mountains there, the streams and the great oceans and the horizon….

Then why do we, so often, choose the dead flowers?   The ones whose time has come and gone?  Whose vibrant colors have dried and withered and whose stems no longer take nourishment in light and in soil and in water….Why do we choose the dead flowers?

Might we choose daisies instead?

Tulips in yellow and roses in red.   Grand Iris and Geraniums, the Crocus or sweet Baby’s Breath.  There’s the Bell Flower and the wonders of the Bird of Paradise.  The rarer Blue Throatwort or the steady carnation….

Thoughts, I believe, are like uncountable flowers because each is a gift to behold, to admire, to nurture, to select and to gift…

Seems so many of us get tangled up in the things going on, the things going wrong, the things we have to get done…Our wonderfully-possible thoughts, like waiting bouquets of endless possibility, sit quietly by the roadside as we race on past.  So fast that, in the rear-view mirror, you can see a handful of petals twisted and flicked and puffed into the air by our speed.

God, we are so blessed to have any thoughts at all.   If you have been brain injured or you have suffered the malfunctions of any of our thought processes, then you know how precious our thoughts.  How vital and how giving of independence and choice….

I pray each morning that mine should be peaceful thoughts.  Calming and composed and creative and evolving and engaging and propelling and silly and encouraging and forgiving and cheering and loving and happy ones.

We hear, all the time, that thoughts are things.  That what we get and how far we go and how high we reach and all that we achieve-come first from a thought.  Ours alone.

We do not graduate or lose weight or give up drugs or quit smoking or start a business or end a bad relationship or be a better parent or stop being mean/cruel/manipulative/judgemental….without an initial thought.  And we cannot even select that single flower if all we ever do is race by the new ones waiting or wade through the piles of dead ones we have created along the way.

Our most popular thoughts are often the ones we engage because they are nearest and easiest.  They are timeworn and practiced.  We know them like we know anything well.

But how do we get better?  How do we evolve then?

If we are only spouting the same rhetoric, casting out the same evidence and relying on only the same material we have relied upon for years and decades, how do we know if it still is true and valid?  How do we know if it’s even serving us any longer?

Maybe our thoughts need to be snipped at the bottom so they can, again, take up the water.  Maybe we need to pull off the dead leaves and clear the bottom of rocks and twigs.  Maybe that Daffodil or Globe Thistle might catch our eye if we simply leave our familiar place and allow ourselves to wander….

If our lives or our relationships or our jobs or our bank accounts aren’t what we want them to be, then we have to consider that maybe old thoughts aren’t working any more.  That maybe new thoughts could lead us to a better place.   Daunting?  Perhaps.

But, if thoughts are like meadows of flowers, imagine all the beauty that awaits our new thoughts.  Imagine all the happiness they could bring if we allow ourselves to see every color, to smell every fragrance, to touch every petal.

What a glorious invitation.

May 14, 2017

When Is Your Spring?

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 8:31 am

Here in Michigan, Spring is an oft-elusive flirtatious gal.  Stunning in her beauty but arriving in fits and starts.  We will see temps in the seventies, like we did in February, followed by snowstorms in April for Opening Day of baseball.  Spring will taunt us with her jaw-dropping pinks and purples and yellows and then clobber us with her frozen white.

I like to think of brain injury recovery as our Spring.  Our life’s Spring.  It is a warming…a recovering….a return.

No doubt our brain injuries are the cold, dark winters of our lives.  For so many of us, our brain injuries are like those sleeting, sideways blizzards of cold.  In the darkness of those painful nights, these lovely Spring days are hard to hang onto.  Hard to even recall or to dare hope for.

Just as Spring comes in fits and starts, from seventies back to snow, so do our recoveries fly and fall.  We hope, we are encouraged…We falter, we are discouraged.

If we can take any hope out of our reliable weather patterns, we know that spring DOES come.  We can’t always tell when and we won’t always know how she will look and for how long she’ll stay.  But she comes.

In the darkest of winter in places like Michigan where winter might last until nearly June, we remind ourselves she comes.

I have, admittedly, a tough time in February.  It’s getting to the end of winter then.  The magic of Christmas is gone and so is my January birthday.  The snow hangs on, brown and frozen in the corners of parking lots.  By February I am desperate for Spring.

But, as it is with our injuries, we must invite Spring.  Bring her to us.  Entice her.

By March I have my patio chairs ready and my windows open.  I’m doing what I can to hurry the end of winter then.

When is your Spring?

How do you and how can you invite Spring into your own TBI recovery?  How can you hurry the end of the darkest and coldest of wintry nights in order to enjoy your own warming, recovering and returning?

When we successfully recover from brain injury, it is not, in most instances, because we all healed up and returned all the pieces back to their previous places.

It’s because we put the patio chairs out.

It’s because we opened up those windows even when it was only fifty degrees outside.

Bring Spring.

Successful TBI recovery is waiting on you.  It’s not just something that comes along all by itself.  It’s not something that just happens all alone.  It needs your help.

Just like Spring announces her arrival with the tiny buds and sprouting Crocus, so, too, do our TBI recoveries.  We see them emerge from the frozen ground when we begin to realize that the tools we need to use are ones we have always utilized.

When we decide to go on vacation, we look at how much money we have and that determines how far we can go.  When we want to buy new golf clubs or go to the grocery store, we check how much money we have and that determines how fancy the clubs and whether or not we can buy steak or ground beef.

Successful TBI recovery begins when we look at how much we have now, at this point.  How far do we get to go?   It is a “now” moment.  We might only have enough money to go on vacation for a single day, three hours away.  But that sure doesn’t mean that we won’t be able to go to Aruba and lay on sandy beaches for two weeks this time next year.  And it doesn’t mean that that day trip three hours away won’t end up being one of the best days of our lives.

Bring Spring.  Start.  Start somewhere.  Hurry the end of your winter.  Open up those windows and put out the patio chairs.  When we start, we start moving and when we start moving, we start moving away from the winter of our injuries.

She is a beautiful, flirtatious gal.  Worth every sweet morning of warm sunshine on the windows and the smell of freshly-cut lawns.  Each gorgeous new flower and glorious color.  She is worth every chilly moment when you have the windows open and it’s only fifty degrees.  She is worth every push, every transitional stop and start.

She is worth it.  And so are you.


April 30, 2017

Thank You, Healthline!

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 9:27 am

You may have noticed the fancy red badge at the top right of the blog page.  I’m so excited to share this:

Hi Kara,

Healthline would like to congratulate you on making our list of the Best TBI Blogs of 2017!

Our editors carefully selected the most up-to-date, informative, and inspiring blogs that aim to uplift their readers through education and personal stories. We’re glad to have you on the list!

Huge thank you to Ms. Maegan Jones, Content Coordinator, and all the good folks at Healthline for choosing our blog for their list.  I say “our” because, make no mistake, your comments and responses over the years have helped to bring hope to countless TBI survivors and their loved ones literally all over the globe.

I feel honored and humbled and just plain excited to proudly display the new badge.  I hope everyone will check out Healthline.  They have a clean site.  Easy to maneuver.  Comprehensive coverage of all of life’s health and wellness topics.  Healthline.com

April 15, 2017


Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 11:59 am

Good Friday is never good for me.  I am a Christian and, on Good Friday, I am overcome with remorse for what we did to Jesus that day.   Whether Easter for you is about the bunny or The Lamb, it is, to me, a time to reflect on a flickering light in this world.

I don’t know about you but, these last few years, I find myself saying more and more, “WTF is wrong with people?” when I hear or read of the seemingly-endless accounts of cruelty, assault and murder.   It is not rare to count the first five stories on the local news or to read the first seven stories on-line filled with meanies, knuckleheads and far, far worse than that.

Maybe because the Internet allows us to see more, we believe that there is more.  Maybe there is.  But it is true that people have been wretched and rotten and inhumane to each other for centuries.

Whether you believe that Jesus was the Son of God is a step beyond a truth that there was, indeed, a man named Jesus who was put to death in his time.  That crucifixion should have been the most extraordinary story of that time just for the inhumane details of it.  Unfortunately, that is not nearly the case.

We have, as mankind, hung people from trees and walked them off of planks into the ocean with their hands and feet tied.  We have disemboweled them alive and burned them alive, too.  We have crucified them, even upside down.  Beheaded and gutted and shot and stabbed them.

Over and over I ask again…why have we not taught and why have they not learned?

A murder, a torture, an assault, a rape, a robbery or a bullying should be so rare and so over-the-top that we rail against the enormous wrongness of that single act.  In that case, we could stand aside and rationalize how that one went wrong whether it was bad parenting or trauma or mental illness or drugs or whatever.   The event would be the talk of the town and the commitment of the community.  It would headline and enrage-just that one event.

But to imagine the literally uncountable, over the centuries, who have suffered and died at the hands of like others….I weep for this.  We can’t even remember each instance for a week when so many follow.

How does anyone grow up to believe that if someone has worked hard for something, it is OK to steal it from them.  Take it for themselves….If someone desires a person, they are to be conquered, with or without their consent.  If someone has this color of this or that size of that, it is OK to belittle, bully and humiliate them for it.  If someone has thought or imagined or wronged or erred or even glanced in a way, then it is OK to murder them.  To take them out. To remove them from an offended sight.

This Easter I wish everyone someone to love.  Someone they don’t want to lose so maybe they won’t be so quick to do something that might find them in prison the rest of their life for.  Someone they don’t want to lose because of retaliation for something horrific they might do.  Someone they don’t want to have to stand before having brought shame upon.  Someone they would rather just enjoy life with and make good of it with.

I wish everyone someone to love.  A kid that looks up to them.  A dog or a cat who waits and depends upon them.  A friend.  A partner.  A spouse.  Someone.  Someone who inspires their best and someone who puts a face to the fear of loss.

Perhaps if we do a better job of filling people’s hearts with a love that cannot imagine hating, then we will spend less time filling up our prisons and our cemeteries.

Seems we do a better job of being aware of the colds we spread.  We pay attention.  We tell people to stay away with their germs.  We don’t want to catch that!!!

Maybe we need to do a better job of realizing that, indeed, we are spreading something every day.   The common cold is the least of our problems.

Let’s spread good germs.  See if those around us will “catch” a positive attitude, a forgiving culture, a pleasant manner, a helpful way, a healthy respect, a foundation of love.

Happy Easter, Happy Spring, Happy Every Little Thing.

January 31, 2017

THAT’S when my brain was messed up…

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 4:10 pm

Today is the 21st anniversary of my brain injury and, as the years have gathered and clustered and bumped into one another, I have gained so much insight into what I’m celebrating and what the reality of my life was and is.

Most of us, I imagine, come from a place where we measure when we were well against that date we were hurt.  That date when our brains got messed up…

But I look back now and I was 31 and so successful and Society smiled upon me and told me I was thriving and climbing and I had this and that to hold up as evidence.   Nice house, nice car, nice suits, good money…

But, as I sit here today and look out upon that January snow coming down and I recall that day so many years ago now, I am more convinced than ever…

I don’t lament that time.  I don’t covet it.  I don’t long for it.  I realize now that-

THAT’S when my brain was messed up!

Oh my.

I was told when I was young that working those 80 to a hundred hours a week meant I was driven and successful and accomplished and goal-oriented.  Executing on four hours a sleep so many nights and changing in my car so I could go from catering director to coach and then back again.

I didn’t have time to even look at life.  To look at myself.  To realize how unbalanced and dysfunctional I was.   Here I was in a town I had moved to where I didn’t know anyone, far away from friends because I had left an abusive relationship.   I worked so much that I barely even decorated that new house.  When my mom started having her strokes, I didn’t take time off.  Instead I got up and went to the hospital at 6 in the morning, off to work at seven, sneak to the hospital after lunch events were done, back for dinner events, off to the hospital once more before heading back to set up for the next day’s events.  Walking in at three in the morning…

Everyone told me I was such a success when really I was just living a life of pretty chaos.

It didn’t take this brain injury to make my life fall apart.  It took this brain injury to get my head on straight and to start putting together a real life that I took the time to actually want.

Please don’t waste this opportunity!  Brain injury comes at us like the Boogey Man and it throws all sorts of horrific distractions in our way.  It makes us feel like it is the worst thing that could ever have happened to us.

In reality, these injuries of ours are crossroads.  Intersections.  Pivot points.  Yes, I get that, for so many, the devastation is beyond repair….But, for so many of us, it is our opportunity to walk away from what almost killed us and to actually, finally, start living.

I pray you are as fortunate as I am this day.  To know that it was that damned injury I have to thank for now 21 years of real success in things that actually matter to me.   Something of lasting value.  Something worth living for.  Love, peace, joy, doing things I love, being with people I love, appreciating life…

Happy Birthday to me.  To all of us.  To be born is to be given the gift of life and we have each received this now twice.  What are you going to do with yours?

January 28, 2017

They Just Play The Music

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 9:48 am

My friend Linda has been teaching piano for over forty years now.  Over all those decades, with literally hundreds of students, she has developed many tools to reach and teach people of every age and learning ability.  To give them the robust gift of music.

I had always wanted to play but, even before my brain injury, I had never learned to read music.  To me it was like Statistics in college….like some foreign, frustrating language that everyone seemed to be able to speak except me.

I had taught myself to play some over the years.  With a handful of guitar chords that I practiced over and over and with some easy chord books and song selections that included just the few chords I knew, I was able to strum a little guitar here and there.  Never anything great but enough to enjoy it and actually recognize the few songs I was trying to play.

Linda knew I had always wanted to play piano and the idea kept returning to me when I was recovering.  I kept coming across evidence and testimony of music as a useful tool to help unlock cognitive potential in recovery.

I think she, too, was curious about the challenges a TBI survivor might face when trying to encourage the brain to execute the many simultaneous demands in order to play.  You have to be able to read the notes, process them and apply them to fingers which are attempting to find corresponding keys.  You have to read two sets of notes in order to play the right hand and the left hand and have all of those things happen together, over and over, throughout a song and within the confines of time measurements.

For someone like me who cannot, some days, manage to pair two simple things together and execute them at the same time for even a moment, the idea of stringing those skills together over the course of an entire song felt almost impossible, really.  I didn’t imagine it would be much fun if I couldn’t keep up with the processing speeds and one simple song would take ten minutes to play.

Didn’t sound like too much fun.

Linda knew, too, that, when I used to play guitar, I would come across a tough chord that I hadn’t mastered and just play a G.  I told her, “Yep, just play a G anytime you don’t know a chord….”  For an award-winning, classically-trained professional, I’m sure she was aghast.  Laughing here.

We decided to give it a try and just see.

Linda searched the myriad strategies that had served her so well in helping the countless students she had taught.  She realized that, when we hit roadblocks that TBI had made so frustratingly distinct to my potential, she threw out the playbook and literally rewrote the language of music in a way that my brain could actually recognize, organize and process quickly enough to stay in a song.  We stuck to songs I knew so that the familiarity might add to the processing speeds.  We drew pictures in the margins of the sheet music and found ways around the demands that I simply could not execute.

And I played the piano.

The other day Linda was telling me about her new piano students.  Two of them are just six and seven and she reported how well they are doing and how quickly they are picking it up.  I told her I was a little embarrassed by how hard it was for me, even before my brain injury, and she said something interesting that made a light go on for me.

She said, “Kids just play the music.  Adults have a lot going on in their heads.  They bring a lot of baggage.  Kids don’t ask why.  They don’t second-guess the music.  They trust the music and they just play.”

As soon as I heard that, I thanked her for my new blog subject.

In any life I think we all get caught up tripping over the baggage.  In our own heads, we complicate the simplest of notions, of gestures, of evidence.  We deplete ample.  We muddy. We can take a beautiful ice sculpture of an eagle and keep chipping at it and finding flaws and seeking perfection until all we’re left with is one big honkin’ ice cube.

Admittedly, with a brain injury, we may have to rewrite the music a little.  There might be drawings in the margins and notes and skips and end-arounds in order to allow ourselves the gift.  But the gift is the music.

We gotta just play it.  We just gotta hold tight to the simple truth that it is a good thing to play it.

Giving ourselves the most extraordinary gifts of life:  love, music, compassion, forgiveness, wellness, inclusion, support, peace….is worth every note in the margin.   For those of us with TBI in our lives, those gifts are worth every strategy, counsel, learning, medication, and compensatory tool to get us there.

I cried that first time I played Silent Night with two hands, chords and all.  I cried.  It was a little slow and admittedly a simple version, but it was Silent Night, nonetheless.

Thank you, Linda.  Thank you to all of you out there willing to help us enjoy life’s most beautiful gifts.

I played Silent Night.  And into that Silent Night, I poured music.  Into the dark still where sometimes hope flickers and falters, I poured hope.   And flames of tomorrow’s possibilities sparked tall and bright, crazy into the night.

Just play the music.

January 1, 2017

The Pine Needles Hurt

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 11:22 am

Growing up, my family adhered to ages-old traditions of celebrating Swedish Christmas from December 13th through January 13th.  I never questioned it.  That’s who we were and that’s how it was.  We celebrated life and love and loved ones around those trees.  My Mom carefully placed the hundred-year-old ornaments from Sweden near the top where the kids and enthusiastic cats “hunting in the wild” of our tree branches couldn’t reach.  There were more than a few birthdays of mine on the 15th of January that included a Christmas tree.

As you can imagine, though, by that second week in January, our poor tree was dropping its needles and long-suffering after a month of standing tall and strong in a house with the furnace on and a fire going.

By the time we managed to drag that poor tree out each year, it was so painful to touch those branches and, oh, how they scratched!  The needles fell like rain and we were still getting poked by the occasional rogue needle, stubborn in the carpet, long into Spring.

My parents are gone now and, when I moved into my condo, friends gifted me a lovely lit tree that I pull out each Christmas and plug in and enjoy just the same.

It doesn’t hurt.

I still honor my parents and our heritage in personal ways, in my heart, from the beginning of Swedish Christmas until the last but it is so apparent to me that…

When we drag the past on for too long and into a future it was not meant for, it hides and it waits and it pokes and it hurts.

This New Year’s morning is mild.  Right smack dab in the middle of winter, we here in Michigan are enjoying beautiful sunshine and are looking forward to temps near 50 tomorrow.

It is a new year.  A new year!!!

I am giddy with this extraordinary gift given again-a new empty slate upon which I will create the next year of my life.

As we get older, it becomes so glaringly clear how precious time is.  Time.  Sweet time.

Some, I imagine, like George Michael and Carrie Fisher, thought there was so much more of it left.  Others, stricken with illness or dire prognoses, understand how it is now counted with a different perspective or in smaller measures of years, or in months, or even in breaths.


We are so often careless with this treasure.  We waste time.  We lose time.  We kill time.  We fill it with people we don’t love and in jobs we can’t stand and we note that years fly by unremarkably.  Sometimes without an earmark.  Without a difference.

Without extraordinary.

My wish for everyone this new year is always the same:  good health.  With good health, we are free and able to mold and shape and fill and celebrate our time.  Our particular time.

This go around, maybe we can figure out the parts of our lives that are like those poking pine needles and stop dragging them into a new year again and again when they are best left to the past:  relationships that worked better back then, traditions that fit better then, perspectives and beliefs and opinions that thrived in a world we don’t see outside our windows now.

Maybe it’s time to plug in and light up better solutions and better strategies so that we actually enjoy this gift we’ve given.  Our time.

It’s a new year.  It’s a clean calendar.  It’s a blank slate.  Most of us will return again a year from now and we will know if we chose to spend more of our precious time with people, in jobs and doing things we simply don’t like, love or want anymore.  If we chose to simply keep slogging, keep complaining, keep hating, keep dreading, keep dragging dead trees behind us…

Or did we choose, finally, to really hold that time up precious and close this year?  Did we choose, at every turn, to share it with people we love and enjoy?  Did we give parts of it to fun-seeking adventures, new learning opportunities, great relationship and neighborhood and planet and people-saving projects, and sweet moments of love and of healing and of grace?

Did we make time and find time and give time so that we actually enjoy our lives?

Let’s choose that.  :)))))

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