Feb. 2, 2016
Dearest TBI Loved Ones,
I sit here tonight and think back to 28 years ago. I was crying myself to sleep after sitting all day in the ER and ICU with my husband Bill following a car accident. I had no idea how my life had just changed. I had no idea what was ahead and how very difficult it would be. I only knew that my true love was in danger of dying, and I could not rest because of that fact. I wonder now, looking back, how in the world I survived that time. I wonder how it is that I sit here 28 years later; still married to this man I fell in love with all those years ago.
I can tell you that the heartache continues on long after the injury has “healed” and that all the stages along the way are stepping stones of hope that things will get better. A hope that never seems to pan out. I know the pain of verbal assault, and the feeling that somehow I am always to blame for everything. I understand the feeling that I carry the whole load on my own. I am aware that mental fatigue is a reason for just about everything that doesn’t get done. I know what the death of our dreams feels like, and I know the grief of letting them go. I understand the longing for things to be “normal” or to go back to the way things used to be, while realizing that that just isn’t possible. We are not who we were, and we never will be. And while this all sounds rather hopeless, I know that it isn’t. Not really.
My husband came back so much farther than any doctor ever predicted. Was it a long road? Yes…very long. Is he who he was before? No…he is not. But then neither am I. We are new people and we have a new life. I found that the sooner I let go of our old life the better things were. Before that, I found resentment a constant companion, and bitterness a willing mistress.
I dropped the physiatrist who gave me the statistics for marriages after TBI. I didn’t want to hear that 100%-divorce-rate negativity. You see I was 23 and quite stubborn…or maybe naïve…or idealistic…not sure which. My plan was to fix it all. I figured if I just tried hard enough everything would work out…happily ever after and all that. You know, just as I do, that “everything working out” isn’t how it goes in TBI land. Yet, I had the ability to hold on and endure the beginning stages of being married to a 5 year old with a temper. Then to re-teach him skills so he could work when he made it to adolescence. He learned some coping strategies that allowed him to adjust in social situations. Eventually he made it back to adulthood and the working world, though there has been a lot of job hopping. He leaned on me for everything. Truly. It was beyond exhausting. Add four kids into the mix and it made for some very interesting times.
I wish I could tell you what made the difference for us so that you could find this place of peace for your own journey. I can’t. Every story is so very different. Every painful ripping of the heart is its own unique wound. Each family has to deal with a myriad of issues some due to the injury, some due to family relationships, some due to pre-accident patterns. What I can tell you is that you are worthy of health…mental and physical. That you are in need of care too. (Caregivers are usually the last to get care because we make everyone else a priority.) That you are incredibly strong…stronger than you know. That you are doing the best you can…and that is enough. That you cannot carry the world on your shoulders…you have to have help. That you are not invisible. You are not incompetent. You are not alone. There are many of us out here.
I wish I could say that faith in God will get you through, but I don’t know if that is true for you. I can tell you that it was a lifesaver for me. When I was in the deepest darkest places, God carried me. When I was overwhelmed, he was my peace. When I was carrying the weight of life, he lifted it for me. Looking back, as I do every year on this day, I can see the starts and stops, the beginnings and endings that got us to where we are today. I believe Jesus played a huge role in all of that for us. Yet, I know others who have diligently prayed and whose circumstances haven’t changed. I know many who lost their loved ones to death or permanent disability. I do not dare to presume that I have something over any one of them. Each of us has our own walk, with our own decisions to make. Hard decisions. Decisions that no one can make for you, and no one can understand if they are not in your shoes.
On this 28th anniversary I just want to acknowledge that TBI doesn’t have to kill you. It doesn’t have to destroy everything good in your life. I am proof. There is hope that a life that is beautiful can be built from the ashes. Over time, with lots of self care, outside help from a support system, and working together to make things better it can be done. The residual symptoms can fade…not away…but into the background. The new life can be a sweet and beautiful thing.