Having a brain injury means that in the blink of an eye, your life is irrevocably changed. You can almost pinpoint the exact moment in time when your life completely changed. The moment when your old life stopped. The moment after which you had to discover what your abilities now are. Where your limits lie and how you have to shape your life. After all, all aspects of your life will be affected, from your social life to your career to how you can relax.
Letting go of what’s familiar, of your old life, is incredibly hard. For me, it felt like I was left with a pale comparison of my old life. As I could do far less. This resulted in feelings of loss, of grief, especially in my first year. In different moments or periods the feeling of gratefulness, for being alive and being able to walk and think, where overshadowed by the realisation that I had to let go of my old life and my plans for the future.
Just like other life changing events, these feelings don’t simply disappear. You learn to live with them and find a way to cope. But circumstances or significant dates can be a stark reminder of what you’ve lost. Resulting in feelings of sadness, anger or frustration and having to struggle to find a way to deal with it. To find your balance once again.
In recent days I as starkly reminded of this.
Flashback to my former life
Normally I have a positive attitude. I know that I have a lot to be grateful for and a feel confident that I can get further by taking small steps forward. But my feelings of optimism and confidence, were replaced by feeling the loss my old life again.
It started with an appointment that could have taken place in my former life. For (just) two hours is was being surrounded with the same people and doing similar work in familiar surroundings. It was almost like a flashback.
Adrenaline and enthusiasm made me feel fine in those two hours. So it felt like everything was going well and it seemed like nothing had changed in the intervening years.
Realizing what had changed
The truth of the matter is, of course, that I had changed. And once I was home again, I started to feel what those two hours had cost me. I was completely empty. I’d spent all my energy and couldn’t do anything anymore. Even thinking was too much. My thoughts slowly disappeared into the background. Focussing my attention on anything was like trudging up a cliff face. And slowly I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness.
Sadness in the realization that I no longer was the old me. If, in these past four years, I ever thought I could pick up my old life again, these two hours just proved the complete opposite. I had to acknowledge again, that my life was changed. That I no longer can do certain things just like that.
Despite all the progress that I’ve made in the past weeks, months and years, I found myself grieving for my lost self once more.
Could I have prevented or maybe expected this? Perhaps, who knows. I’ve had nightmares about that meeting in the preceding days. So perhaps my subconscious was trying to warn me. I just thought that I needed to prepare my notes better and practise what I wanted to say. I hadn’t counted on getting such a wake-up call. On having to look into the mirror and to acknowledge –again- how my brain injury had changed my life.
In the following days, everyday life distracted me (luckily) well enough and I could still laugh and make jokes. But in moments of solitude, I still felt the loss.
Fortunately, the sharpness of these feelings, decreases as more time passes. Writing this all down has already been quite cathartic and has helped me processing my feelings.
Hopefully sooner rather than later, I can relinquish these feelings of loss. And get to that point again where I can focus of my possibilities rather than my limitations. Where I no longer compare myself to the old me, but can see how far I’ve come. Where I can fill my days with feelings of optimism and confidence.
Until then I will be kind to myself, acknowledge how I feel and take comfort in the belief that things will get better. Tomorrow is a new day.
I hope that reading this hasn’t bummed you out. Have you also experienced these sudden realizations of what you’ve lost? In order to have a slightly positive end, a cute cat picture awaits 🙂