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What Happened to Me – Brain Injury and Rehabilitation

Seeking the Gift  – (Bliss after a Brain Injury?)

by Linda W. Arms, dated November 4, 2014

For several years after my brain injury I felt a certain sense of peace and contentment.   Did any of you experience a similar thing?   I know brain injuries are all so different and I know it seems odd, but I feel there was a gift that came with the injury.   My brain could not handle much more than getting me through the day while in my home doing less than 5% of the things I used to do in my life.    Even though I was in a fog and knew I was just a small piece of my former self, I enjoyed a sense of bliss.

Prior to the accident I had a career, I had a social life, I had many interests.    My life was full of activity and I could never have enough to do.   I was very driven and always wanted perfection in what I did and the people around me.    It was difficult for me to relax.   I was doing yoga for several years up until the accident and it helped me find some calmness.   I read all sorts of self-help books to learn how to be more mindful and content but nothing worked.   Until I got hit on the head, that is.

I was turned “off” when the trauma occurred.    A door shut on what my life was.   My world shrank to a tiny portion of what it was.   My mind could only deal with things in the moment and only simple things.   I struggled to get through each day and often slept up to 14 hours a day.

I could only focus on a very small piece of what was before me.   Since my brain was no longer cluttered with a million other thoughts, I saw the world very simply.   My mind was often empty with no thoughts.   I learned to connect to the quietness and nurturing of nature.   I could let the beauty of what I was seeing or feeling into my relatively empty brain and really experience it.  I was living in the moment.   I did not worry.   I did not get angry (or display many other emotions).    I was at peace (sort of).

I watched butterflies, stared at flowers, felt the breeze, smelled the soil in my garden.   I enjoyed very simple things.   I saw and experienced many things most people around us are not capable of in our busy world.   I watched the blur of activity of other people racing around in their lives and I thought “they are not really living”.    They do not see our world.   I could not see or feel our world before my accident.   Although, in rare times, I stopped for a split second and saw the glimpse of a beautiful flower,  it was a fleeting, shallow experience.   As a result of the brain injury, I can sit and enjoy the sky, the birds or flowers or just feel myself exist and feel connected to the world around me.

It’s been almost 9 years since my brain injury and I am so much better.   My mind is now very active and I’m getting back to the many interests I had.   My peace and contentment have faded.   The bliss is usually not there.   But now, since the brain injury, I know what that peace and contentment feels like.   If I concentrate I can feel it for moments but it takes work.   I have to look for that gift of bliss.   I have to work on it.   I certainly know I  don’t want to lose it.   So now I’m back reading those self-help books and using other resources to help me keep the gift going.

I know my brain injury was a terrible thing for me and my family but I also found a silver lining that I will hold on to for the future and am grateful for.   Have any of you discovered a gift as a result of your injury?    Or maybe a new talent?

With peace….

 

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Happy “New Year”

by Linda W. Arms, dated Jan. 15, 2014

Today is the 8 year anniversary of my brain injury.    I know many of you have the date of your event noted as a “special day”.    I understand that many military veterans injured in our recent wars, refer to it as “Alive Day”.    From some of you, I’ve heard it referred to as your re-birthday, or new birthday.   Some of you mourn and wear black.   Recently, Gabriella Giffords, shot in the head a few years ago and who lives with brain injury, went sky diving on the anniversary of her injury to celebrate life.   Her Facebook message on that day sounds familiar to so many of us with a brain injury, whatever its cause.    She wrote:  “I’ve overcome a lot.   Progress has come from working hard.   Today, I grieve, I remember, and I take another step.”

And that is where I am at today.   Ironically and without having planned this, I am staying a few days with my husband in the small Colorado ski town I was visiting at the time of my accident.    I have avoided this area for the last 8 years and have slowly made peace with returning.   We decided yesterday, at the spur of the moment to come up here, forgetting about my anniversary.   I was a little spooked once I remembered I would be up here in this same place on my “special” day but I decided I had to face it.    In fact, this morning, I returned to the mountain and just looked up the hill where “The Accident” occurred.    The morning was very much the same.    There was that fresh layer of snow that had that special, beautiful sparkle caused by the morning sun reflecting off the individual snowflakes.    I remembered that often after the accident and now I saw it again on the same day, around the same time.   I wanted to cry, I felt sad and still do but I will not dwell on this.    I have chosen to move forward and make the best of things as I’ve done for the last 8 years.    It is the best thing to do.    It is what it is and cannot be undone…  

“A bridge of silver wings stretches from the dead ashes of an unforgiving nightmare to the jeweled vision of a life started anew.”  –Aberjhani, The River of Winged Dreams

“Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing the monkey bars.   You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.”  –C.S. Lewis

“We acquire the strengths of that which we have overcome.”  –Ralph Waldo Emerson

I particularly like something that Lt. Brad Snyder had to say in an NBC news article a couple of years ago.   He said, “Choice – that word means a lot here.   Choice puts everything on a level playing field.   Each of us faces a plethora of daily choices – when to get up, what to eat for breakfast, what to say to your family before leaving for work.   You can choose to be positive.   Or you can choose to be a victim.   You can choose to move forward with grace.   Or you can choose to succumb to negativity.”

So as you begin your new year of 2014 and whenever the anniversary of your brain injury event arrives, remember that we have to move onward and be the best we can be.   It is often difficult.    We will have setbacks.   But as we all look back to where we came from since our injury, most of us can see that we are better.    The journey we’ve had has made us stronger in many ways.   I know when I look back and all I’ve been through, I realize how strong I’ve been.   I don’t want to forget that.    I want to remind myself about how far I’ve come.    Recognizing this strength helps me as I face new challenges in life.  

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.   These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern.   Beautiful people do no just happen.”  — Elisabeth Kuebler-Ross

Happy “New Year” and now I will go out to enjoy the beautiful Colorado mountains by walking (or maybe snowshoeing) through the woods, enjoying life and continuing my journey to get even better.

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TBI – Now I “Get It”

by Linda W. Arms

Seven years ago today I was fine.   I felt I had reached a new peak personally, professionally, physically and mentally.   I was having a wonderful time with my daughter on a long weekend to ski and enjoy the mountains.   Little did I know my life would change drastically the following morning.   Every plan I had for the future ended.   I became one of the estimated 1.7 million people in the U.S. who sustain a TBI annually.      I did not know what a brain injury could do to a person.   I could not easily accept some of what I heard from someone who had a brain injury several years before.   I did not “get it” like so many people around us.    Now I understand.   A brain injury changes your life, it affects the people around you.   Many of us carry this invisible injury with us forever.   Now I want everyone to understand TBI and understand the importance of brain care.

After my brain injury in 2006, my husband and I looked for answers on how to recover from a brain injury.    There was not a lot of good information about TBI and treatment options.     As we looked for answers, even among my medical providers, we realized that TBI treatment and recovery was a challenge.    Recently I decided it was time to share what I learned and have created a web site to promote awareness of brain injury, provide resources to those living with TBI and to educate about good brain health.    This growing project is also a step in my recovery to participate in the world more fully and make a contribution.

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The Kitty Bites!

Years 1 – 3, after the accident, I rarely went to stores and barely survived the shopping experience.   Years 4 – 5, shopping was less painful but I  realized I couldn’t interact with the clerks or others when they spoke to me about other things.   Year 6, my goal was to start saying something to the clerk and others while I was checking out or doing other shopping.   Just today, in year 7,  I discovered I’ve become quite assertive!   I spoke up when I felt I wasn’t being treated well as a customer.    I think I might have been a bit too blunt.   I guess the kitty bites!

The Year I Ran Away From Christmas

by Linda W. Arms, dated Dec. 20, 2012

Six years ago, in 2006,  I could not face Christmas at home as I did in my past.   In January of that year I had the accident that caused my TBI.   By December of that year, I had not made much progress in my recovery.   I could not face the Christmas decorations and products that I saw in stores already in October.   I would get tears in my eyes.   The difficulties I had just in being in a store became even worse because of the emotions that my brain was having to deal with.   I was OVERWHELMED  by the thought of putting up a tree, buying presents and doing any of the things I normally did in the past, including always having a big holiday get together  at my home.   I just couldn’t face it.   It just was not possible to be who I was before.   So I, my husband and daughter, ran away.

We went to a place I used to live growing up and that I have many fond memories of.  We went to Germany where Christmas is still celebrated in a much quieter style.   We stayed in a small village.   We bought a tiny tree about 12 inches tall with a few decorations already on it.    We enjoyed some very low-key events in this village that did not allow cars on many of its streets.   I could face Christmas here.   I did not have to try to be the person of my adult past.   I took many naps.  I could not count the money to pay for things.  I could not sort out many things I used to know about being there.  I leaned on my family.   Even with all these things in my way, it is still a wonderful memory that I have of this special time when we ran away from Christmas .   Today, six years later, Christmas is still much, much simpler compared to “before the accident” but I don’t feel I have to run away.   I am getting better in small doses.  I hope all of you are finding yourself better than last year. Have a Merry Christmas!

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The Accident

The Accident

On January 15, 2006, my daughter and I were spending the Martin Luther King weekend in the mountains to ski and enjoy ourselves.   We decided to go to the ski area early so we’d be there close to when the lifts opened.  We planned to leave mid-day so we could rest up and go out for a nice dinner and not be too tired.

At around 9:30am, my daughter and I got on the ski lift with a man riding along with us.  There were 3 of us on the quad chair.  I sat to the far left, my daughter sat near the middle and the man sat on the far right.   We were getting close to the top of the lift and something hit my head.  It was a very hard hit and it felt like the top of my head was taken off because it felt like whatever hit me slid across the top of my head.  Also, when I was hit, my teeth were hit together several times as if whatever hit me vibrated on my head several times.  I did not know what hit me at the time.    The next thing I remember was lying on my back, my skis were off and my daughter was next to me looking very closely in my eyes.

I felt very cold and it felt like liquids were moving in my head (nose, face, around in my head).  My head hurt very badly.  It felt like it was burning and I thought it was bleeding.   I felt sick to my stomach but never vomited.  My daughter kept looking in my eyes and saying “Mom, stay with me”.  I think I just wanted to close my eyes.     I was very scared because I wasn’t really sure what happened and what condition I was in.    I actually thought I was going to die.  I cried because I was in pain and very scared.  I still did not know what happened.

What’s Wrong with Mina Kitty?

Mina Kitty looks fine when you see her but after spending a few days with her you’ll start noticing that she’ll often seem weaker and off balance in the evenings.  She’s slower to get up out of the chair after spending a long meal talking to others, or slower getting out of the car and starting to walk after driving or being the passenger in a car.   Sometimes she’ll tip to the right side when just standing there or walking.   Those are just the small physical things you might see.

Mina Kitty’s biggest problem, however, is how her cognitive functions are working in her brain.  These are the things that control your speaking, understanding spoken and written words, seeing, memory, analyzing,  doing math,  handling emotions, noise, stress, illness…..      Your brain and how it works is the essence of who you are.   Once it becomes injured it can change many things about you.  Injuries can result in subtle little changes or in absolutely devastating, extremely disabling changes.

Whether you are a victim, caring family member, medical provider or you’re just interested in the story, I hope you come away with a greater awareness and understanding about this disability.

Who is Mina Kitty?

This story is written from my heart.  My brain is broken.  This is the story of a journey with an injured brain.

Who is Mina Kitty?   That’s a good question, one I’m working on.   My age is 56, but Mina Kitty came into being on January 15, 2006.   How can this be, you ask?    It’s because of the invisible injury over 5 million Americans live with after a traumatic brain injury.     I never expected anything like this to happen to me but it did and it changed my life – forever.

Disturbing Chaos

Early after my injury, I knew I was lost in the world.    I slept a lot, my world became very, very simple — all I could do was stare at the wall with no thoughts.    My life’s purpose and interests no longer existed.     I had to figure out how to exist and go on with my MILD traumatic brain injury.   This injury that caused the person I was to be gone.    I became Mina Kitty, a new life entity.   My purpose and interests in life stopped.  I had to learn how to just exist in the world around me.    The world around was chaotic and disturbing.   Motions, sounds, emotions, sights, concepts, music, birds singing, water splashing, music, things moving, family expressing, art displaying, opinion sharing, and so many other things became a very big burden.   Life became very difficult in many ways.