by Linda W. Arms
Since my brain injury I have become rather sensitive to healthy people complaining about being bored, not knowing what to do and are just “killing time”. I’ve also become a bit impatient with those who have reached “senior citizen” status or are close to it and have decided to step down from living a full, active life. Many of these people are very healthy and able-bodied and could do so much if they only chose to. On the other hand, there are so many of us who have had an illness or injury where our options of doing anything are severely limited. We struggle to get better. We struggle to do the things we did before. We struggle to do things like other people. We are happy when we can do a simple thing without too many problems, even stirring a bowl of instant mashed potatoes!
There are people living with SEVERE handicaps and illnesses who appreciate the moments they are given and find joy in little things. Killing time cannot be in your vocabulary whether you are healthy or struggling with an illness or injury. Stopping activities or not living a fuller life because the age we have reached is giving up on living. These are things no one should be doing, whatever your situation. Those of us who have challenges and obstacles due to injury or disease need to keep looking for moments to enjoy life and participate in as many activities we can that bring us good feelings. There are so many things out there to do or be involved in, even if its from a chair.
I recently read an article, “The 9 Essential Habits of Mentally Strong People” by Carolyn Gregoire, that appeared in The Huffington Post. It describes habits and practices that help you get through challenges or hardships, and says that the obstacles we face is life itself. The article tells about Jane Lotter who wrote her own obituary and left some advice to her family that said, “May you always remember that obstacles in the path are not obstacles, the ARE the path.”
I am fortunate that my brain injury was not as devastating as those of some other people I have met. It has also been 8 years since my accident during which I worked hard to get better. I tried doing things I did before and continued to do many of them even though it was very difficult. Today I am much better but I keep looking for new goals to increase my level of improvement. I want to live life. I want colorful, rich experiences. In my journey back from the despairing first years after my injury, I feel I have reached the mainland of living where I can participate more fully.
I don’t want to sit back and stop doing new things, learning new things because I am in my later 50’s like some of my acquaintances. I don’t want to have spent 8 years working hard to get better after my brain injury just to sit down and watch the world go by. I don’t want to kill time and I absolutely hate it when I hear other people who say that. How sad! Just think of the poor victims of the recent bombing in Boston or the shooting at the Aurora movie theater. They lost their lives. Their time is “killed”. I’m sure they would like to have had the opportunity to trade places with some of the living that are “just killing time”.
A couple of summers ago I participated in a week-long camp for people with brain injuries. I was a volunteer acting as a buddy to a camper who had a much worse brain injury than I did. My buddy was injured decades ago at around the age of 19. He was in a serious car accident that occurred because something in the car malfunctioned. He was in a coma for several months. Today he lives with a caretaker but he participates in life by going to camps and has other activities he enjoys. He has terrible memory problems and many other cognitive problems. BUT HE LIVES LIFE with a smile. He is not bored. He has a great sense of humor and outlook on life. He does everything he can do with the cognitive capacity that he has.
Another camper I met who was truly an inspiration was a young man close to 40 who received his brain injury when he was a toddler. He was in a coma for 2 years. Nearly 40 years later, he is still in a wheel chair, he cannot speak, his motor skills are very, very poor. He has to be fed or have food cut up for him. He is always dependent on someone for everything. When I first heard about him coming to the camp and then actually met him, I thought, oh my God! How do you interact with someone who is so severely handicapped. I felt so bad for him. But do you know what; he had so much joy in his beautiful eyes and in his face when he participated in all the camp activities. He loved music. He loved interacting with everyone. He often interacted using a computer that spoke for him. His joy in these activities lit up his face. He often had a smile on his face and laughter in his eyes. He and I connected in the last couple days of the camp and I thought he was truly an inspiration to living a full life with whatever obstacles life has given you.
So my point is – no matter where you are at with your brain injury – keep going. Live life, enjoy life, try new things and don’t just sit around “killing time”. Don’t give up on life. Be happy you’re alive. Be happy you have options in living a fulfilling life and finding joy even if you have limitations.