The journey of one thousand miles begins with a single step. The trick is to get one foot to move. Sounds easy, but last week while driving I saw a stop sign, recognized what it was and what I was supposed to do, but never placed my foot on the brake pedal. As I traveled through the intersection I realized I hadn’t reacted properly, so at the next stop sign I said out loud “Stop Sign,” looked both ways but didn’t slow down. This got Sam’s attention. We did not have any more stop signs on our route, so she allowed me to keep driving. I am not aware of having this issue before or since.
But there’s that word, “aware.” I am fully aware that I am not certain of what I am aware.
I am regaining some sense of self-awareness, which my doctors and therapists say are a sign I am healing. Some even use the phrase “getting better” although I do not. I am aware of my deficits. I am aware of what I cannot do today that I could do before the injury. I am aware of who I no longer am. The story I am told is that I was not aware before, so this is a good sign. I do not believe a good sign has ever been so dark.
There is a lot of frustration. Frustrated that my body doesn’t work like it used to. Frustrated that my memory is missing events that I can remember remembering before. Frustrated that my vocabulary has decreased in range and accessibility. Frustrated that my “processing speed” has slowed. Frustrated that as I begin writing again damn near every sentence starts with”I.”
One thing my neurosurgeon has remarked about is my mood. Pleasant, which apparently is unusual with injuries such as mine. I’m beginning to understand why. I’ve also heard that drinking problems are more common in people with brain injuries. Not at all difficult to believe. I have been told to avoid alcohol, as it has a stronger effect on the injured brain, and delays healing. I am fully aware of the frustration involved in recovering from a traumatic brain injury, being told it will take at very least a year, but temporary disability payments only last for six months, and social security disability could take a year or more to be approved. Finding that my test results indicate I am average, so despite the fact I have never been average this is the only target for the doctors to aim. Finding that the hormones knocked out of balance cannot be addressed because hormone therapy (for men) is not covered by insurance. I can see why some folks might want a drink or seven.
The greatest challenge of my awareness is determining of what I am aware. Do I trust my ability to drive? Do I speak up at a gathering, or are my thoughts too muddled to communicate? I am redefining memory and thought, gathering memories requires effort, they don’t present themselves as they once did. Thinking requires both time and effort, as well as “spark,” the inspiration to consider, much the same as the inspiration to stop at stop signs. This article, an exercise which would have taken a few hours last year, has taken one month so far, and I do not believe I am half way through. And this is supposed to be the first chapter.
I have recognized my vocabulary has changed. Words mean different things than they did before. When I say “I don’t remember” it does not mean I am unaware of an event, it means I do not feel as if I participated. I can see the script in some cases, but the associated perceptions are absent. So I’m not entirely sure if I was actually there, that I know these things as facts. This is largely why I seldom write, I am unsure of the validity of my thoughts.
Physically there is some fear of falling. I used to embrace my “poor balance,” because I was still graceful. I could make falling down painless, even beautiful. I knew where the walls were and used them, bumping against them to check my location. I could, reliably, pirouette, now it takes twelve steps to turn around. I suspect this has lot to do with lack of confidence, if I could spin on a soft surface which would be safe to fall on I think I would try.
Sam has said it is like being with my twin brother. I look like Blake and have many of his mannerisms, but I’m not him.
The desire to write still exists, new topics occur to me, but I stare at the page with no motivation to type, words do not flow from my fingertips. This is the hardest to communicate with my therapists, the desire to move forward, to exercise my abilities, is missing. From my interactions with various doctors I think this may be because the cause is beyond their training. I’m pretty sure this is part of the hormonal imbalance, as I perceive no aggression, and from what I know I was a fairly aggressive person before.
My greatest barrier is my expectations. I used to be Superman. I could do anything I desired. I lived on the edge and never fell off. The most important part of my therapies is learning to accept who I am today. Still working on that. At one point I considered “changing” my name, back to the first name I never used, so I could stop trying to be Blake. So many doctors working off my hospital paperwork I have to be Kenneth when making appointments and making referrals.
This will be a difficult road, but I know I wouldn’t be here had I not had a good start. I will be Blake again, not the Blake you knew, but a person with most of his experiences. Silver linings are not always silver, but they are not lead.
This is step number one.