Anger is a tricky emotion. People say there is a fine line between love & hate but I think it should be between love & anger. The people we love the most are the ones who can also hurt us the most & when we get hurt by those we love the emotion that masks our hurt is anger. It’s only been within the past few years that I have been able to truly identify the emotions I am feeling. It’s also only been within the last few years that I have gotten to know & understand myself. With my wreck I was dealt a not so great hand of cards. That seems pretty obvious since I should be dead but the cards I’m talking about were dealt to me after my wreck, when I was in the trauma unit fighting for my life. Little did I know of the events that would soon play out once I awoke from my coma, spend a month at Jim Thorpe & then finally make it home to start my 4yrs of outpatient therapy.
Once I came home from Jim Thorpe I was still in my walking coma, yes I was better but I was a long ways away from the woman I am today. I came home & naively thought since I’m home everything will be good. Man was I wrong. If only my future self could’ve been there to warn/prepare me for my friends getting together & deciding it was better to think of me as dead, for my family not being there or reaching out to me even when my parents told them I needed support & for the man who walked into my ICU room and began lying to my family about our relationship & then proceeding to make up stories about our past to tell me when I finally woke up & met him in person. I believe my story & my recovery would have a much different outcome & tone if I could’ve only known.
It’s really hard now when I think back on these times because my heart & mind are on different pages. I still deeply love all of these people, even if it’s only the imaginary version of what I thought they were, yet when I think of certain situations I am filled with anger. I now understand that I am actually not angry at all I am deeply hurt. To protect myself & to protect my mind from having to actually accept that these situations really did happen, these people who I love really did hurt me, I kept myself in denial. It’s much easier to keep your mind & heart in denial & just feel the “anger” but it’s also a lie & you can only lie to yourself for so long. Well at least I could.
I’m still currently working through my hurt/anger which honestly makes me angry. Yes actually angry. I have already worked through so much pain, trauma & issues with my neuropsychologist that I thought I was good. I thought I had left my hurt feelings & anger behind. I thought I had come to terms with my trauma. I thought I had come to some resolution in my heart & mind that would allow me to move forward & never look back, well I was wrong. It’s frustrating the way trauma works. The way it sets up little land mines within your mind, heart & body. It’s frustrating how you can go months or years never setting them off or knowing they exist & then when they get triggered you are blindsided. You’re caught completely off guard & feel as if you have fallen behind because you don’t understand why you were set off. I don’t know if there is anyone out there who truly understands this but I’m thinking there are some who can identify. I wish I had the answers on how to navigate these tricky emotions but the only answer I have is keep moving forward & know you are not alone. I think it’s easy to become ashamed of ourselves when we are experiencing emotions we don’t understand but that is the last thing you should feel. Embrace your emotions & try to understand them. It’s only when we have deep knowledge/understanding of ourselves that we can start to understand others. We all have dark places inside of us & only when we acknowledge our own darkness can we love ourselves & love others. Because the truth is we all are beautifully & uniquely flawed but those “flaws” make us into wise, understanding & loving people.
Over the past few years I have been trying to rejoin life, trying to put myself back out there. I knew it would be hard doing this after recovering from a traumatic brain injury, but I knew this is what I needed to do. I clearly underestimated the difficulty of this process. After trying to put myself back out there, I realized I can’t relate to people my age. I can’t relate to having a job, having children, having a husband/significant other, etc. I had the harsh realization that I don’t know how to socialize with others my age that well. I have no problem socializing with people much older than me, but when it comes to people my age I’m lost. While recovering from a traumatic brain injury & recovering from my physical injuries, I lost my twenties. Now I’m 33 and still feel as if I’m 23. The age I was when I had my wreck, my life stopped & I was forever changed. I go up to meet people only to find out that I am 10years older than them which is so surreal because I feel as if I’m their age. But then I remember the 10 years I’ve lost. I feel defective. I feel like a lost toy that has been found again, but I’m out of “date” or “trend” now, so I’m looked at from a far, never played with & sat away from the other toys. This is a gut wrenching feeling. It is a feeling of hopelessness that I will never fit in again. That I will never be able to assimilate back into a group of people my age. I don’t identify with my age. My mind is still believing I’m 23, & my body feels as if it’s 70. Where am I supposed to go from here? I do not know.
I do know I have to keep taking one baby step at a time, but I don’t know how I’m supposed to get over the fear of being seen as odd. The fear of being rejected or hurt again by someone I care for. But I know I can’t allow these fears to hold me back. But even writing that seems pretty lame to me as I’m reading what I typed because that fear for me is quite significant. A phrase most people use when trying to overcome fear or trying something new is “what do you have to lose?” For me I know far too well what I have to lose. I may not be in my best place or living my best life yet but compared to where I was 3, 4, 5 years ago, I am living in a way I never thought I would, & the idea of losing the self I have gained or even risking the little bit of happiness I do have now is nonnegotiable to me. But once again here I am in another predicament. Do I allow the trauma from my past to steal happiness from my future? Do I allow my past heartbreaks to steal my future loves? No, that will not work for me, so I guess this is the current journey I’m now on. Learning to navigate my thirties without allowing the trauma, pain & heartbreaks of my twenties to interfere. If I’m being honest, I think navigating through Jurassic Park would be much easier than this new journey, but one thing I have learned from the past 10 years is I just have to keep moving forward no matter how small the steps are & no matter how long I might be stalled in one place. To anyone who is also struggling with these issues or just struggling through daily hardships just know you are not alone. These feelings of inadequacy can be overwhelming but just know they are not true. Just because we might feel we are lost does not mean we are. Feelings are not facts. The truth is we are all worthy, & the fact is keep moving forward.
Trauma. In my personal experience trauma should be a four letter word. My trauma has strengthened my faith & it has shown me how strong I truly am. But it has also brought me to my knees, it has brought me irrational fears & it has made me go through the past ten years just surviving & not living. Recently something has triggered my trauma. I’ve been having irrational thoughts about dying & causing my own death. When it starts to get dark outside I go into complete survival mode. My chest tightens & I feel I’m on the edge of a panic attack. It’s now gotten to a point where I cry. I start crying because I just want it to be morning. I cry because I just want to survive the night. I cry because I don’t want to be like this. I know this response is caused from trauma. I also know these thoughts are irrational but that doesn’t make them feel any less real. I also know this response is strengthened when I keep my thoughts secret. But it’s hard to admit to these “secrets” when you are a 33yr old woman who cries when it gets dark. How do you tell someone that at 33years old you cry because you want it to be morning? How would that not cause shame? Wouldn’t you hesitate when thinking of talking about this out loud? It seems only right to keep these thoughts secret.. right? No it doesn’t.
This current battle I am battling does not make me “weird” or “weak” like the thoughts in my head try to tell me. This current battle is unfortunately completely normal for someone living with PTSD. I know there are others out there who experience irrational fears & thoughts that are brought on by their trauma. It’s hard for me to write this but I know I’m not alone. But at the same time it’s not hard at all for me to write/confess this secret because what do I have to lose? Nothing.
I’ve learned over the past 10 years while recovering from a traumatic brain injury that the most important thing for us to be as humans is vulnerable. It’s in our vulnerability that we reach others & we can offer community. If we kept our secrets or our “shame” hidden then we would all feel alone. We would all end up feeling like the only “weirdo” or person who has ever dealt with struggles, irrational thoughts/fears & well that’s just simply not true. We all have our struggles & hardships. And it’s in these times that we quietly try to reach out or mention what we are dealing with while not completely outing ourselves because we are scared if others heard or saw how “broken” or not okay we are they would judge us. But that’s not true. When we show others our strength by being vulnerable they will respond in kind. It’s in these times that we find & build a community. If you are currently struggling or battling through hardships know you are not alone. Today is the day to open up to someone & start building your community.
In the years after my wreck I often would tell others that I felt like an exposed nerve. Everything felt too much. I was often overwhelmed. I either felt everything or I disconnected & felt nothing. This was often attributed to my traumatic brain injury. I was on the road to recovery so I was doing lots of therapy & I wasn’t sleeping due to my brain not being able to power down/shut off, so I was often told this is all signs of healing or this is your “new” normal. All of that was true. This is my “new” normal. I have had to adjust to this new way of functioning. I had to learn all about sensory overload & how to cope. I had to learn firsthand how my “new” brain will sort out, work through & perceive new information. But now it’s 10 years later & I still feel everything. The simplest things can make me tear up. Hearing a child laugh, seeing the sun shine through the trees or seeing a random act of kindness touches me so deeply. I’ve often joked about this “new” version of myself because if you knew me before my wreck you would know that this isn’t normal for me. I was compassionate & empathetic before my wreck but I very rarely showed any emotion. Over the past few years I have wondered why I have experienced this change. I have dealt with many ups & downs during my recovery & have had to heal from multiple heartbreaks, so I thought maybe that was why. But now I know the reason.
June 11, 2012 was the day I was broke open. The years before my wreck I lived behind the thought or facade of being invincible. The thought that many of us have when we are young and we still have so much life ahead of us. The thought that nothing bad will happen to us if we don’t put ourselves in “dangerous” situations. The thought that when you’re young & graduating college you don’t have to worry about the dark parts of life just yet. June 11, 2012 shattered that facade. June 11, 2012 literally & figuratively broke me. It has taken me years to understand & truly accept the beauty of being broken but now that I embrace my brokenness I honestly can’t imagine another way of being. I feel everything deeply because I now personally know the dark side of life. I have experienced the bad even when I didn’t put myself in “dangerous” situations. I know what it’s like to be on the bathroom floor about to take your life, I know what it’s like to feel unimaginable physical pain, I know what it feels like to have your heart broken & thinking you can’t breath anymore. But because of these dark moments I now know the beauty of a child’s laughter, the beauty of simple acts of kindness, the beauty of nature. I think we all go through things in life that break us. Sometimes whatever it is that breaks us is the blessing we have been waiting for. No it doesn’t always come in the pretty package we would have wanted but it is still what we have been praying for. I know for a fact I was not praying for my wreck & all the physical/emotional pain that came with it but I also know I would not be the woman I am today without going through my wreck. I know I wouldn’t see life today through grateful eyes if I hadn’t seen life through eyes full of pain. No this wasn’t an easy journey but I am grateful I kept taking my baby steps to get here because here is what I was praying for.
Connection. Human connection is so important & it’s also something that I lack. I have people I can talk to or see but I have come to realize I don’t allow myself to connect with others. I’m scared. I recently realized that even after the years of therapy I still remain behind the wall I built for myself. For protection. My work in therapy has allowed me to tear down my wall a bit but what’s left of it still remains as a barrier between me, people & life.
I know one of the fundamental reasons behind my wall is fear. Fear of loss. I’m scared of connecting with life & people because I know what it feels like to lose it all. Sometimes it feels “better” & “safer” to remain detached because yes it is lonely but it is a loneliness I can tolerate. A loneliness i know I can live with. The feeling of heartbreak is something I’m not sure I can survive again. Coming back from multiple heartbreaks was the hardest thing I have ever done. I mean that literally. There is a lot of weight behind that statement considering I have recovered from a severe traumatic brain injury, broken hip, broken pelvis, broken ribs, broken sacrum, broken shoulder, the list goes on, but even overcoming all of that was much simpler than the heartbreak.
Emotional pain is a different beast than physical pain. Physical pain is something I have mastered but emotional pain, well I’m not sure I ever want to get good at that. Becoming good with emotional pain would represent surrendering to me. Surrendering to the pain & just giving up. I’m proud that after everything I have overcome I still feel deeply. I’m proud to know that my heart & soul are still alive. Still have spirit. But I also think that’s what makes my lack of connection with others & life so much harder. I deeply want to feel a connection to someone again but even writing that causes my heart & stomach to tighten because they both remember the pain. The blank spaces that were left in me when the ones I had a deep connection with just disappeared.
I’ve recently put my toe in the water when it comes to connecting with life again & it has felt amazing. But when the joy of reconnecting with life crept back into my heart it left the door open for my trauma. My anxiety has been very high the past 2-3months. Thoughts that I haven’t had since coming home from Jim Thorpe have come back. The unwanted memories have resurfaced. I know this is just my trauma rearing it’s ugly head but that doesn’t make those thoughts, memories coming back less scary or difficult. I know the only way out of this season of life/recovery for me is by going through it. I know I’m getting close to the peace in my heart & soul that I’ve always wanted but I’m just tired of fighting & pushing through these scary times alone. I just want someone to be there with me holding my hand & giving me the reassurance that this difficult step is worth it. It is real that sometimes people stay.
To anyone else out there who can relate to what I’m currently going through & dealing with just know you are not alone. Your fears & worries are real, are valid but don’t let them hold you back. Like I keep telling myself, once I get through this difficult period everything that I have endured & battled will be worth it. Keep moving forward one baby step at time because it is during the tough times when we continue moving forward & think we can’t that we build our confidence, find self love & learn to see ourselves through respectful loving eyes. Today is the day to continue your journey. You know what you have already overcome & I know you can keep going. You are not alone.
Unconditional love is usually seen as the love we give to others but not often do we consider it for ourselves. I know I haven’t until now. It seems kinda silly to me that I have never viewed it that way. We are told “love yourself” but generally I think most of us hear that & think “yeah okay I like myself today” but we don’t really HEAR it. We don’t absorb it. I think that’s because the majority of us only see our flaws. We only see in ourselves what we can improve, what we think we should look like or be accomplishing.
I may be only speaking for myself on this but I kind of doubt that. I know there are others out there that are just trying to be “the best they can be” in looks, their job, their family, who they are as a person,etc but in doing that we overlook the beauty that is already within us. We overlook what we have overcome & the strides we have made to get to where we currently are because we are so focused on the “end goal”.
Over the past few years I have had many highs & lows. These ups & downs have shown me that life is most definitely a journey. It has also highlighted the fact that until now I haven’t truly loved myself. There were always limits to my love. I felt unworthy or I felt that my own thoughts/feelings were invalid, insignificant. But now that all has changed. I feel like I am entering a new stage in my recovery but more importantly a new stage for me, Kaylen, as a person. I wholeheartedly accept myself. I unconditionally love myself & there are no limits with that love. For the first time in my life, or the life I can remember, I am allowing myself to just be me. I’m not striving for any “end goal”, I’m not worrying about what I think I need to be or look like for others. I’m not worried about acceptance because I have finally gotten the only acceptance I have ever needed, my own.
Today is the day to accept the beautiful unique messy person you already are. Today is the day to wholeheartedly accept yourself & lose any “end goal” you may have. Today is the day to let go of the pressure you have been putting on yourself while striving for whatever you thought you needed to be. Now is the time to find out that the love you have for yourself is limitless.
One thing I wish I was told when I left Jim Thorpe rehabilitation was “that it’s going to be hard to watch life pass you by as you try to just get back to baseline. While you are achieving huge gains on your recovery from a traumatic brain injury you will watch others continue on in life & while you are celebrating monumental moments like walking again, standing to take a shower, being able to find & spell four letter words others will be celebrating getting married or having children. Just because your achievements seem small compared to others does not mean you haven’t moved forward in life. Your moving forward will just be quite a bit slower & harder to see.”
I don’t know if being told this while leaving Jim Thorpe would’ve helped much because I was still in my walking coma at that time but I wish I could’ve had an hourly, daily, weekly reminder just so I could have prepared myself better. Once I left Jim Thorpe I started outpatient therapy at Mercy. I went three days a week for three hours. I did occupational, speech & physical therapy. During this time in my recovery I was just focused on surviving & doing what I needed to do to make it to the next hour & if I’m being completely honest I still haven’t fully left that mindset. My therapists at mercy were God sent. I honestly don’t think I would be where I am today without them. They helped me improve so much. They all tried to prepare me as well as they could for when I started to wake up more from my walking coma & had the ability to think of a future for myself. But despite their best efforts I still wasn’t prepared. I went to a few traumatic brain injury support group meetings to seek help in moving on. The first meeting I went to the topic was grieving for the loss of yourself. At the time I didn’t really grasp that concept but once I started seeing my neuropsychologist she helped me to dive deeper into that. She helped me grieve the loss of myself & the loss of that girls future, the future I thought I had planned out. This was by far the hardest part of my recovery from a traumatic brain injury. I can deal with physical pain. Dealing with the “razor blades in my head” headaches, the pain of my broken hip, pelvis, sternum, ribs, collapsed lung & lung treatments were something I knew how to deal with. I grew up in sports & athletics so dealing with physical pain came easy to me. It was tough because sometimes the pain was blinding but I knew it would go away once it healed & once a little more time went by. It was the emotional pain that was the hardest. I joke sometimes about how I would go through the wreck 100 times if all I had to deal with was the physical pain & I got to bypass the emotional. I say I joke but now that it’s been almost 9 years since my wreck I’m quite serious.
It’s hard to explain the kind of emotional pain, heartache & loneliness that comes with watching life leave you behind. It’s like being a child’s former favorite toy that has been stowed away in a closet & you watch that child pick up, play with new & better toys knowing that the child will never come back for you. You can never get back those moments. The child a.k.a life has moved on.
We all deal with this feeling of being forgotten or being left behind & it can weigh you down, make you feel insecure, make you depressed, increase your anxiety but the one thing it can not do is stop you from moving forward in life. I know I can’t get back the huge life moments I missed. I can’t go back in time to witness friends weddings or friends having their children those moments are unfortunately lost. But I know I have the ability to move forward & create/witness new life moments. No matter what emotional pain you might be dealing with or life struggle you may currently be battling just know we always have the choice to keep taking baby steps forward. Yes it will be hard & there will be times when you think you have reached your endpoint, I know I did, but it’s in these hard moments when it is so important to keep going because once you’ve taken a few steps & gotten out of that darkness you will know there is nothing that can hold you back. You will have found your inner strength 💙#NeverGiveUp #Hope
“Just accept it & move on.” “To move on & be happy you have to accept your situation.” “Just accept the new you.” It’s easy to talk about acceptance but in practice it is actually quite hard. I had to accept my “new” self after my wreck. I had to accept that my brain & body were not going to function like the “old” Kaylen. That was hard to accept especially when I come from a background of athletics & perfectionism. I used to believe that if you worked hard enough & practiced you could change or fix your physical/mental abilities. I was so very wrong. There is no “oh well if you would’ve just worked harder in rehab & outpatient therapy you would be back to the “old” you by now.” I did work hard. I did put in the effort. I did change some of my abilities but I will never be back to the “old” me. This I have accepted. I have embraced my “new” body & brain. I have made peace with it. Surprisingly this was one of the easier things for me to accept on my road to recovery from a traumatic brain injury. I personally think it’s because I had some control in this. I could control my work ethic. I could control the effort I gave in therapy. It’s the stuff I have no control over that is the hardest for me to accept. How do you accept something when there has yet to be any accountability taken? How do you accept loved ones leaving your life with no explanation? How do you accept unanswered questions? I honestly don’t know. My neuropsychologist has worked with me on this & has tried to help me get to a point of acceptance but I’m still not there yet. I could lie & say I’ve accepted these things because they don’t hurt me anymore but that’s just not true. They don’t hurt me because I have built up a wall to protect myself. I don’t allow myself to engage with those thoughts or feelings. A defense mechanism.
It’ll be nine years this June since my wreck. I have come a long way mentally & physically since then. I am beyond grateful just to be here still but I know I still have unresolved feelings/trauma to deal with. It’s hard to admit that & to even accept that because of how far I have come. It would be much easier to turn a blind eye to the unresolved feelings/trauma I still know I have than to actually deal with it. But what kind of life would that lead to if I never fully healed? It would lead to an unfulfilled life. An unfulfilled being. One thing I know for certain after all these years is that if you want to be happy & have true joy, you must live an authentic life. You have to embrace your true authentic self. This has always been my end goal. From my very first appointment with my neuropsychologist I said “I want to heal. I want to deal with my trauma so that one day, years from now, when someone looks me in the eye they won’t see a shell of a person & wonder “what happened to them?” I want them to just see me.”
Carl Jung said “The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.” I believe this to be true but I also believe it is terrifying to accept situations that you have no say in or control over. That you can’t fix or change. You just have to accept it unresolved. I know lots of us have a hard time accepting & moving on from things in life. No matter how small or large they may be it is still a challenge to accept & move forward. It takes courage. But just know that you will gain strength, confidence & a new perspective during this process. I hope today can be the day you realize you are worth it to move forward & become one step closer to a fulfilled life. What seems overwhelming now will be your testimony later 💙 #NeverGiveUp #Hope #Courage
Grief. We usually think about grief in terms of someone grieving the loss of a loved one or grieving the loss of a marriage. But what if you have to grieve the loss of your self? While on the road to recovery from a traumatic brain injury I have dealt with a lot of anger/rage. I took out that anger & rage on myself. I didn’t care about my well being, I was angry. My anger led to me almost killing myself. I dealt with suicidal thoughts but the biggest threat to my well being was my lack of concern for myself. My anger led me to believe I wasn’t worth any effort or concern. It wasn’t until I started opening up more to my neuropsychologist & trusting her that I realized what my anger’s real name was, it was grief. I was grieving the loss of myself. I was grieving the loss of what could have been, the life I pictured I would have, the what if’s & the what could’ve beens. I was grieving the certainty of the future I thought I was going to have because now I was left in the darkness of uncertainty. I’m not an emotional person but the one emotion I can access easily is anger. My anger covers for my hurt, sadness & grief. I know how to be angry, I didn’t know how to grieve. It’s a weird feeling to be grieving yourself when you are still alive. It’s a weird & almost selfish feeling to be grieving yourself & the future you pictured when you’re still alive. When you feel lucky/blessed to be alive, yet you still have this grief/sadness you’re caring in your soul. So instead of learning how to grieve properly I declined my true feelings & turned to anger. There are many times in our lives were we deny our true feelings or hide them because we don’t know how to express them or we are concerned with how they will be taken. But when we deny our true feelings we just put ourselves in more pain. There is no reason to hide or suppress yourself. It is in the process of learning to love yourself that you find true belonging. Believe in yourself. Belong to yourself. Share your most authentic self 💙 #NeverGiveUp #Hope
Control. I think a lot of people try to control things around them when they go through difficult times. During these times when we feel everything is going haywire in our lives we tend to try to grasp control, even if/when we know you don’t have any. I know I did. When I woke up from my coma I was welcomed by chaos. I was welcomed with the knowledge of what happened. I was welcomed with a list of my injuries. I was welcomed with unfathomable pain. I was welcomed with confusion.
During my time at OU Medical center I had no control. Honestly I don’t even remember being there. I know the stories that have been told to me about how I couldn’t stop talking, my breathing treatments & my ice baths to bring my temperature down but I don’t actually remember being there. I remember the pain. I remember the sounds, the frantic energy. I remember trying so desperately to wake up when the doctors were yelling at me & beating on my chest. I remember my heart beating ungodly fast & almost slipping away while I tried desperately to hold on.
When I got to Jim Thorpe I was in my walking coma. I, kaylen was still not awake but I do remember more from there. I remember having no control. No control over my body, my brain, my memories, my daily schedule, therapists bathing me, therapists watching me eat.. no control. When I finally got home I foolishly thought “well now I’m home everything is going to be good”.. I was oh so wrong. Nothing was good & nothing had changed except for my surroundings. I was still in pain, I still couldn’t walk, I still couldn’t remember.. I was still out of control. After being home for a few weeks a “friend” entered my life. During this “friendship” turned “romantic relationship” there were extreme highs & lows which left me feeling out of control. So during this time I took control over the only thing I had, food. I used food to take out my anger. I used food to try to feel independent because I was making the choice not to eat. I used food to punish myself for not understanding why things had happened the way they had. I wanted to make myself numb. I wanted to quiet the madness within my bones. I wanted to feel nothing. But by doing this I became sick, very sick. My recovery from my traumatic brain injury was affected, my physical recovery was affected & the path to finding myself was altered. I lost a lot of weight. I lost my personality. I built up bearers around myself & I became a walking zombie. If you were to look at me all you would see was a hollowed out human. I was dead inside. I had felt too much so I completely shut down.
It’s now a few years later & I have gained 40lbs of life back. I’m alive again. I’ve discovered who I am & I’m back on the path of healing. I’ve learned that because of my trauma I feel I need to know every detail about every situation or have control because I know how it feels to have lost control. After years of therapy with my neuropsychologist I understand now that there is no such thing as “being in control.” I’ve learned that when I thought I was “in control” I was completely out of control. We all go through struggles & hard times where we feel out of control. During these times some try to grasp at anything to control, like I did, instead of focusing on what is actually in our ability to change or control. But we don’t always need to know how everything is going to work out. When we pass through deep waters He will be with us. Even when our path seems to be fraught with knots, twists & traps He is with us. When we leave the pen in His hands we will never be disappointed with the story He has written for us. Today is the day to surrender your control & start walking in freedom 💙 #NeverGiveUp #Hope #Faith