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
Removed. Outcast. On my road to recovery from a traumatic brain injury these are some of the words I would’ve used to describe how I felt when around others. It’s been 8 years now since my wreck & these are still words I would use for myself. It’s hard relearning yourself. Relearning the world, social norms, etc. Relearning your physical capacity; walking, swallowing, dressing, showering. Relearning your mental capacity; thinking, remembering, spelling, writing, recalling.
In the past 8 years I have come a long way. I’ve recovered better than my doctors originally thought I would. I have recovered my mental & physical capabilities. My “recovered” though is part of my “new” normal. Am I the same kaylen now that I was before the wreck? No. Does my brain function the same now as it did before the wreck? Definitely no. Does my body function the same now as it did before the wreck? Definitely no. Because of this I constantly feel as if I’m stuck in limbo. I’m blessed & beyond grateful to be where I am now but I’m still not a “normal” 32 year old. When I’m around others or in a crowd I still feel as if I don’t belong. I feel like an intruder. When others talk about their lives, jobs, or families I can not relate. When I get asked how I’m doing, what i do, or where I work I’m immediately filled with panic. “What do I say?” “How do I answer?” “Will they even understand?” “Will they view me differently?” “Will they still want to talk to me? Or will I be an outcast?”
This limbo I find myself in is a funny place. I’m now the healthiest I’ve been mentally & physically in years & yet I still feel as if there is a barrier between me & the world I want to be apart of. I tiptoe into the world I want to be a part of & carefully weave my way through people & conversations so I don’t reveal that I am not the same. I am not one of them. It’s a challenge. I’ve gotten better at it & I’m walking with more confidence now but I’m still chained by the fear of being revealed as an outcast. I’m half in limbo & half in the world. It’s hard to get out of my head & to shut out the voice of fear but where I am now is better than where I was years ago. I always remind myself that it’s the baby steps everyday that add up to get me to my end goal. It’s hard for me to accept that, be patient & to allow time to run its course when it’s now coming up on 9 years since my wreck but then I think back or get reminded of stories about where I was 6yrs, 4yrs, or even a year ago & I know I’m doing my best to stay the course. I know it’ll all happen in Gods timing. His will, will be done. There are times in all of our lives when we feel like outcasts but that doesn’t mean that we are. It just means we are in a season of change. It can be hard to wait out those seasons when we feel we don’t belong but what we are missing is the tiny changes that are happening around & within us everyday. These seasons of change can be different for everyone so don’t compare your life to anyone else’s. They are not you & you are not them. God has a special plan & path for all of us to walk. If you’re currently walking in a season of change, keep taking your baby steps. Trust His plan for you. Pray. Wait. Trust 💙 #NeverGiveUp