Living With Brain Injury – Part III: The Isolation Challenge

Isolating yourself from the world is an all too common occurrence among those who live with brain injuries, myself included.

For those who know me from a distance, this acknowledgement on my part may surprise them. I give speeches and facilitate workshops and seminars and so forth, but other than that, getting out of the house and into the world around me is no easy task, and, in the world of brain injury, I have a lot of company.

There are reasons I have three dogs and a vegetable garden. They all get me outside and once I am outside, away from home, and engaged in a task of some kind, I’m fine and enjoying myself. I love wonderful conversations and bookstores. I hope, for example, that heaven itself is a book store and there I will find an endless supply of books not published  on earth written by Dickens, Tolstoy and Steinbeck and others. I love the sound of laughter, especially the sound of a baby giggling; I’m not sure there is a sound anymore heartwarming than that.

But it is breaking the isolation barrier and getting out of the house in the first place that can be the “Mount Everest” challenge.

When I work with others – and on myself – the are some basic Life Growth tenets I teach. Life Growth is a life-management philosophy and protocol that gives back to the person their individuality and identifies the challenge – not the person – as the opponent. For example, I am not my brain injury. I have a relationship with it and I am the one who deserves to be guiding my life, not the injury. It is the same with isolation. It is not who I am, none of us who struggle with it have our character and worth defined or diminished by it. But, like in any relationship, we do have some say.

The very first step for those who face the isolation challenge is to accept that the challenge is real. It seems to me that any hope of gaining freedom from this or any challenge slips from our grasp if we don’t accept the reality of the challenge in the first place. I would not be celebrating seven years of sobriety this month if I did not accept that I deal with the disease of alcoholism. I would not be able to write these words to you if I did not accept my eyesight was getting bad and, as a result, got me some glasses that let me see the damned words in the first place. (Are you smiling? I hope so. There is no reason for sadness as we discuss this. Isn’t it kind of nice that we get to connect with each other like this, through words, isolation or no isolation?)

The emotional equation goes like this: You have to accept it in order to manage it and you have to manage it in order to get free of it.

What those of us who know us should not do is judge us. We get trapped in isolation for a reason,  not because we are lazy or weak and need to simply snap out of it.

As to why the challenge of isolation is so prevalent for those of us with brain injuries, I’m not sure there is any one set answer, though there may be. Part of the answer for many of us, I think, is this. When you are traumatized with a brain injury, no matter the cause, your it can’t happen to me syndrome is gone. The task then becomes taking part in life knowing these things can happen, so it is no wonder so many of us hunker down in the perceived safety of our homes and stay there.

But then here’s the question, the key question in my book, if we surrender to the isolation, then the very trauma and presence of our injuries now robs us of taking part in life.

Let me ask you, who do you think deserves to be in charge of your ability to take part in life, you or the injury? I vote for you – and – by the way – for me too.

 

MY FATHER, MY EVEREST

A reporter asked me today to describe what it was that made my father so special. I didn’t know what to say. I knew there was no way I could put it into words. Much like a recent blog piece about the extraordinary look of a woman’s face being out of the reach of words, so it is when it comes to explaining what it was about my father that makes him the greatest gift life has ever given me.



Here is what I did say. Trying to describe my father would be like looking up at Mount Everest and trying to describe what I was seeing to someone over the phone. I wouldn’t stand a chance. I’d certainly give it my best shot with words like majestic, magnificent, magical, breathtaking. I could keep adding words too, but never would the person on the other end of the phone understand what it was like to see Mount Everest in person.



My father was as accepting and loving as a human being can be. Never did I have to be anyone but me to be loved. I did not have to live up to something, or achieve some high standard somewhere in order to be fully loved and accepted. When I was 15 and he died at age 55, my ability to feel safe being me in the world died with him.



The difficulty feeling safe in the world was no doubt compounded by the fact my mother placed me in reform school 16 weeks later on a PINS (Person in Need of Supervision) petition. In those days PINS petitions were often a matter of the family saying to the court, we don’t want the child, you take him. Children are heard a bit more today then they were in 1969.



I never fully regained the ability to feel safe being me in the world until I got sober more than six years ago. My father is my Everest. He is a constant reminder that real love between two people is possible in the world. And as you probably already know, it’s just as impossible to put real love into words as it is putting Everest into words or, for me, my father into words. But they are all real, and you will know it if you see it, or feel it.



Just keep your eyes and your hearts open. After all, everyone deserves an Everest or two.

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