But you look Great!
Brain injuries; you can’t put a cast on it.
April 6th, 2014. I DO look great! I’m 30 years old, I’m a wife, a mother, a highly-motivated super human. I have 2 (maybe 3) jobs, I can multitask like a beast, and I have never felt better with where I am in life. People tell me all the time “Carissa! You look GREAT!” I worked hard to feel this great, thank you!
April 7th, 2014 my SUV was smashed by another at highway speeds. My physical injuries included a broken elbow, broken thumb, hand laceration & skull laceration. Prescription: surgeries, stitches, casts, slings, physical therapy & pills. I was “lucky,” I looked “great!”
I could see them huddled in the corner whispering to each other, one of them would look at me and turn back to the team to whisper some more. I was laying (butt naked) on the gurney, bright lights blinding me, my body hurt in 2,873 places and I was freezing. Finally the one that pulled the short straw sulked over to me and said “We have some bad news, with the laceration on your head,” which was being held shut with the weight of my head so I couldn’t move, “there’s a possibility that we will have to shave part of your head.” I laughed, have you noticed my haircut?! It’s half-shaved already! The short-straw laughed back in relief, “Don’t worry, you’ll look great!” Damn my head hurts.
A week later I was attempting to write (left-handed) a grocery list for my new Slave (aka: husband)
The headaches came next. With headaches came a new referral, a Neurologist. And a new injury: a traumatic brain injury with concussion. According to WebMD I’m obviously now a vegetable, nobody will know whats wrong with me & there’s really no cure. Everything I experience could, or could not be, related to this injury. Thanks.
This is how I figured out that people prefer physical injuries, both on themselves and on others. We like a clear “diagnosis”, we like a clear “cure or prescription”, we like to know when we’re “back to normal”. These 3 things are nearly impossible with a brain injury. What you’re told is to “try to do things as normal and hopefully you’ll feel normal again.” What they don’t really tell you is that there’s a new normal.
The term ‘New Normal’ really doesn’t sit well with someone whose brain would like very clear steps & directions. New Normal means relearn everything you thought was normal and the new way is now: Normal.
I want to talk about the things my family, my friends and strangers don’t always see me struggling with. They ask how I’m doing and no matter what I say, they respond with… “But you look great!” Thanks, I finally learned how to get ready in the morning.
Prescription: Stick to a Routine
This is key, says everyone. Well, for the first 6 weeks I only had 1 arm. My routine included trying to pull my pants back up one-handed, learning to eat left-handed without shoving the food into the side of my face, and trying to stay awake all day (highly medicated) without watching “too much” TV or reading (not allowed with a brain injury.) So much for a routine.
When I got my arm back, is when some new struggles emerged. I had to learn how to get ready in the morning. Yup, I’m 30 years old with a 3 year old and I can’t manage to get ready in the morning anymore. I’d forget deodorant. I’d leave shampoo in my hair. I’d leave the house wearing slippers. This wasn’t me. But was this the new me?
A routine doesn’t really feel like one when it’s limited by work restrictions, physical limitations and a daily headache that puts you in bed at any given moment.
Prescription: Try to get back to Normal Life
Let’s look at the Wednesday before my accident to get a peek at my normal life.
4:05am Alarm & Breakfast
4:30am Opening Shift Supervisor at local coffee shop. I make a killer latte- 4 at a time.
12:00 Stop by BeWise Organics, I just accepted a Sales position with them! Make some phone calls, send some emails, go visit some potential accounts
4:00 Take my favorite human to swimming lessons; my 3 year old son EJ.
6:00pm Dinner. I love cooking, and EJ loves assisting me! Dinner finally puts us all in 1 place.
7:00pm EJ hopefully cleans up, we read some books & get him to bed.
8:00pm Laundry, answer some emails, edit photos (oh, I didn’t mention my own photography business?)
10:00pm BED, alarm is set for 4:05am, remember?
As of March 2015, 11 months post-smash, I’m restricted to “no more than 4 hours of work/day, no repetitive movements, no high-paced environments.”
My New Normal:
4:05am I can’t be at the coffee shop. It’s too busy. The loud noises give me a headache. Multitasking stops me dead in my tracks. Turning around too fast makes me dizzy. I can’t open a gallon of milk (I SAID IT!) I can’t imagine being here for 10 minutes, let alone 4 hours. Oh, I forgot, I was let go August 11th, 2014 because of my limitations.
8:00am Getting ready in the morning. At month 9 I finally figured this one out. I emptied my bathroom of every single thing I didn’t use on a daily basis. Now I, hopefully, don’t get distracted and only apply makeup to half my face or forget to dry off before attempting to get dressed. ugh.
12:00pm BeWise Organics. Yes, it took me almost 4 hours to get my butt in gear and get on with me day. I’m a 100% commission-based contractor. I haven’t gained many accounts being part-time but it’s getting there! I managed to relearn all of the products and even learned how to say Cetyl Hydroxyethylcellulose! Over the winter I wasn’t able to drive to accounts if it was snowing (vertigo) but now that’s it nicer out I have more opportunities, for “up to 4 hours a day.”
4:00pm Swimming lessons. it took me 10 months to be able to look at the pool without wanting to barf. I can’t lean over in there or I tip over.
6:00pm Uphill Battle (aka: Dinner) Without a recipe, this is exactly like my morning routine. I’d make spaghetti and realize that I didn’t make any spaghetti noodles. I get half way through making something and give up for lack of interest or rise in frustration. I forget to buy half the ingredients. Don't even get me started on grocery stores! Slave usually takes over & let’s me rest.
8:00pm Ej is finally in bed, thanks to Slave! I’m probably still crying over failing at dinner. My photography business has become less “fun & creative” than it used to be. I can’t spend more than 20-30 minutes on the computer editing before I get a headache. Creativity isn’t at the top of the list of personality traits for someone with a brain injury.
2:00am I can’t sleep, I’ve tried everything (except TV or reading, remember?) There’s no alarm set, EJ will be asking for breakfast by 7am.
I don’t see “Normal Life ” on the near horizon. If this is it, I want a mulligan.
Prescription: Try a Psychologist for the PTSD
I was seeing a great psychologist who got me driving on my own again. We had just started talking through some other struggles when my insurance plan maxed out & would no longer pay for therapy.
Prescription: Keep a Log
Here’s what it includes (exactly)
Brain injuries are injuries. They hurt. They need to heal. They affect your life. They affect everyone around you. They don’t have a cast. Their stitches don’t ever come out. There isn’t always a scar to remind people what you’re dealing with. They’re just as, if not more, life-changing as a physical & visible injury.