One of the hardest things to do is openly admit you are struggling. Next month it will be nine years since my wreck & I still struggle every day. It’s honestly terrifying just writing that out. It’s easier for me to remain in denial & lie to myself than to speak my truth. I have a bad habit of shutting off my feelings when it becomes too much. I’ve learned it’s a defense mechanism but it also keeps me numb. At the beginning of my recovery I preferred being numb than to actually feel what I had/was experiencing & honestly even now it’s preferable to be numb than feel. I used to never understand the expression dying from a broken heart or having a hole in your heart, but unfortunately I understand now.
In the beginning of my recovery from a traumatic brain injury I was still in my walking coma & was basically being shuffled around from one therapy to the next & if I wasn’t in therapy then I was sleeping. It wasn’t until probably 3-5 years ago that I actually started to fully wake up & truly understand what had happened to me, what my life was like presently & how my future would be altered from the one I had pictured. In the beginning I was in such a foggy childlike mindset that I didn’t have the brain power to evaluate & deal with my feelings. My “new” self/brain wasn’t mature enough to work through anything yet. But then about 3-5 years ago when I started to fully wake up my heart, body & mind demanded that I start dealing with my feelings/emotions. This is around the time when I started to see my neuropsychologist & she helped me talk situations out & she helped me be more vulnerable in speaking my truth so I could get a handle on my unresolved emotions.
It’s now a month away from being nine years since my wreck & I am still struggling. I’m still having to battle my instincts to just deny my feelings & move forward. I am still having to battle with grasping my life & how it is so much different than I could have ever imagined for myself. I am still nursing my broken heart & trying to patch the holes that have yet to heal.
As I am writing this I am overwhelmed with a sense of embarrassment & shame. Thinking to myself “No don’t write this. People will read this. They might see you differently. Etc.” But these thoughts are the exact reason why I feel I need to speak my truth. So many of us are struggling every single day but we fear that if we speak life to our struggles people might view us differently, think less of us or avoid us because they don’t know what to do or say now they know how we are really feeling. If I’m honest with myself I know that if someone told me they were struggling & bared their soul to me that is not the reaction I would have. I would open my arms & heart to them. And I think a lot of people can relate to that. We forget that there are others out there just like us who know what it means to struggle, who know what it means to fight invisible battles every day. We forget we are not alone in our fights. If you are currently struggling I hope today you can be honest with yourself & speak your truth without fear. No matter what you are battling you are not alone.
“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.
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.
I don’t know how to write this or even if I should. I’ve tried to keep this close to my chest & I’ve done my best to work through it but I still feel as though I’m being haunted by a ghost. When I woke up from my coma I, kaylen, was not awake. I woke from my coma into a walking coma. I don’t think I, Kaylen, started to wake up until years later. Once I got home from my stay at Jim Thorpe I was told about a “friend” who had visited me & how I knew him from college. I couldn’t remember him but I was told he came to the hospital & he stayed for a while. Once I was allowed to get back on Facebook & use a phone I started getting messages from him. He wanted to come see me. My parents agreed so after being home for a few weeks from Jim Thorpe he came over. I didn’t remember him or know who he was but he seemed nice. My wreck occurred in June so my parents were out of school & my mother was taking me to therapy but when it came time for school to start she needed help with taking me to therapy. My new “friend” offered to help. He took me & sat with me through my therapies. He helped me with my wheelchair & walker. He came to some of my neurologist & neuropsychologist appointments as well. I still couldn’t remember him though but he told me stories of our “friendship” & with him taking me to therapy & helping my parents out I figured he had to be telling the truth & that this was just more memories my traumatic brain injury had stolen from me. This “friendship” ended up turning into a romantic relationship. I was completely blinded by my love for him & it didn’t help me that I was also trying to recover from a severe traumatic brain injury & my physical injuries. Broken hip & pelvis, broken sternum, ribs, sacrum, well basically my physical body needed just as much recovery as my brain. I missed a lot. I missed the lies. I missed the cheating. I missed the manipulation. I missed the gas lighting. I missed the emotional abuse. I missed the controlling. I was only hearing what he was telling me. All his hurtful words, harsh criticisms & anger towards me I took as truth. I thought he loved me & cared for me. I thought he was my friend. How could the friend who was taken you to therapy & going to doctors appointments with you being lying to you? If he is getting angry with me & saying hurtful things they must be true, right? He knew you before the wreck & you were best friends he wouldn’t be mean for no reason, right? It has to be you kaylen. You have got to change & fix what he is telling you. He is only trying to help because he loves you. He has promised you a future. He’s shown you rings & wedding dresses. He has shown you videos of men who stuck with their girlfriends after their traumatic brain injuries. He promised he will be with you till the end. He said he would never leave your side. You must change Kaylen. Become “right.” Become “good.”
So that’s exactly what I did. I tried my best to become “good.” Everything he said I took as truth & then went about trying to make the changes to fit whatever mold I was told I needed to fit that day to be a “good girlfriend.” As you can probably imagine this affected my recovery. But it wasn’t until years later that I started to see what was going on. I didn’t start seeing by myself. I had therapists & friends who helped me see this wasn’t good. I was not in the loving relationship I thought I was in. I mean from my side the love was unconditional & true but it wasn’t on his. It was a game. I was something to be used & played with. My story was a great storyline for him to tell. But it was just that a great storyline. Unfortunately when I started to see I found out we were never friends in college. Every story he had told me about college was a lie. We were never the best friends he had described to me. Once when I got brave enough to ask why I still couldn’t remember him he blamed my brain & said it was “just like how my grandpa couldn’t remember me.” My grandpa was currently struggling with dementia at this time & I was the only grandchild he had forgotten.
These years were quite challenging for me. They were filled with extreme highs & extreme lows. I would be lying if I didn’t say they affected my recovery from my traumatic brain injury & if I didn’t say they brought on a different kind of trauma & PTSD than from my wreck. It’s weird though because it’s been years now & I still am haunted by the ghost of what I thought was. It’s hard when you relearned the world with someone only to learn it was a lie. It’s hard when you created new memories with someone only to learn they weren’t real. Nothing was real for me in the first five years of my recovery. Everything I thought was real turned out to be a lie or manipulation. It’s funny though because if I wouldn’t have gone through that I wouldn’t be the woman I am today. If I wouldn’t have gone through those years I wouldn’t have found my untapped strength & my joy. If I were to tell you about my wreck you would say that was probably the worst thing that happened to me in my life & well you would be half right because if it wasn’t for my wreck the “friend” that entered my life would’ve never happened. I never would’ve gone through those years of pain, heartache & confusion after my wreck. But now that you know a brief summary of those years I can honestly say, like I have before, I still would drive through that intersection even knowing what was to follow. It was literally at rock bottom were I found myself. It was on a bathroom floor were I was debating ending my life that I finally met kaylen. Were I learned how strong my faith really was & were I found my untapped strength.
God doesn’t give the hardest battles to His toughest soldiers, He creates the toughest soldiers through life’s hardest battles. No matter what you are currently struggling with or working through just know that these hard times aren’t meant to destroy you or weaken you. They are meant to strengthen you & to allow you to find your true self. Never doubt your strength to carry on. It’s only through the darkness that you will find the brilliant light inside yourself 💙 #NeverGiveUp #Hope #Strength
She is all bark and no bite. Just like a china doll with a tough exterior but so fragile and empty. Trying to fix her broken pieces with duck tape, patching up the wounds from her past. She is alone. Alone in the worst way because no one understands. Do you see her scars? Do you feel her pain? Nobody understands the pain she feels inside her head everyday. She puts on a smile and a brave front to keep out the cold, she must protect herself. Her past has proven trust no one. Smiles, tears and words tend to all mean nothing in the end. She hates feeling so isolated, unloved and weak. Each day chips away another piece of her soul. How long can she last? She doesn’t know. She is overwhelmed with pain and her quiet rage grows inside everyday.
I guess this is how it happens. It doesn’t happen all at once, it is a slow fade. You lose a piece of yourself here and someone takes a piece from you there, until there is nothing left. You slip, stumble and fall countless times just trying to find your grip. Trying to find your balance so you can continue on. Until one day a piece gets taken from you that’s so big everything crumbles around it. Just like a game of Jinga, there are certain pieces that must stay intact or the game is over.
You never realize you are broken until you already are. You don’t realize how bad off you are until the blinders get ripped off and you see everything with a new perspective. Every next level of your life will demand a new version of you, as long as you can make it through the transition. If all you can do is crawl, then start crawling. You can’t give up and stay at the bottom. One day your heart will stop beating and you will draw the last breath from your lungs. When you have reached your end none of your fears or worries will matter. Don’t reach the end of life with regrets from the missed chances that your heart was urging you to take but your fear overpowered your heart. The only thing that matters is how well you lived. People may forget what you say but they won’t forget how you made them feel. Live out the rest of your days in such a way that you enhance and influence the lives of those around you. Don’t be the last man, who’s sole desire is his own comfort.
As time goes by I realize the things that cost nothing hold the most value. Don’t be afraid to keep trying. You will get knocked down over and over again but I promise you can always get back up and stand tall. Believe in yourself. And if there ever comes a time where you are too afraid to continue, just remember to be scarier than whatever it is that scares you. You must be unshakable in the belief that you are worthy of a great life. I promise you are never too far gone.
A part of her died that day. The day she realized what had been taken from her. There is now a part of her that’s off limits. Don’t take it personally, that part of her was unbelievable hurt. She was sure the pain was going to kill her. But it didn’t. She still doesn’t understand what truly happened. But that piece of her is now off limits. She will not bargain with it. It will forever remain a secret. No matter how happy she is or how much she trusts you it is going to have to remain off limits for the simple fact that if she breathes it back to life she is not sure how she will handle it. How will the flashbacks effect her? How much of the memories still remain? How will her mind repaint the pictures? Questions she doesn’t know the answers to and is not willing to risk her sanity for. In the end she learned how to be strong on her own. She learned the path isn’t a straight line it is a spiral. You will continually come back to the things you thought you understand about life and see the deeper truths. Wait, hope for and expect the Lord. Be brave and of good courage and let your heart be enduring. You never know how strong you are until it’s your only option.
Do you know what it’s like to be left behind? It’s a gut wrenching feeling. It hurts to be left behind by the people that you loved but it’s even worse when life leaves you behind. Unfortunately I’ve been left by both. I can’t say which one hurts worse or which has been harder to cope with but I can say it has made me into a much wiser person and has taught me so much about life. When people leave you behind it teaches you about character. Yes they will shatter your heart but they will teach you a very important lesson. You learn from them and then you can take the lessons they teach you and use them to sculpt yourself into a better person. You then use these lessons when you deal with others in your life. You can make sure you don’t make anyone feel left behind or unworthy. Now when life leaves you behind well that’s a totally different story. You get to watch everything continue on without you. Everybody else’s life continues but you feel as if you have been paused. You are trying to put yourself back together piece by piece and friends are getting married, having babies and finishing school.
The sun will rise and set regardless of you and what you are dealing with. This life lesson teaches you that you have to take care of yourself because when it comes down to it you are all you have. You learn that you can’t control what happens around you, you can only control the way you react to what’s happening. Make sure you react in a way that others can look up to. Don’t react with emotions because emotions are only temporary. React to every situation in life so that others can see the goodness in you. God has a plan for your life but so does the enemy. Be ready for both. Be wise enough to know which one to battle and which one to embrace. It’s hard to decipher between the two but trust me God has a way of showing you as long as you keep an open heart and mind. Remember you hold the power to your life. Nothing can take that power from you. No matter what is standing in your way you can conquer it. Trust me you can. Ive learned how to get out of my own way and Ive learned how to open my mind to the fact that opportunities are only out of my reach if I stand in my way. The real question in life is not whether life exists after death but rather are you truly alive before you die. I believe I am coming alive.
There are no shortcuts in recovery. You either fight like hell to try to get everything back that you lost or you are complacent and get back the minimal. Own who you are. Know you are worthy of getting back what you lost. Don’t let the voice in your head saying “It’s too hard” win. Dissect that voice and find out what inside you it is feeding off of because it’s not too hard and you are worth fighting for. The fears we don’t face become our limits. After a traumatic brain injury you are already limited enough, don’t do yourself a disservice and further your limitations. You can conquer anything. I was an athlete before my wreck and I got a high off of lifting weights, running, biking and being active but my strength doesn’t come from any of those things. My strength comes from within. It is defined by how I continue to get up after every time I am sucker punched and knocked down. You have to keep getting up because staying down gets you no where. During these hard times you find out what your made of. I’m made of steel but I still have my softness. You have to have mental strength and toughness to get through. You must know nothing is going to beat you and if one day you don’t do well in therapy then you have to make a promise to yourself that tomorrow you will win the battle you lost today. It’s a war and in war you have many battles. You will win some and lose some. BUT if you are mentally tough I promise you will win more than you lose. You just have to tap into that reserved strength and take back your life.
There will come a time in your life where you have to make a choice. Do you stay on the path you’re on or do you decide to pave a new one?.. Well I decided neither. I decided it is time for me to break out of the cage that I have trapped myself in. Yes I have my issues and I struggle daily but does that really mean I now have to forfeit the future I had planned for myself? No it doesn’t. I am letting go of everything that has tried to control me or beat me down. I am redefining myself. I have been given this great gift of being “new” and starting over. Yes it could’ve come in a much nicer less painful package but that’s ok I’m pretty tough. I have been like bamboo during my storm.. Constantly bending but not breaking. Even when the strong gust of wind comes out of nowhere and I was for sure I was going to snap I didn’t. I snapped back better than ever. I am now taking my true form. Like a Phoenix I have risen from my ashes of despair and now I’m ready to rise above the shallow ruins of my past life. I no longer fear. I have hidden life inside me and I have made my own light while I waited in the darkness that threatened to swallow my soul. Death wanted to take me but I fought back. I escaped his grasp. Now I will rise. I will shine. Don’t underestimate me because I promise I am more powerful than ever before. I am unstoppable.
I recently witnessed a minor fender bender while I was waiting at a stoplight by my house. It happened close enough to my car that I could hear the tires screech and the crunch of metal. I take pride in the fact that I am a strong person and I don’t let my emotions easily break me but on this day I completely broke. I was immediately engulfed with flashbacks from June 11, of the chaos and everything spinning as my car flipped before everything went black. I don’t remember much from that day but those few seconds I do remember are enough to break me when they return. Once I got a green light I immediately pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot so I could calm down, except I didn’t calm down. I started crying like I never have before. It felt so real. Everything was completely raw, as if I had just had my wreck. After I stopped crying and composed myself, I drove to the lake. The same lake I was headed to on June 11, the day of my wreck. It’s funny but this is the one place where I truly feel at peace. It’s the place where I should’ve lost my life but for some reason it calms me.
Querencia is a place where a person draws their strength from, where one feels at home; where you are your most authentic self. I believe the lake is my querencia. Obviously God is where I draw my true strength from and when I am with Him in prayer that is when I truly feel at home. But for me the lake is where I go to pray and think about life. So the lake is now like my church. I go there to thank God for everything he has done for me but to also appreciate life, the life I should’ve lost. Even though my life is now different, I still have breath in my lungs and by a miracle I was able to get back my cognitive functions at a level the doctors said was impossible. But like many other times over the past 4 years God intervened and showed me He isn’t done with me yet. Hope is still rising for me.
Fear can keep us focused on our past but if we acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Today we are still alive and our bodies are working. This is something I acknowledge and appreciate everyday. It is easy to take things for granted when you have never experienced life without but I was given the gift of new life and new appreciation for this life. I almost lost everything. My life should’ve been taken from me and now I know what it is like to be without the simplest cognitive and bodily functions. We have to appreciate that today our eyes can still see the beautiful sky and our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones. He has commanded us to not be afraid and to not be discouraged, because He is always with us. Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live. I told myself from the beginning that the first chance I had to drive I was going to, I was going to get back on the horse and not let fear stop me. And the first time I had the chance to drive through the intersection, I should’ve lost my life in, I took it. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. I had God’s protection and I knew He wasn’t done with me, so I had to start defeating the demons of fear that stood in my way. So I did, one by one. Stop letting fear rule your life. Go out and seize it.