The Continual, Newer, Everyday Version of You
Last year, I underwent surgery for a pacemaker and went from having a 35 heartbeat to a 65. If you want to know what this feels like, it feels like I am a new person. I feel like I have a second chance at life. Will 2.0. Actually, it’s more like Will 3.0, or I mean, 4.0- wait, more like 5.0.
I should probably explain a few things.
I have had to adjust to a new me for a long-time. I was seventeen, driving home from work, when my 95 Honda Accord was involved in a head-on collision with a Suburban. They don’t know whether I crossed the line, they crossed the line, or we both did, but the accident resulted in a collapsed lung, ruptured spleen, and a traumatic brain injury. My wounds were so severe I was put in a coma. Sounds a bit rehearsed, right?
I have given this exact speech ever since my accident to justify the new me. See, my mother told me that the grief of someone with a traumatic brain injury is grieving the loss of who they used to be.
For me, I used to be an AP student, president of the drama club, Model UN award winner, playwright, and someone who, at the very least, felt a sufficient amount of forward momentum. That was me before, before the injury, before I was familiar with the stuttered steps of a post-accident limp. Yes, I have grown leaps and bounds. Before the limp, the cane, and before that, the walker, and before that, oh before that, there was the bane of my existence, the wheelchair.
I used to be at the top of the world, but at this point, I felt under it.
After suffering a brain injury, there is grief, and it looks and feels like grief. It follows the same shape and rhythm, but you can’t call it grief out loud, or, at least, you can’t.
You’re too busy going through the stages.
First, there’s denial. This injury isn’t going to stop me. I am going to get back to where I was before. I am going to walk. I am going to recover. I am going to retake the SAT.
See, that’s where I was supposed to be the day after my accident. Having worked with a math tutor all summer, I was feeling good. I was going to retake the SAT, get my math score up to go to Wake Forest.
Denial is easy. It’s not like the steps that follow after. You just tell yourself that what is isn’t, and people lie to themselves all the time. The diet is really going to work this time. I do deserve this promotion. I am not that talkative; they don’t know what they’re talking about (Truth is, yes. I am that talkative).
Denial is a synch. I am going to get better. This brain injury is like a cold; you get over it. After enough therapy, I am going to back to normal and good-as-new. Finishing high-school was hard, but I graduated, didn’t I?
I’ve got this.
Denial is easy.
Anger is harder. The anger is the frustration at yourself. The anger is the frustration at your circumstances. Why can’t I just seem to remember this reading? Everyone tells me to have fun at college, but I can’t do that and have good grades. Why can’t I just do my work faster? Why do I have to take so long on every little thing? Why can’t I walk better? Why do I have to feel like the awkward guy in every single conversation?
They tell me that an injury means I heal. WHY CAN’T I HEAL!?
They aren’t stages; you can’t stay there. You jump back to denial. Just to keep going, you have to believe you aren’t different. One day, you will be your smart self again.
But then, you’re still the college freshman waking up at four every morning. So, what if I do these exercises? Yeah, the therapists and your trainer gave you exercises. Just do those. What if I ask God every day? What if I read my bible and pray really long and good? God, what do I need to do? Is there something I can do?
And there is nothing you can do. You can wait, because healing will come. Like grief over loss, healing will come, but that healing takes far longer than you have time for in this moment, and you want God to just give you a little taste, a sip, just to keep going.
Yes, you are healing, but, it sure looks like that cup that is supposed to overfloweth is empty, and then, depression sits in.
Is this just who I am? Am I simply a tragedy case?
Accident’s only good story he’s got, Mr. One Hit Wonder.
And you don’t want it, but it hangs over you, haunts you, and you don’t even care. Or, at least you tell that to yourself, as you wrap your disappointments and what you think are dashed hopes around you as protection from actually dealing with this.
Then, not all at once, not like a ton of bricks, not like the lighting from heaven, but with the slow, diligent progress of a tree growing or a baby developing, you find acceptance.
This is me. Yes, I have a brain injury, and it has shaped me into who I am today.
I can persevere, and I am stronger for it.
But, funny enough, I am still healing. I am still changing, and every day, I need to accept the me of today.
I must move on from the me of yesterday, stop placing all the hope on the me of tomorrow, and accept and love the me of today.
Brain injury or not, this is the daily battle of us all.
I am not who I was. I am not yet who I will be.
Today, I am.
And that, importantly, is good enough.
Will Carter is a native of Roswell, Georgia. He suffered a traumatic brain injury in October of 2007, while he was a senior in high school. After a stay at the Shepherd Center, he went on to get his Master of Fine Arts in Playwriting & Master of Arts in Teaching. Now, he lives in Roswell with his wife and daughter and teaches at Kennesaw State University. His work has been published in Brain Injury Hope Magazine, The Purpled Nail, Uncomfortable Revolution, and His View from Home. He loves his job, sharing his story with his students, and encouraging them on to live their lives to the fullest.