The good ol’ days

Before June 11, 2012 I would consider myself to be athletic. In my “old” life I played softball so before June 11, I could easily catch a ball, track a ball and use my visual spatial skills but after June 11, that dramatically changed. Found this out in Occupational therapy. I was aware that my visual skills were messed up because I used to go out to the lake and I would mistake geese for rocks but then the rocks would move and freak me out so I had an idea that my brain wasn’t receiving the right message from my eyes. Then this was confirmed on one of my numerous visits to the neurologist. But I had no idea that if someone was to stand over me as I laid on the ground and told me to my face that they were about to drop the ball and for me to catch it that I couldn’t. I had no idea that the ball would smack me in the face before I could even react. That’s one of the many things I learned in occupational therapy about my “new” self.

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Another lovely thing I learned is I can’t handle motion or movement of any kind. I was asked by my occupational therapist one day if I could swing. I hadn’t been on a swing in years & definitely hadn’t been on one after my wreck so I answered “of course.” I was once again proven wrong. One of the exercises I had to do in occupational therapy was sit on a tire swing and “swing”. But for me I just kind of sat because I very quickly learned I couldn’t handle the movement. Yes I, a 25-26 year old woman, did most of my therapy in the pediatric gym. Talk about humbling. But as I was fighting my way back through recovery I was basically a child. I had reverted back due to my brain injury. I did a lot of “fun” stuff in occupational therapy.. I played Where’s Waldo, attempted origami (but let’s be honest I just folded paper and had difficulty with that), I did puzzles at 5-10yr old level, played a demonic board game that sent my PTSD in overdrive from the excessive beeping and did a lot with the lovely metronome. Gosh I HATED that thing. It’s truly amazing the stuff I would work on in there and how simple it was but yet for me I felt like my therapists expected me to learn rocket science in a week.

My therapy family:

I don’t know where I would be today without my therapists. I was truly blessed with a great team. I believe I had almost every one of them work with me. They all saw me progress from my wheelchair and crazy hair to my walker and then to walking in and looking “normal” on the outside. All of them helped me on my road to recovery. They were my greatest supporters and some turned into great friends. They knew more about my life than some of my closest friends. These days of therapy were in a sick way probably the best days of my life. I will forever hold these dark days very close to my heart. My therapists gave me hope that my bad times wouldn’t last forever and they gave me hope in humanity. I believe I was meant to have each of them come into my life at the times that they did. During my days and years of therapy I met great genuine people and I got the opportunity to put myself back together BUT unlike many I got to choose how I wanted my pieces to fit. I decided how I was going to be put back together and what my end result was going to be. And I believe I did a pretty good job.

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Everybody has gone through something that has changed them to where they can never go back to the person they were before. Unfortunately for me I just had to go through everything all at once. My circumstances may have sent me to the edge and may have burned everything down around me but just like a Phoenix I have risen back up. I chose to not stay down because during this process I have learned what I want out of life and I can’t achieve any of it if I stay down on the ground where pain and sadness want to keep me. If I want to achieve anything I have to stand up and walk with courage, so that’s exactly what I’m doing.

God’s timing

The days and weeks leading up to the anniversary of June 11 are miserable. I start to hear every knock on the door in my mind that I have used to shut out the flashbacks. Every demon who lives beyond that door what’s to come out and play. They want me to experience every sound, loss and pain all over again. They try to work their way through my bones so I will be defenseless when they decide to attack. There are wounds that will never show on my body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds. You may see my smile, love, laughter and faith but what you don’t see is what is hiding deep within me. The “monster” that is relentless at trying to destruct everything in its path. You don’t see the flashbacks, insomnia, Neuro fatigue, brain fog, exhaustion, depression, triggers, anxiety, paranoia, pain, stress or fear. This “monster” is very good at hiding and I’m very good at playing cover up.

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I now know how to hide my “weirdness”. I had someone point it out to me enough that I had to learn how to shut off and escape from the madhouse that is inside my mind and I learned to disconnect so I can look calm and peaceful. But in reality I am dead inside and I am just keeping the “monster” at bay. I’ve learned lots of tricks so I can come across as somewhat “normal”. The fear and insecurity that lurks within myself begins in the feeling that I have no control over what is happening to my body or what is happening with my emotions. PTSD creates a hair trigger for emotional high jacking. Something triggers me or I have a random flashback and just like that my body is high jacked. It’s terrifying. It’s also lonely because it’s hard for people to grasp that I don’t have much control over it and it is hard to explain to those who don’t deal with it. I can try to control my surroundings so I can stay calm but that’s about it.

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I strongly debated on whether or not I should share my writings and my story. One reason is because I’m scared that if people only read my writings but never get to meet me than they will think I am insane. They will picture me as someone who can’t function. But that is simply not true. They will never realize that I am a normal woman who just has a LOT on her plate or like someone once told me “I don’t have a plate, I have my own buffet.” 😃 which is very true. But I decided I had to look fear in the eye once again and continue on with sharing my story because having an untold story inside of you is extremely painful especially when it is a story that has the possibility of helping so many others who are in the same situation as me or the possibility to help someone who is struggling with something less major but just needs that kick in the pants to realize you can do this. To realize they aren’t alone in whatever battle they are fighting. Don’t give up. A major benefit of writing out my story is it has been very therapeutic. One of my goals in writing is I want to be able to describe the best I can what I have been through and what I go through every day so people can have a better understanding of me. As well as the bag of tricks that comes along with me including my severe traumatic brain injury and PTSD.

Finding my purpose:

There has been a joke among the people who have been around me during my recovery that “I go big and I can’t take the easy road.” It’s funny though because I don’t see an easy or hard road. I just see the path that God has put in front of me. I know with every obstacle, loss, betrayal or pain I have dealt with on my path to recovery, God will use to make something great. There is a reason why I have gone through what I’ve gone through. There is a bigger purpose for me. God will make beauty with these ashes, I am sure of it because I am already seeing some of the outcome. Beneath every survivor is a broken person who had to learn to get back up and to never depend on anyone. Survivors know that the only person who can save them is themselves. The greatest tool a human has is their mind. I, as a survivor, have learned how to use the power of my mind to get me through the impossible. With my writings I no longer have a secret deep within me. I have a story that is ready to be told.

What’s your superpower?..

When you were little I’m sure you and your friends would discuss which superpowers you would want. Would you want to fly, have X-Ray vision, super strength, invisibility, etc.. I always wanted to either fly or be invisible. It really is true what they say about be careful what you wish for because you just might get your wish. I think it’s nice to think about being invisible but it’s completely different to actually be invisible to the ones you love or worse have an invisible injury. My severe traumatic brain injury and PTSD are invisible to the naked eye which is a blessing and a curse. I’m beyond grateful that I was able to recover to looking “normal” to others but it is a curse because at times it feels I have to prove that I do struggle daily and I did sustain a life altering injury.

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Sometimes it is easier for family and friends to act as if everything is normal than to educate themselves on what life is like for me now with the injuries they can’t see, the unknown is scary and only those who really love and care for you will make the effort to understand your “new” normal. Trust me my injury is real, this isn’t something I made up. Only by the grace of God am I here today. If I wouldn’t have kept my bike helmet on to drive to the lake then my head would have been completely smashed. Even with my helmet on I almost died five times and my brain suffered severe damage. I now have a severe traumatic brain injury and diffuse axonal injury. From the few seconds I remember the day of my wreck and my memories from ICU, Trauma unit, almost dying, and everything that happened after the wreck I have severe PTSD. With my brain injury and PTSD I notice every little sound, movement and mood change. I am very sensitive to sensory issues as well. I am photophobic, which is sensitivity to light. I have a hard time with sounds and movement. My eyes are constantly surveying any room I am in and following every movement. A person moves my eyes involuntarily go straight to that person and see if it is a threat. I have to always have my back to a wall and face or be able to see the exit of any restaurant. In the movie theater I have to sit at the top so no one is behind me and I can see if anything bad was to happen. Certain sounds don’t have as much of an effect on me but then there are others that will take me right back to the day of the wreck or to the days in my coma.

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These are all injuries that you can’t see but trust me if you could see the wounds on my heart and brain, I would be unrecognizable to the ones who know me.
When I think back over the past four years, I remember the pain, struggle and heartache. I remember feeling defeated, unlovable and worthless but today when I look in the mirror I finally see Kaylen. I see a woman who learned to wear her heartbreak and tragedies as armor. I am extremely proud of the woman who stares back at me in the mirror because I know what it took for her to put herself back together piece by piece. I see my inner strength, lessons learned, perseverance and the seed within me growing. I can now see a future for myself and for the first time I’m not terrified. Don’t get me wrong I’m still scared because it is a lot to comprehend and it overwhelms me but I have a future and I know my purpose.

Embracing the struggle:

If you are struggling with anything right now just remember most of the people in your life don’t realize the strength and courage it takes for you to get out of bed every morning, face the day and to continue whatever war you are fighting. Be proud of yourself because you are still here and you are still continuing your fight. Embrace your struggle and let it make you stronger. You were given this life because you are strong enough to live it. Repeat after me.. I am stronger than this challenge and I am tougher than whatever is trying to defeat me. This war isn’t over until I win. This too shall pass.

This isn’t the end; this is my beginning

“If I didn’t already know I would never believe that you were in such a horrible car wreck and that you suffer from a severe traumatic brain injury. You look fine.” I have heard comments like this more than once. I take it as a huge compliment since I have worked incredibly hard to get to this point. I had some pretty big obstacles that stood in my way, but I just tackled them one by one. And by Gods grace I came out on top.

Studying my “old” life:

I quickly learned that to get better I was going to have to fully dedicate myself to my recovery, so that’s what I did. Due to my brain injury, I have a hard time sleeping because my brain doesn’t know how to completely shut off and I struggle with night terrors from flashbacks. In the beginning this was very hard to deal with because night time is already so hard for me. But I had to make a choice, do I sulk in my misery or do I try to turn my lack of sleep into a positive? I chose the latter. Every night when I couldn’t sleep I would go through pictures, I would study faces and I would make chronological notes so I could hopefully regain some of my past memories that were lost. This was an exhausting process and it was quite defeating in the beginning because I couldn’t remember much, but then I got back on Facebook and I used it as a study tool. I would go through my friends and try to remember how I knew them and what I knew about them. I did this every night, I still do this but now it’s not at such an extreme extent because thanks to the chronological notes I took and studied over and over I have retrained my brain and regained some of my past memories.

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During my recovery I have suffered heartbreak and loss of loved ones but I always reminded myself to just breathe. In these moments of hardship I took deep breaths and told myself “your story isn’t over yet.” I thought of solutions for whatever problems I was dealing with at the time and I promised myself that I wouldn’t let my worry or grief control me. I would remain in control of my actions. I reminded myself everything I need is already within me. I held the power, I had control over my mind. I could choose to think positively about my situation or I could be negative. I chose positive. I had to give myself positive affirmations. I had to remind myself I am strong, nothing and no one is going to break me. I will emerge from these ashes that have tried to bury me.

Finding my way:

In the beginning I would grieve the girl I was before, the one I don’t remember and never met. I would long for the person I could’ve been, but one day it finally hit me. There was no other way for my story to go. This has been Gods plan for me all a long. There is no what if, should’ve or could’ve for me. It was always going to turn out like this because God needed me to go through my wreck and hardships so He could mold me into the woman I needed to become. This is why if I had the option to go back in time and make a different choice I would still choose to drive through the intersection. Although it took me almost dying five times, I was given the greatest gift on June 11. I was given new eyes and a new perspective for my life.

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My passion has always been psychology and pursuing it for the purpose of helping others. Now with what I have been through I can fulfill my passion by telling my story and speaking to others. Helping those who have suffered know that their struggles don’t define them. If they are willing to work for it they can come out of the pit of misery and relish in the light again. I’m still learning how to stand in the light because I stood for so long in the shadows but I’m growing more comfortable with it each day. For right now, I have had to put my goal of becoming a psychologist on hold but I believe that during this time of my life this is exactly what I am supposed to be doing to fulfill Gods purpose for me. With my new perspective on life I am eternally grateful. I am thankful for who I have become, and I am going to keep fighting for what I can be tomorrow. Life is full of give and take. Give thanks and take nothing for granted.

My constant endeavor

Healing comes in waves. Somedays it feels as though you are just beating yourself against the rocks but I have found out that’s ok, it’s still healing. My fear is that I will never be healed. I’ve come this far and I still have so much more to go. It’s an exhausting journey and one that feels as if it will never end. One of the hardest parts of my recovery is trying to recover while dealing with my PTSD. I swear I’m doing ok and I’m getting so much better. Then I don’t know what happens. Something goes wrong and I’m gasping for breath. I’m panicking and I can’t tell what’s real and what is a flashback. I don’t know when or how it happened but I’m losing my mind again. I think I’m missing a piece of myself so I slowly start to crumble. I awake from the terror and I’m left picking myself up off the floor. Once again piecing myself back together even though I know this will happen again because a piece of me is missing. A piece that I’m afraid I will never get back. Im having to learn to balance myself without it so I don’t fall apart anymore.

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I’ve become self conscious. Can everyone see the bags under my eyes? Do they notice my eyes constantly darting around the room awaiting for something bad to happen? Do they see the “monster” within me? Am I doing a good enough job appearing happy? Is my smile genuine or do I need to fix it? Can they see I’m struggling on the inside? I hate this. The constant questions that are always in the forefront of my mind. Just so it’s no longer a secret.. I’m struggling. I struggle every minute of everyday. But I am a fighter I will be alright.

Healing:

I know everything will heal eventually, it just takes a little time. My body will heal. My mind will heal as best it can. And my heart will heal. But for now I have to keep the wounds on my heart open. I have to dive into my wounds so I can understand my pain. I must be fearless in this process. I must feel the pain completely so that way these wounds will never surface again. I have to let the wounds on my heart air out until I finally understand the pain I am feeling. I’m learning to remain open so that I can feel lightness. I can’t shut out my light and I can not shut myself off to love. Once my wounds heal I know I will watch beauty pour into my open heart. My heart will be healed and beat even stronger than it did before. I will acquire new strength. My soul will repair itself and I will have gained new depth. I know my happiness will come back. Bad times don’t last forever. Always defend your right to heal at your own pace. You are allowed to take your time. Recovering takes time, and everyone heals at their own pace.

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I try to keep my facade up so people can only see my strength because my ultimate fear is if I am vulnerable and open up to anyone again I will be abandoned and left with nothing. I can’t take anymore hurt. I am holding myself together by shear will and with the strength God has provided me. Not many have bothered to hold me close and tell me it’s okay not to be fine. I have been told the exact opposite. “You scare people, you’re weird, you need to step up to the plate, stop being pathetic..etc” trust me I get it I am the unknown so it is extremely easy to now categorize me as a freak. That’s ok. After what I have been through and survived I will gladly wave my freak flag because guess what? I’m alive and I shouldn’t be.

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I take everyday head on. There is no other choice. I have breathed through my life up to this point as if I am walking across a battlefield trying to win the ultimate war. My one wish is that one day I will be able to live and not just survive. I want to finally cash in on my jackpot of getting a second chance at life and I want to live. I want to live a passionate and vibrant life. I just have to make it through the sludge of the moat before I can arrive to my final destination of the castle.

Conquering my misfortune

You took my identity and you tried to take my life. You took the simplest cognitive functions away from me and you stole my body. When I was broken down to nothing you tried to steal my soul. You killed a part of me and you demolished my dreams of the future. You injected confusion and self-doubt into my veins. You did this so seamlessly I began to believe the lies. You left me questioning my own sanity. I was left walking around aimlessly, like the walking dead. I am at war with my body and brain everyday. I now tiptoe through life trying to avoid the land mines of flashbacks and hateful memories. Every morning I try to wash off the residue of the day before so I can try to start over, but no matter how hard I scrub my skin the heavy words, memories, flashbacks and aching pain still remain. I’m starting to realize there is no reset button. I can not have a do over. This is it.

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My mental state has been shaken to its core over the past four years. Everyday has been filled with confusion. I have had to relearn this “new” world twice now. I thought I had found my silver lining and I thought I had my life figured out but then I had everything taken from me and all the lies I had once believed revealed as nothing more than empty promises. Once the truth was revealed I was left crumbling to the ground. I was left once again confused and lost trying to figure out my “new” world. Do you have any idea what it’s like to try to do “routine” or “normal” things that you used to do before but now you simply can’t? Do you know what it is like to not know who you are anymore when you look in the mirror? To think you have found your way out of the fire multiple times, only to be left consumed by the flames? Hopeless and devastated I stopped and took a hard look at myself. I saw a lost girl who was broken but then I thought of how far I have come and I saw my new strengths I have acquired during my recovery. It was in this moment I found my inner power, so I wiped away my tears and picked myself up. I stood tall, faced forward and continued on.

Some people fear the fire and some simply become it. I had no choice but to become the fire that was trying to engulf me. I had to change, I was left no other option. Im not mourning the loss of myself anymore. I’m only grieving the thought that I could one day rescue my old self. Im mourning the ignorance of that thought but also relishing in the fact that I could never rescue my old self, nor did I need to. The seed that was planted in me the day of my wreck, when I was broken down to nothing was starting to flourish, and I am starting to see the tiny branches grow. In the depths of my despair and heartbreak I found myself, my “new” self. The one who learned to rise from the ashes. The one who has put herself back together piece by piece. We all have hidden seeds inside of us we just have to find them and learn what they need from us so they can grow.

Never giving up:

Life is full of disappointments, failures and setbacks. But none of these things can permanently stop you. We all have the power to overcome anything life throws at us. Nothing is as powerful as a made up mind. Don’t give up or cave in, tell yourself you will get through whatever it is you are going through, then just do it. Never stop believing in yourself. Whatever war you are fighting right now isn’t over until you win. Repeat that to yourself everyday, I did and still do. I also have it written on the mirror in my bathroom, along with many other positive affirmations. It may look odd when guests come over but it is what I need to do for myself to remind me my story is far from over. I made up my mind that nothing will overcome me and the only thing that has the power to defeat me is myself. Don’t wait for everything to be perfect before you to start to live and enjoy your life, you could be waiting forever. Start enjoying your life today. Be grateful for every moment because you never know when you could take your last breath.

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The finest souls are the ones who have gulped pain but never made anyone else taste it. Instead, they walk through the flames of hell with buckets of water for those who are still consumed by the fire. At some point in time everything is going to go wrong in your life. When this time comes you can either accept what you are left with and learn to work with it.. Or you can give up. Never give up. Grab your bucket and learn to walk through the flames.

Pulling up by the bootstraps

It has taken some time but I finally learned to start wearing my injuries and heartbreak as armor instead of shackles or constraints, I am so glad I did or I wouldn’t be doing what I am today. I would’ve stayed stuck in the quicksand of pain and misery but instead I am telling my story and helping others learn and see that they can move forward, they don’t have to stay stuck. Four years ago I was talking with my occupational therapist about trays, bags and other accessories I could attach to my wheelchair and then eventually my walker. It is amazing to think back on what my “normal” used to be, and where doctors told me I was going to stay permanently. Even when all the cards were stacked against me I never gave up on myself. It is not in my nature to quit. I am somewhat of a perfectionist. I will not be satisfied with less than my best. When I am passionate about something or someone I will give all of myself. Thankfully I was passionate about my recovery and getting better. And I had the best therapists who didn’t give up on me, even after my blow ups.

Finding the missing pieces:

There have been many times over the past four years where it would have been much easier to succumb to my pain and to settle with where I was, instead of tackling the obstacles that stood before me. I may have had my identity, heart and brain ripped apart on June 11, 2012 and by the events that followed that horrific day but I never lost the pieces of me. They remained buried deep down in my soul. I just had to be patient with my recovery and with myself so I could find them again. I will always hold on tightly to the memories I still retain from being at Jim Thorpe where I was lost, scared, bloody, tired and trembling trying my very best to understand what was happening. Trying my best to find the lost pieces to put myself back together. But I was a fumbling mess. I didn’t even know my name. I didn’t even recognize myself in the mirror. But even when I thought I had gone as far as I could go and I had taken all the pain I could handle, I still took another step. I kept going and stayed around to fight for another day.

I had my rough days were I felt the same sentiment as Job.. “I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul. I say to God: Do not declare me guilty, but tell me what charges you have against me. Does it please you to oppress me, to spurn the work of your hands, while you smile on the plans of the wicked” But even when I was angry and confused about everything going on around me, I was never alone. God was always there holding my hand. He knows our frame and that we are all frail, feeble, and weak. It’s okay to question God and to not understand His path for you, as long as you don’t intend to stay stuck there. I surely didn’t understand. I was completely lost. But now I have seen His plan for me and I am continuing forward into the light.

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I had no idea why everything kept piling up against me even though I was giving all of myself to try to get better. During my times of despair when I didn’t think I had enough strength or understanding to go on, I reminded myself of Isaiah 12:2.. “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation” God was always there to show me where to find the strength I needed to continue my fight.

Pushing the reset button:

When your flesh and heart fail God will be there to pick you up and give you strength. I’ve always known this but now I know firsthand that He will not cause pain without allowing something to be born new. I have been through enough pain, physically and mentally, to last a lifetime time but I have been made new. I have been given new eyes. God used my severe traumatic brain injury to reset me and my life. He used my brain injury to put me on the path He has always intended for me to walk. He put me through many obstacles during my recovery as well as many obstacles of personal matters to show me what I deserve. He had to teach me some lessons the hard way because I am stubborn and hardheaded. I used to trust some with my life but I learned that some can’t be trusted. And that is perfectly ok because without going through my heartbreaks I wouldn’t have been molded into the woman I am today. I am very proud of her. She turned her cant’s into cans and always believed in herself.

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It’s times like these when I reflect back on my times in therapy or times when I couldn’t stop crying because the pain in my chest was too much, that I fully appreciate where I am today. To think back on the days when I couldn’t write, dress myself or brush my hair really gives me a new perspective on where I am today. Life has a way of testing us and our will to survive. It will have everything happen to us all at once or have nothing at all happen. In these moments it is up to us to take responsibility for ourselves and our future. Don’t forget you have the power. The battlefield of the mind is the toughest battle, our past may explain why we are suffering but we must not use it as an excuse to stay in bondage. Keep a positive attitude and the devil will soon give up once he sees you aren’t going to give in. Butterflies are proof that we can go through a great deal of darkness but still come out as something quite beautiful. Your flaws are perfect for the one that already loves you.

Happiness is a choice

There is always a final straw, but it’s never any worse than the thousands of straws that fell before it. They were all the same. You just finally learned what you were going to accept, what you deserve and how you weren’t going to settle for less than the best. Life will let you get away with somethings for awhile, but sooner or later, you will pay the price. Everything in life has a cause and effect. Everything you do causes the effects you experience. When you get your bill, be prepared to pay.

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There have been many times during my recovery where I have felt incredibly weak. I have felt like there was no purpose in continuing the fight, but one day I decided I was done settling. I wanted to be happy. I wanted to be heard, I wanted to be valued and I didn’t want to be taken for granted anymore. I finally realized people who couldn’t see the pain in my eyes and couldn’t hear the struggle in my voice would never truly understand my words. I learned how to be strong, brave and broken all at once.

Finding my happiness:

Happiness is a choice and it is something I have finally chosen. Nothing will make you happy if don’t choose to be happy. This wasn’t as easy as it sounds for me to choose. I first had to learn to accept myself, flaws and all. I have more scars and wounds than you will ever see because they are all in my head and heart. My severe traumatic brain injury and PTSD are both huge wounds that you can never see. My heart has wounds from my struggle to survive and from those I deeply loved who abandoned, betrayed, cheated and left me. So I built a cage around what was left of my heart so I wouldn’t be hurt again. I built up walls nobody could see over and I decided I was alone in this fight. But one day I realized this is not going to work. I need support. I deserve the pursuit of happiness. So I took down my walls and opened the cage. This is the greatest gift I ever gave to myself. You can’t deny yourself love and happiness just because you have been wronged. Everyone can say I love you or Im sorry but if they don’t have the actions to back up their words, their words mean nothing. Words are only words. You have to love yourself.

Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations. My road is starting to straighten up and I’m now walking towards the sunlight. We are all blind to the small things within us that make us brilliant and powerful. We are blind to our unique beauty. It is the smallest parts of us that give us our identity. I had lost my identity and I had lost sight of the small things within me that make me powerful. But I have rediscovered my power. I have relearned what makes me me. I have found my wit, intelligence, spirituality and compassion. I have finally found myself.

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Make a promise to yourself to be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind. Find the silver lining in everything and make your optimism come true. Let go of the pain from your past and move forward to the great things that await you. Give yourself the time to improve upon yourself and forget the criticism of others. Strength grows in the moments when you think you can’t go on. It grows in the moments when you have to wipe away your tears, stand up tall and still continue to move forward because you are not the victim of your story, you are the heroine.

Embracing the pain

Do not judge me for the chapter in my life you have walked in on. I have been on an endless roller coaster since June 11, 2012 and in that time I have gone through Death, Life, Love, Betrayal, Loss, and Grief all while trying to recover and get back to being a “normal” 23-27yr old woman again. I have had to fight and be fearless on my journey. I never gave up on myself or on the hope that I will get better. It takes EVERYTHING inside of me to give up hope on something or someone. But on my road to recovery I have learned some very hard but valuable lessons about love and life..
1. How someone treats you is how they feel about you.
2. Pay attention to when someone reacts with anger and hostility to your boundaries because there you have found where their respect ends for you.
3. Stay away from people who can’t take responsibility for their actions and who try to make you feel bad for being upset when they do you wrong.
4. And last but not least when someone gets defensive and can’t answer your question they are hiding MUCH more from you than just the truth.
These are just a few lessons I have learned the hard way.

Gaining new perspective:

When you are trying to recover from a severe traumatic brain injury you realize every moment is precious. It only takes one shattering event of significant magnitude to change your perspective on life. After such an event you might start to realize that you are precious because if you weren’t then why were you saved 5 different times from death. Once you realize your time is precious you have to try your best to not waste it on people, thoughts or activities that don’t benefit you in your recovery. You have to rule your mind or it will rule you. Remember you hold the power to your thoughts. While recovering I learned I had to remain in control of my mind. I had to fill my mind with positive thoughts of the future and where I wanted to be in five to ten years. Although it was hard for me to imagine my future, because I was in survival mode and I could only see what was right in front of me, I still tried. You already have enough on your plate while recovering from a severe traumatic brain injury, you don’t need anything else holding you back or being detrimental to your recovery. We are not given a good or bad life. We are given a life. We are only given one life so it is up to us to make the most of it. You have the power to make it good or bad.

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I’m proud of every decision I have made so far in my own recovery and trust me I have had to make some VERY hard/tough decisions. I have had to cut some loved ones out of my life because they weren’t there for me and I have had to change my priorities. Cutting people out of my life or giving up on them is something I am not accustomed to doing. Because once I love you and let down my guard for you there isn’t anything on the planet I wouldn’t do for you. I give everyone the benefit of the doubt and countless chances or do overs but sometimes I just have to stop and realize nothing is going to change. No matter how many big life altering promises they give me, I have had to realize they are all empty. It never meant anything. But because I love them, it took EVERYTHING left inside me to walk away and realize I deserve better love and friendship.

The internal pain:

I hold so much pain inside myself. I have learned to grasp my anger and loneliness and hold it tightly in my chest. I have to keep it locked away so my PTSD “monster” won’t use it to lash out at others to “protect” me. But this pain that I have been holding for four years has transformed me. It could have changed me into a hardened shell of my former self but instead I have used it to become more empathetic. I have channeled it to become a better version of myself. I have experienced physical and emotional pain firsthand so now I can spot it in someone else. This is one of the reasons why I am now telling my story. I want others to know they aren’t alone. My pain has also made me more grateful. I am grateful for every second of the day because it is a second that I shouldn’t have. It sounds crazy but I am grateful for all of my physical, mental and emotional pain because it is my daily reminder that life is precious.

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When it all becomes too much and my PTSD “monster” is on watch I shut off. Sometimes I need to leave the world behind and be alone with my thoughts. I have learned words aren’t always needed for finding myself. The clearest reflection is found when all sense of direction is lost, so I have left behind a past I have already learned my lessons from and left the maps that were a never ending circle of confusion. I am now coming back to life because I have seen my own reflection and I am proud of what I see. I see a beautifully broken woman who has gone to hell and back and who has put herself back together from nothing, piece by piece. I see a woman who risked her heart and had it shattered but has patched it back up and now stands much taller than before. I was born with my heart on my sleeve and a fire in my soul. In the beginning of recovery my fire was diminished to just a spark but it has gradually gotten bigger. Now it’s a wildfire ready to set ablaze anything I wish to conquer. I have the power within me to create, transform and nurture. I am not just a simple trickle of rain I am a hurricane.

Reclaiming my life

The hardest first step I ever took, figuratively and literally, was my first step after the wreck. Having to blindly trust my body and trust that my hip and pelvis could withhold my body weight. When I first started walking I had what was called “my man swag”. I trusted that I could walk but it was still pretty painful so I wouldn’t put all my weight on my leg. This sort of gave me a “man swag”. Just to clarify I didn’t name my walk like this my father and another gave it that name and were relentless with their hilarious harassment 😃 You don’t realize when you are a full functioning “normal” adult how tedious of a process it is to relearn to walk. I mean my gosh just put one foot in front of the other right? Wrong.

Learning to walk:

I was relearning the process to walk with my body but I also had to get my brain on board and to keep up with the messages and signals it would give my body on what to do next. Gosh it was exhausting and it’s even harder trying to explain what it was like. The invisible battle in my mind is so frustrating during times like this because I am alone in it. I don’t know how to communicate about it very well or I simply can’t find the words in the blank space of my mind. One thing that has truly worked against me during my recovery is the fact that I am a hard headed strong individual. I will never let you see my struggle or me struggling. But I do struggle. I struggle everyday.

Thank goodness for my acting lessons and career when I was younger because I know how to act my way out of those awkward situations. The times when I will be in mid sentence and my brain will “fall” out of my head and I forget what I was talking about, I forget where I am and I can’t find any words to use. Only a very select few have seen me at my worst and seen my breakdowns. Only a few have seen the moments when I am broken down crying because I can’t find words to communicate and I want the flashbacks to stop. I have had to be very selective on who I let behind the curtain and who I can trust to see me at my worst. Generally it has turned out ok but I have been deeply hurt by some who got to look past the curtain to see the real me. This is hard for me to deal with and makes my PTSD worse. It’s extremely hard for me to understand how some people could see me at my worst and see me so vulnerable, yet they still have no problem hurting me. One day I will be able to make sense of it all but for now I trust no one and nothing.

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This is detrimental to my recovery because it is another set back. I have to allow myself to be vulnerable because if I don’t then I am not truly addressing my problems. If I keep up my “strong hard headed” persona (which yes I naturally am all of that) then I keep away the help and support I desperately need. This whole process of recovery has been VERY humbling. I have had to rely on others for the simplest things. I think one of my most memorable moments is being in rehab and being in the shower in my wheelchair and having to allow my physical therapist to bathe me. For anyone who knows me I am extremely modest so this was huge for me. But in that moment of my first shower I had to surrender because I had absolutely no idea what to do or what was going on. Truly humbling experience. My life and well being was in the hands of strangers. I just had to blindly trust they were going to take care of me.

What could you lay down?

Although these experiences were extremely embarrassing and traumatic for me it was in these moments of extreme vulnerability that I was changed forever. I was changed in the best possible way because I had to lay down my pride and put my trust in others and their humanity. What would you be willing to lay down? Could you lay down your pride and put your trust in someone else to take care of you? I have learned that if you keep an open mind and you try your best to be as optimistic as you possibly can during your worst days, you will be able to get through anything. And what is even better than just getting through your worst days is that in your pit of hell you will be able to grow as a person. You will become stronger and you will gain new depths to your soul that otherwise you would have never been able to acquire.

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I have gained a new sense of power during my recovery. I have had to strongly do things even when I was scared. I have learned how to look fear in the eye and say “What’s next?” As long as there is a beat in my heart and breathe in my lungs I will never give up because I now know there is more out there for me. There are opportunities awaiting me that I thought were out of the question but guess what? They aren’t. As long as I stay out of my own way I can achieve what I want and I’ve decided to take back my life.