Making amends

Sorry. Seems like a simple word but it’s not. I’ve waited and hoped to hear sorry from some people but once a certain amount of time has gone by what does sorry mean? Sorry I lied, sorry I haven’t been there for you, sorry I ran the red light and changed your life forever.. After days, months, years go by these apologies lose all sincerity. I am a forgiver. I have a huge heart and a desire to make everyone happy, especially now after the wreck. I need and want peace so I can be in a calm environment so my PTSD doesn’t go crazy. Too much emotion or conflict is chaotic for me and overwhelms me. The saddest souls always want to make others happy because they know what it’s like to feel unwanted and unhappy. This is very true. I have been through so much in such a short amount of time. I think I have probably aged 15-20 years but (silver lining ๐Ÿ˜ƒ) during this time I have gained so much life wisdom.

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During this time of my own pain and sadness, I still want to make others happy or to make sure they are taken care of because once I have let you see the real me.. The one who forgets something right after you told her, the one who mistakes geese for rocks, the one who turns into a 5 year old over Jurassic park and Pocahontas or the one who has a complete melt down during a movie because the sound is too much. You will have a special place in my heart. I have said so many “I’m sorry or Its ok I understand” to those who have deeply hurt me and still been left empty that I finally learned to stop waiting for others to come around and take responsibility. This is my time and I am not going to waste any more of my life waiting or hoping for something to happen. I am going to make it happen.

The unknown:

Many are scared of the unknown, so therefore they stay away and don’t deal with it. I am now the unknown. Traumatic brain injuries are tricky, they are all different. Just because someone looks normal, talks normal and wears a smile doesn’t mean they aren’t suffering on the inside. Family friends have said “that I look perfectly fine” but then they witness me in therapy not being able to put four letters together to make a word, they see me have a panic attack over the sound of clanging silverware or they see me after someone has stopped by the house and I am left exhausted because I had to maintain focus during the entire time of their stay. Once you see behind the curtain of a brain injury you will get a better understanding. Don’t be scared to look behind the curtain. Don’t let your own feelings get in the way of helping or being there for the person who is truly scared because their life has been altered and changed forever. Instead be there for them and help them through the relearning process of life.

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I am lucky to have had a select few be there for me in that way. If I wouldn’t have had them I’m not sure I would have been able to come this far in my recovery. Everyone needs unconditional love and support. Be the helping hand for someone or the shoulder they need when it all becomes to much and they are having a break down. I have learned to take pride in my beautifully broken self. I have pieced myself back together from nothing. No my pieces don’t all match up, so you can still see some of my cracks but please don’t judge the cracks you still see. We are all made beautiful by our imperfections. Without these cracks I wouldn’t be me and after what I have gone through I am very proud to still have my visible cracks. I know the effort that I have put into making myself whole again and if you can’t see the beauty in that then that’s ok. My heart is hatching and shedding the shell of who I once was, I believe now is my rebirth. It’s my time to fly.

The unforeseeable

Life is unpredictable. Four years ago I had just graduated college and been accepted into graduate school. I thought I had everything figured out. Except I didn’t. Then after my wreck and I slowly started to recover, I once again thought I had everything figured out. Thought I had found the silver lining and the reason for my wreck, thought I had my future husband and family right in front of me.. But once again I was proven wrong. Life is truly funny. Just when you think everything is finally going to plan and you are feeling comfortable, life comes along and shatters your pretty picture and shines a light on all the lies. BUT even after our heartbreaks and hardships life still goes on.

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Life has proven to me that you can’t take anything for granted. Nothing in this life is guaranteed. Life is simply unpredictable. I finally feel like I am on the path I am meant to be. Even though I feel I am on the right path, I still constantly worry about everything.. Am I enough, am I doing the right thing, is my appearance good enough, am I still lovable, where do I fit in, do I belong, am I stupid..? I have been feed too many lies and I have been through hell, so it’s only natural I start to question everything. Every word, every action and every promise. But then one day I stopped. I decided I have spent too much time worrying and overthinking. I don’t need to question anything because I know He already knows my future and it is up to me to make the most of the obstacles that are on my path. Because those obstacles have been specifically put there for me to overcome. By overcoming these obstacles it furthers the process of molding me into the person He needs me to be to accomplish my purpose for this life.

Accepting myself:

A few years after my wreck I started to go to a traumatic brain injury support group. This was one of the hardest steps on my path to recovery. It was incredibly hard to hear others stories and then have to tell mine and relive everything all over again. Even though it was one of the hardest steps it was probably the best step I could’ve taken. It helped me see all the lies I had been made to believe. I am not a freak, I am not weak and I am not stupid because of my cognitive mess ups. It gave me a sense of belonging. The man who is in charge of the meetings was asked one time “how do you explain to others when they ask you what it’s like to be different? Or how do you explain feeling like an outcast.” He stopped smiled and said “I know what I have been through and until they have gone through the pits of Hell like I have, they can judge me or look at me differently all they want. I know what I have survived and what I fought so hard to come back from. I know I am not an outcast and if they choose to look at me that way then I don’t need them.”

The everyday war:

Every day for me is a battle. A battle to forget, forgive, fight the nightmares and the PTSD “monster” that is constantly waiting to attack. But even though I have to fight each day, it is still a day that I shouldn’t have. I am grateful for my battles because I shouldn’t be alive to fight them. We all have our own battles or monsters we fight every day. It is up to us on how we choose to fight for our tomorrow. We only have one life to live and it is up to us to make the most of it. “A penguin can not be a giraffe, so just be the best penguin you can be.” Stop worrying about pleasing others. Ask yourself if you are content or happy with who you are? If you aren’t then find the solution you need to fix your problem.

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I have a hard time now, after my brain injury, with shallow, surface conversation. I want to dive deep into people or whatever interests me. I want to know the deeper meaning behind everything. I have experienced a lot of unexplainable things over the past four years, the first would be “how the heck am I still here?” There is no logical explanation for that question. Only He knows why he kept me around and now I am looking for the deeper meaning. The path of self discovery is a lonely walk but it will make you stronger. And one day you will slowly start to set fire to everything you thought was and in these flames you will discover who you are. You can’t change your past so focus on making a great future.

My awakening

One of the side effects of a severe traumatic brain injury is unfiltered anger. I have lost my ability to filter through thoughts or emotions before I act. I can lash out impulsively when angry. The positive spin on this though is a severe traumatic brain injury also enhances some of your character traits you had before. Luckily for me one of the traits that was enhanced for me, was my composure and the fact that I am an emotionless robot sometimes. Don’t get me wrong I feel much more than I show; you will just never see what I’m feeling expressed on my face. I’m empathic and sensitive but I just don’t know how to fully express my emotions, unless it’s anger. I still have my blow ups and impulsive actions. You can just ask my speech therapist about that. She could tell you some very colorful stories. But the majority of the anger I deal with, as of today, is anger towards myself. You see I haven’t fully learned yet or accepted forgiveness for myself. It’s hard to forgive yourself for giving someone your heart and putting your life in their hands and then they take advantage of it. They take advantage of your love for them and your kindness. It’s also hard to forgive yourself for believing the lies and for trusting someone so much you allow them to manipulate you and the little memory you had left. They pull your strings as if you were a marionette. And if you don’t respond the way they would like you are met with ferocious anger.

My exception:

Another side effect of a severe traumatic brain injury is dependence. Since I was completely new to the world and functioning on a very concrete literal level I trusted those around me without question. Unfortunately for some of us, there will be one person who comes into your life, that will be your exception. You will do stuff for them that you said you would never do.. But you do. My person just happened to come into my life claiming to be in love with me since college, he came when my defenses were down and I barely knew how to put on clothes or what my name was. Perfect timing… For him.

Righteous anger:

On my journey of rediscovering myself I have learned I have the right to be angry. It’s not negative or wrong. I don’t have to condone someone’s actions or pretend that I am ok with them to be a good person. I now know I have the power to move beyond my pain. I have the power to learn the lessons from my heartache and gains from my losses. I have the power to forgive. It will take time but I now know I hold the power to move on and heal. Forgiveness for me is quite tricky. I am a forgiver and I see the good in everyone, so I find it easy to forgive others. But forgiving myself is a completely different story.

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I have always been a harsh critic of myself. I guess you could say I am somewhat of a perfectionist, but after being taken advantage of I have a very hard time in forgiving myself. I now see myself as unworthy and undeserving. I am so angry with myself for eating the lies that were fed to me every day for 4 years. I am angry at myself for being such an asshole and not believing those who actually did love me. During my time of trying to process what was actually real and what was fake, I became self destructive. I had directed all my anger on myself. But by the grace of God, one day I decided to pick up a book and read, that book was “You will get through this” by Max Lucado. I then started my journey of rediscovering life and myself through a brand new pair of eyes, that weren’t tainted with lies or covered in rose petal glasses anymore.

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I call this part of my recovery my final awakening. I learned that I must forgive myself first before I can ever move forward. So I started the process of forgiving myself. I released all the negativity I had in my life and started to fill myself with the Holy Spirit and positive affirmations. I broke out of the bondage that was holding me hostage in my past. I reevaluated my mistakes and the choices I had made. I stopped the mindless act of going over and over all the should haves, could haves or would’ve been. I have released all of the toxic matter that was left inside me.. And I am moving on. Moving on to a much brighter future than I could have ever imagined for myself.

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Maya Angelou once said “When you know better you do better.” Although this is very true, even after knowing all that follows that horrific day of June 11, 2012, I would still choose to drive through that intersection. I would gladly take on all the mental, emotional and physical pain all over again because I am VERY proud of the woman I am starting to become. The lessons I have learned along the way have given me more wisdom on life and allowed me to get to know myself on a much deeper level. I have been shown what I need to improve on and I will gladly accept the challenge and continue to work on myself. Sometimes it takes walking through the valleys of hell for you to appreciate what God has waiting for you. And sometimes you get the best light from a burning bridge.

Sensory overload

With my severe traumatic brain injury I damaged all four lobes of my brain. My frontal, temporal and occipital lobes took most of the beating though. I suffered a diffuse axonal injury as well. This is caused by shaking or strong rotation of the head or by rotational forces, such a car wreck. Because of this I have extensive tearing of nerve tissue throughout my brain. This has caused brain chemicals to be released, causing additional injury to my brain. This type of tearing of the nerve tissue disrupts the brainโ€™s regular communication and chemical processes. Because of my injuries it is extremely hard for me to filter through information or adjust to certain stimuli. Because of this I get sensory overload.

What is Sensory overload?

Sensory overload is something I deal with everyday. To some it may seem ridiculous but it is very real to me. My brain can now get overloaded just by you asking me a multiple choice question and giving me options A, B, C, and D. That will literally put my brain into a tailspin and cause me to start shutting down. It’s just too much information for my brain to filter through at one time. I know it sounds crazy because there are only four options but that is my truth now..unfortunately. My responses to things now may be extreme. For example sounds.. The hair on my neck will stand up and I am in instant fear if I hear sounds like clanking silverware, sudden high pitched noises, car horns, metallic noises, loud bass tones, the list goes on and on. To some those seem completely harmless but to me I am instantly scared and in my fight or flight mode. The PTSD “monster” within is ready to lash out in these moments.

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I’m also very weary of crowds or standing in close proximity of someone I don’t know. Even if I do know you I will still be a little weary of being too close. I also try my best to avoid contact. I try to avoid hugs and I fear surprise contact. Im not big on touch anymore. I need my personal space and if someone broaches the boundary the “monster” is ready. Please don’t take offense if I have avoided a hug or some sort of contact.. Or even if I did hug you but I seemed stiff it’s not anything personal. This is just the stuff I have to deal with now due to my brain injury and PTSD. I don’t even like to be touched or hugged by my own parents or family. I sincerely want to be around people but I need my safety blanket. I have to have someone familiar with me that I trust so I know I will be ok because I have them.

The preparation:

I have to prepare for so much now. A simple dinner at a restaurant or a trip to the mall or grocery store all seem harmless but for me I have to mentally prepare myself before I go. I need to make sure I am ready to encounter surprise noises or being to close to people. I may become panicking and want to escape these instances but I just have to bite the bullet and do it.. It’s part of being a normal human right?

My first movie & public panic attack:

I’m going to tell you about the first time I went to a movie after my wreck. It was a year after the wreck I think and I went to go see the new twilight movie. Yes I know not the best first movie but it was one that my mother and family friend wanted to see and I was way too worried about how I was going to handle the movie to truly care what we were going to see. I mean twilight that seems harmless enough right? Well that’s what I thought but I was proven wrong. I ended up in between my seat and row in front of me on the floor squeezing my head and frozen in fear. The sound and light was way too much. I instantly started having flashbacks of my wreck and hearing metal crunching and remembering the chaos before everything went black. I wanted to get up and leave but it was crowded and I was frozen. I stayed hunched on the floor, were I seemed “safe”, squeezing my head just hoping the movie would end quickly.

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That’s just one example of me panicking and having sensory overload. I tell you all of this because there are so many people like me or people who walk around with invisible injuries or struggles. Try your best not to judge anyone if you haven’t spent a minute in their shoes and don’t mock a pain you haven’t had to endure. Don’t be fooled by people’s exteriors. There are some injuries you can never see but I promise they are still there and more threatening than some visible injuries. If you could see my struggle and injuries you wouldn’t recognize me. But to the visible eye I look “normal”.

Saying Hello to the new me

I’ll never forget the first time I saw myself in the mirror at Jim Thorpe rehabilitation. I was being taught how to brush my hair on this day. So my nurse wheeled me over to my dresser, so I could look into the big mirror. Once she positioned me in front of it, I looked up and saw myself. This was the first time I got to see the “stranger”. I already felt like an alien inside my own body but I hadn’t yet seen myself. I remember just staring and the person in the mirror stared back.

Seeing the “new” me:

My nurse then proceeded to show me how to brush my hair. Well this was a joke in itself because I used the back side of the brush instead of the bristles so she corrected me. The entire time I was completely focused on the image in the mirror. It was mimicking me and my movements but it wasn’t me. Who was this person staring back at me? Why can’t I see myself? These questions were screaming in my head. But I still had to focus and listen to my nurses instructions on how to use the bristle side of the brush to brush my hair. “Go slowly” she said “Don’t yank the brush or you will pull your hair out.” I did not understand this concept of using the brush to brush my hair. What was the point? I could only focus on the mirror. I kept staring into the eyes of the person in the mirror. I could tell they were watching me and following all my movements. Seriously what is going on? Am I hallucinating? Is that really me in the mirror? I thought I looked different. Well I did look different. I was now being seen by the eyes of the “stranger”. The one who now controls my brain, thoughts and body. The one who now uses my body as a host. The one who took over after my severe traumatic brain injury.

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To this day I can stand in front of the mirror and look at myself but I still don’t see Kaylen. I’m now starting to see glimpses of her looking back at me but the “stranger” is still in control, for now. Ever since I woke up from my coma I have had to decipher between what is real and what is fake. This was very hard for me to do in the beginning but once I got home from Jim Thorpe, and I started to gradually wake up more and more from my walking coma I could tell that my hallucinations were not real. I wasn’t really being followed by a hunched back man and nobody was after me. It is much easier to pick out the fake stuff than the real. This is where some of my rage comes from.

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Sometimes I feel so lost and confused that it triggers me and my repressed memories from the wreck. I then start to feel my blood boil and the fire within me is lit. My brain starts to shut down then everything goes black. I am perpetually torn between grace and violence. I hate the quiet rage that is inside me. I hate the fact that it is always close to the surface. Thankfully I am naturally a composed person and a gentle soul. This is the only thing I think that counteracts my unfiltered anger now. It’s maddening to think because of someone’s neglectful actions, my life was changed in a matter of seconds.

Embracing the new “normal”:

I have now embraced my new normal but it has been difficult to get to this point. Life is a series of tiny miracles, open your heart and mind, take notice. A grateful heart is a magnet for miracles and it will unlock the fullness of life. Gratitude turns what you have into enough. It can turn denial into acceptance and chaos into order. Never take a moment for granted. Realize how blessed you are with the things you have and realize you already have everything you need inside of you.

My grieving process

In my traumatic brain injury support group we are told that the first step we have to make to move forward is to grieve our “old” selves. We have to grieve for what we have lost. It’s funny because I thought I had grieved for my “old” self but then I write about some of my experiences, try to help others by telling my story or I get triggered by something and I realize I don’t think I have really grieved at all. I am a strong person and unfortunately a pretty emotionless person, not to say I don’t feel because I feel probably more than most. I’m extremely empathic but I just don’t show my emotions. I also have a hard time allowing myself to cry during my time of recovery. I feel I have to always hold it together and stay strong. I fear that if I allow myself to grieve or feel my emotions I will completely fall apart and not be able to carry on.

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After some of the events that have transpired over the past few years, I’m now even more timid about showing emotion or being vulnerable. I guess you could say this is my Achilles heal. It has worked in my favor to allow me to keep moving forward and to keep my eye on the prize of recovery but it has also held me back. I have a lot of pent up emotion. I have always known this but it wasn’t until I started writing and talking to others about my experiences that I understood how much I have pent up.

Rebuilding myself:

The reality is I will grieve forever the loss of my “old” self and memories. It’s not easy to get over the death of your past life and to get over how everything was taken from you by someone’s neglectful actions. But I have learned to heal and rebuild myself around my loss. I had to. There’s been no other choice. Well I guess there is one more option but that is an option I refuse to see. I will not be defeated. I refuse to give up and stay in the pits of misery. So I have healed around my loss. I know I will eventually be whole again, I can slowly feel myself getting there. I can feel the heartache that I have carried deep in my bones dissipate. I know I will never be the same but I don’t want to be. I have learned so many valuable lessons during this chapter of my life that I would never go back to the old me if I was given the option. I have grown so much as a person and I am slowly being molded into the woman He needs me to be to fulfill my purpose for this life. For this I am extremely proud of myself.

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When I try to think back on my former life it is sad for me to think of the thousands of moments I simply took for granted. Why wouldn’t I have taken these moments for granted? How was I to know that shortly after graduating college and being accepted into graduate school my world would crumble beneath my feet. I just assumed there was going to be a thousand more moments just like the ones before if not better because I was about to begin a new chapter of my life. Little did I know that new chapter would start off with agonizing pain and confusion.

Learning to live not just survive:

Sometimes just surviving is the worst kind of pain. It’s the worst pain because you aren’t living, you are going through the motions with your head down just trying to win the fight so you can see tomorrow.. And start the fight all over again. I have been disconnected from myself for so long that now, as I am going through what I believe is my final awakening, I am starting to experience feelings and emotions on a new level. This has been an uncomfortable experience for me because I am sad, hurt, angry, joyful, happy and so many more emotions all at the same time. I know I am going to have to experience every memory and emotion that I have repressed over the past four years to be able to fully move forward. Honestly this terrifies me because I have a general idea on some of the things I have repressed but I know there are things deep within me that I am unaware of. These are the memories and emotions that scary me. But I am committed to healing myself and if I ever want to be whole again, this is what I have to do.

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Grief and anger are like the ocean for me. They both come in waves. Sometimes the water is calm and I just get sad when the wave crashes. But then there are the times that the wave is overwhelming, it crashes into me and it triggers my rage. Sometimes I just need to be angry for a bit, so I can fully experience that wave and I can move on. My life has become all about learning to swim through calm waters and rough tides. In any given moment you can be given two options, to step forward into growth or to step back into safety. Stepping forward for me was scary because I was going into the unknown. I am fearful now of change and not having control or knowing what is going to happen next because of my PTSD. The unknown is a big trigger for my PTSD but I refused to stay back in my safety zone and live a mediocre life. It is okay to be like me and be scared because being scared means you are about to do something brave, really brave. We all can either get bitter or get better through our struggles. You can either take the cards you have been dealt, play them right and allow them to make you into a better person, or you can get upset because you weren’t given a royal flush and allow it to tear you down. Your choice doesn’t belong to fate, it belongs to you.

Letting my soul smile

One day it just clicked for me. I realized what’s important and what’s not. I came to terms with the fact that my wreck and injuries don’t define me. I am not a “weirdo or difficult” like I have been told. I desire love but not any “love” I deserve the real thing by someone who truly loves me and wants to be with me. Not the “love” that what’s to hurt, control and use. Just because I have my issues and PTSD doesn’t mean I can’t be fun or can’t do fun activities I just have to have the time to mentally prepare for whatever activity it is. Yes I know lame but unfortunately it’s what I have to do now. I hate it just as much as anyone else. It’s extremely frustrating and it leaves me feeling ostracized. After awhile I have had to learn the hard way to care less about what others think. Let me remind you I am a completely “new” person. This world is very new to me and I am basically a new born. Anyone who was there when I woke up, and was there when I started to really have my awakenings, they were/are very important and crucial to me and my well being. I fully trusted them.

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I was unfortunately taken advantage of during my time of recovery. I had someone come into my life claiming to be my “knight in shining armor” and profess their love for me and how they had always been in love with me during college. They were very good. This person promised me the world.. Marriage, children, and a happy future. Had wedding dresses and rings picked out, messed around with writing wedding vows and even scheduled OBGYN appointments so we could start planning our happy little family. Had children names picked out and everything. Unfortunately for me they were all lies.

Unraveling the lies:

I gave everything and devoted more time than I should’ve to taking care of this person than I did myself. Gave them thousands of dollars (that came from my “blood money” from the wreck), I bought them groceries, scheduled and paid for appointments, found and got a house for them.. And that’s just to name a few of the materialistic things I did. I loved this person more than my own life. I loved this person in a way they will never understand. I saw all their dark corners and rough edges. I loved them unconditionally. I was in such a fog from my brain injury and I had already been left and told that “it was easier to think of me as dead. And just to remember my memory because they know I’m struggling.” by friends and family so this person was my everything. I trusted them with my life… Foolishly.

The final stage.. Agony:

I can’t even describe to you the pain when I found out they had NEVER been faithful and we’re having their own play family behind my back when they were still “with” me and I was in the process of getting US a house, his pit bull and going to OBGYN appointments. This person still got their house and dog.. And I was left with a shattered heart and dream. I was left with nothing except blank space. I was cut off with no words. I was left feeling like an object to be used. I was ghosted. Am I really that insignificant? Do I really not matter? Does my severe traumatic brain injury really make me nothing? Am I truly unworthy?

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I only tell you this story so you can realize I have been through SO much since June 11, 2012. Heartbreak, deaths, loss of friends, and during this roller coaster of pain I have had to relearn EVERYTHING. I’ve come to realize I have to care about myself. I have to care about what I think because that is truly what matters. Words are like life or death. I can bring life or death to myself. I am very critical and hard on myself so I used to only speak death but now I’m speaking life and it has changed my world immensely. I have taken a step back and realized how far I have come. There were obstacles along my path that were supposed to destroy me. I thought I would never recover from them but I have recovered. Those obstacles have made me into a much stronger and loving person.

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Today I am all smiles (if you know me that says a lot because I rarely smile ๐Ÿ˜ƒ) I smile because I am truly proud of myself and the person I fought to become. The salt in my wounds isn’t burning anymore, not because I don’t feel pain but because I am not afraid to hurt anymore. Once you take away fear you can do anything. Look fear in the eye and say “Whats next?..” No matter what you are going through never hang your head. Just remember to take a step back, take a deep breath and realize you can do it. If I can survive what doctors said was impossible than trust me you can too. Believe in yourself. The belief you can is the greatest gift you can give yourself.

Vulnerability heals

There comes a time in many people’s lives where they fall victim to some injustice. The past four years of my life through my recovery could easily be described as problematic. Nothing has gone right or smoothly for me. Even when I thought I had found the major silver lining from my wreck it turned out to be nothing more than a painful life lesson. I can’t say it was good but I believe it was definitely a life lesson I needed. It truly opened my eyes to what I was allowing and taught me about love. I now know from my past experiences what love is not. So many life lessons have been crammed into such a short amount of time.. Promises have been broken, heartache, betrayal, abandonment, confusion, pain and relearning life.. But I have learned life still goes on. The sun will come out tomorrow. I don’t have the best memory anymore but it’s crazy for me to think back on what I have been through and what I have survived. There were many times when I thought my life was over and nothing was going to get better. Luckily I was wrong.

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When I woke up from my coma in the hospital, that was just the beginning of my many awakenings. I was then in a walking coma. I could have conversations with you (although from what I have been told I was quite the chatty Kathy and talking gibberish) but I wasn’t there. I looked as if I were but I, Kaylen, was still asleep. Because of my severe traumatic brain injury I woke up as a newborn. When I first started talking I had the same voice as when I was 2-3 years old. All I wanted to do was go play in the sandbox. I made my mother promise me, as I laid in my ice baths, that she would take me to play. I had to have these ice baths to keep my temperature down while I was battling pneumonia. I couldn’t get any worse because of my physical/mental state and the fact I had a collapsed lung.

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June 11, 2012, is now my new birthday. So technically as of today I am four years old. I have worked very hard to get to my 4 year birthday. Because I woke up from one coma and instantly was transferred into a different type, my walking coma, I functioned on a very concrete literal level. I was very trusting of those who were first brought into my life. If you told me something I believed you without question. I was in need of a friend at the beginning of my recovery. I was extremely confused by the abandonment of those who I loved most and I needed a friend. Which I found.. Or thought I had. This person was my person. They were my best friend and trusted confidant. I remember I used to talk to this person every night before I went to bed. It was part of my routine. I couldn’t sleep if I hadn’t talked to them.. Well honestly I couldn’t sleep at all because of my brain injury but at least they could put my mind at peace. It’s funny how the people who betray you and hurt you the most are never your enemies. It’s almost always the ones who say they would take a bullet for you that end up being the one pulling the trigger.

Discovering the truth:

After 4 years of fighting my way back to a normal baseline I have woken up again. Times have changed for me. I have been slapped awake from the lies I had been fed and I am rediscovering myself and the world. I have become smarter about situations and why I allowed and accepted such bad behavior from those I loved. I have learned many truths, some have been quite painful but the majority have been life altering in the best way imaginable. One of these truths is realizing what I can accomplish through telling my story. I can continue to heal myself but also I can help others heal. I can help those who feel they are at rock bottom with no way out realize there is a way out. Sometimes you just have to be creative in how you decide to crawl back to the top.

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Life consists not in holding good cards, but in playing those cards you do hold well. We all have to make the most of bad situations. Doesn’t matter how bad you may have it or how bad your struggle is, it still affects you and your outlook on life. There is no degree for pain or struggle. Pain affects each and everyone of us differently. Respect that. No body has the right to condemn you for how you decide to go about healing your heart, body and soul. I would like to say we all deserve honesty, happiness, appreciation and loyalty BUT like the great Clint Eastwood says “Deserving ain’t got nothing to do with it kid.” He’s right. We only deserve the right to pursue those things. Go out and fight for yourself. Pursue what makes you happy and find your purpose/passion for this life. There is one thing we all deserve and that is love. Real love. Go out and find that for yourself and never settle for less.

Learning to overcome the consequences of my misfortune

Acceptance.. This was something I had a very hard time coming to terms with. During my stay at Jim Thorpe I was in a complete fog. I had no idea what was going on and what the big fuss was all about. I thought I was fine. Little did I know how bad I was. Everyday in speech therapy I had to go through what happened to me and what injuries I sustained. I would rarely remember everything so they would have to remind me. I used to refer to things as “in my world”. I would say “in my world that is what happens. In my world those things don’t exist. In my world that is wrong.” I was in such a fog.

My mother used to stay the night with me, so she could keep an eye on me and help the nurses if I decided it was time for me to “get up and leave.” Yeah like that was going to happen but “in my world” I tried. Eventually they caught on to the fact that I was oblivious to my condition, the fact I had multiple broken bones, I couldn’t walk, and I had no idea where or what I was.. So they put a lovely alarm on my bed, so they could catch me when I decided to try to make my “escape.” Basically my “escape” was my attempt to try to get out of bed on my own to get a cookie, which I did do, but then I tried to put weight on my legs and was reminded by the searing pain that I have a broken hip and pelvis. I was caught helped back into bed and I didn’t even get my cookie.

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Every morning I would have a nurse come in and give me 6 shots in my stomach and a cup full of pills to swallow. I hated this part of the day. Everyday after the nurse left my mother would leave to go home and get ready before she had to come back up. Every single day when the time came for her to leave I instantly turned into a tiny toddler and would cry and hold onto her arm pleading with her not to leave me. I didn’t want to be left in this strange place with these people I didn’t know who stuck me with needles and gave me pills. Little did I know once she left my father would come and sit with me. They just switched shifts. This happened every day but I would forget that he was coming so I would cry and plead because I didn’t want to be left alone.

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Once I got more “comfortable” with my surroundings and my routine they had the psychologist come in to talk with me to see where I was at mentally. What age I was at and if I knew what was going on. I vaguely remember our talks but I do vividly remember when he told me I wasn’t going back to school. That it was completely out of the question. I didn’t understand this at all. This news crushed me. I cried every night because I wanted to go back to school. Why couldn’t I? I was fine.. Right? Wrong. The doctors could see the effect this news had on me so they decided it would be best to sort of play along with me to keep me calm and let me think there was a possibility that I could go back to school. My parents called and tried to get me a first floor apartment, since I was in a wheelchair, and my old roommates also tried to help with this. I think everyone knew this wasn’t going to happen but they all loved me so they tried.

Home “Sweet” Home:

It wasn’t until I finally got home from the hospital and Jim Thorpe that it really hit me. I think I had been home for a couple of days and it was time for me to try to shower. We finally got the bench I had to have for the shower since I couldn’t stand and I thought it was time for me to try. My mother specifically gave me instructions to not try until she came in from doing stuff outside because she was going to help me and make sure I didn’t hurt myself or fall. If anyone knew me before the wreck they knew I wasn’t going to wait for her I was just going to do it.. And I did. Well I tried to. That was when I started to realize how bad off I really was. That was when I realized just because I’m home doesn’t mean I am safe and ok.

The simple fact that I couldn’t remember what to do in the shower (washing hair or body was all forgotten), I couldn’t maneuver easily, I couldn’t stand and I didn’t remember how to dress myself once I was out.. This awakening was a huge smack in the face. I was NOT ok. I had to accept that I wasn’t ok. I had to accept that there was going to be a VERY long road ahead of me. This was very hard to do. It was extremely uncomfortable and didn’t sit well with me but I had to at least start the process of accepting the “new” me if I was going to get anywhere.

The road to acceptance:

Acceptance of the new you is a very important part of the recovery process from a severe traumatic brain injury. If you don’t accept the new you then you will constantly be in limbo and you won’t be able to move forward. As uncomfortable and painful as it was to accept the “new” me and the “stranger” that now resides within me I am so thankful that I did. I now can walk tall and be completely ok with myself. I wear my scars and struggles proudly. No one else knows what it was like for me to survive what I did. That is something I can now wear with pride.. I AM A SURVIVOR. I shouldn’t be here but I am.

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By the grace of GOD and my indomitable will I have made it this far. I think that is something I can be proud of. There is something each and everyone of us has been through that we can be proud of. It may take time to accept your struggle and become proud of yourself for coming out on the other side of it but it is worth the wait and the effort. We were meant to live for so much more than just our everyday routines. The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well. Find your purpose. Find your passion. Live proudly. Don’t hide yourself or your struggles. You survived.

Blessings in disguise

Words are powerful. But words are only words. After my severe traumatic brain injury I had to relearn language and simple words. It was a difficult journey to get where I am today. I often have a hard time finding the right word to use, misunderstanding someone’s joke and trouble understanding or following a conversation. It’s also quite hard for me to stay focused during a conversation if there is more than one person talking. I have a hard time following all the different “lines” of discussion. It is exhausting trying to piece it all together and keep up so others don’t see that I am lost or having difficulty understanding. If I have ever seemed uninterested in a conversation, it is because of this. I am not dumb or rude, my brain is just getting overloaded. It’s crazy to think that a simple conversation for most can now completely overload my brain and overwhelm me to the point of shutting down. It has been a very tough road.

Speech Therapy:

During my speech therapy this was something we continuously worked on. My therapist would play background noise while I had to complete a task. Generally my task would be something as simple as playing boogle or just trying to find words in a picture. It was extremely hard. This is when the swelling rage would appear. Luckily after awhile I learned how to detect when I was getting angry and my defenses were down and I would shut off to prevent a blow up. Something that I also have to deal with now, that goes along with my brain getting overloaded, is that if I am in a conversation and I say I need to stop talking, I really mean it. I have to stop and take a break from all the thinking and I need to take time for my brain to process what is being discussed. Once I take a break I will be able to come back and join the conversation and be fully present, but if I can’t take a break my brain will over work itself and shut off. Just imagine a cartoon character when they get mad and steam comes out of their ears, that’s exactly how I’m feeling in these moments except I’m not mad. My brain is just working so hard to keep up and process everything that it starts to overload.

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My stamina fluctuates. I will have good days where I can handle more stimulation but I will also have my bad days where it takes everything my brain has just to process a simple conversation of “good morning. How are you? How are you feeling today?” Cognition is a very fragile function for a severe brain injury survivor. Brain injury rehabilitation takes a very long time, it takes years. And even after years go by and I may look or seem back to normal, my brain will never be normal again. Even though today I look like the old Kaylen, please resist expecting me to be who I was. The girl I was before June 11 is dead and gone. She will never come back.

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It is frustrating trying to go about life after a severe brain injury. I seem to constantly get “stuck” when my brain is trying to process information. This is difficult because during these times when I’m “stuck” during a conversation or task people want to help. So they will try to coach me or suggest to me ways to help me figure out whatever it is I’m stuck on. During my therapy I had someone who would come with me and they would do this. I believe they were trying to help me but it actually hurt me because they didn’t allow me to do it for myself. They would just finish the task for me. Even though this was their way of helping me because they didn’t like to see me stuck and frustrated with myself, it set me back.

Retraining my brain:

I am now pretty “rigid”. I have to do tasks the same way every time because I am retraining my brain. This has caused a lot of problems for me because I have had people tell me to loosen up or I need to do things differently, but I simply can’t. It’s hard when you aren’t understood. I have to be rigid and do things the same way because repeating tasks in the same way is a rehabilitation strategy. It’s like learning main roads before you can learn shortcuts.
I learned during therapy that I am better working on my own. This was a hard concept to grasp for some who came to therapy with me because they would not be able to help me complete a task I was struggling on. But what they didn’t understand or even try to understand is that by them frequently interrupting me to give me directions on what to do next, it caused my brain to come to a halt to listen to them but then as I would transfer my attention back to the task I would have to start all over. I now have to take it slow and take it one step at a time at my own pace.

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Recovery is a daunting process. There are no words to describe the constant war inside my brain every day. Having to fight for cognitive functions that are taken for granted by others has molded me into a much better person. I now see my struggle as a huge gift. It’s like the Trojan horse. At first I only saw my struggle for what it was but once I opened it and had to go to the depths of my soul to find the strength to come out of it, I saw it as something completely different. I was given the gift of compassion, empathy and understanding. No matter what anyone is dealing with, I will now most likely be able to relate to them and understand their struggle. I see this as my blessing in disguise.