Photo-A-Day Challenge for August 9 "I" - I am struggling.



I hit my head July 22nd on a child-sized porta-potty at the St. Joe Pickle Festival (which makes an awesome story, by the way; I was the talk of the hospital).  That was 19 days ago.  I've now been diagnosed with Post Concussion Syndrome/Traumatic Brain Injury.  They say it could last a few months, a year, or possibly permanently.

What does that mean for me?

I am unable to take care of my kids.  In the first few days after it happened, I got lost driving in my own small town.  I put naked food into the oven without using a pan and then burned myself by reaching in an hour later to get it out without oven mitts.  I crashed my car into stationary objects and then sat in the driver's seat and laughed hysterically, scaring my children.

I was taken to the emergency room in the middle of the night a week after I hit my head because my daughters ran outside to tell the neighbors Mommy needed help.  Jeremy had been traveling before, during, and after my bump, so he had never witnessed any of my symptoms.  I don't recall telling him about them, either.  I wasn't really communicating well.  My brain had stopped complete thoughts and sentences by that time.  In fact, it's only been this week that I've begun communicating again, and look at me now!  An entire post full of complex sentences and correctly spelled words.  (Hopefully.)  We won't mention how long it has taken to get it all written and spelled right.  At least I can do my own editing now!  Today is turning into a good day.  This morning was rough though.

I joked with my mom that I have Numbers Tourette's.  At the hospital they kept asking me what my birthday was, and numbers just bubbled out of my mouth every time.  Once I remember saying, "7-7-7-7-7-7-12!"  I had heard myself stuck on seven, and in trying to force the sevens to stop coming out, I popped out a twelve.  Who knows where that came from!  I still get words mixed up, or completely lose all my thoughts and am unable to speak entirely.  That last is extra annoying when it happens in the middle of a conversation with someone.  Other times I have so many thoughts that they overwhelm me, and I can't remember how to get them to come out of my mouth.  I had been crying whenever that happened, but I'm learning to just sit quietly or go somewhere to be alone so I can focus on just one thought.  Once I have it, I can come back out and push a few of those words out of my mouth.  Thankfully, my mom and Jeremy and I have played enough Taboo and Password and Finish Lines over the years that they can usually guess what I'm trying to communicate.  See?  Playing games as a family pays off!  I also get syllables inside words mixed up like forbe instead of before that auto-correct turns into Forbes.  :-)  But I came up with a pun last night!  It popped into my head out of nowhere, so I assume something in my head had been secretly mulling it over since the idea was planted a day before.  That's encouraging.

Then there are discouraging times.  I am unable to dress myself.  Picking out clothes stresses my brain too much.  Too many decisions.  And then figuring out how to put them on is overwhelming.  So Jeremy dresses me.  My mom cooks for me.  My kids help me color.  I struggle to pick out the colors, but I can stay in the lines if they tell me what color to use.  It's all very humiliating for a girl who likes to think I'm good at taking care of people and planning situations.  Well, not any more.

Involuntary processes have been affected as well.  My heart is out of rhythm.  Sometimes I'm gasping for breath even though I'm not low on oxygen.  My chest aches and my entire body feels "off."  That's the worst one, I guess.  The others are just annoying.  I am unable to fall asleep.  My brain seems to be on high alert at all times.  It knows something bad happened, and I pretend it is standing guard to keep something bad from happening again.  I can't seem to convince it that it's safe to sleep.  I am also unable to regulate my body temperature.  My internal heater thinks I'm cold, so it ramps up my body temp until I'm boiling.  Then a little later it thinks I'm hot, so it kindly goes into overdrive attempting to cool me off.  Seriously annoying.  I feel perpetually sunburned.

During the day, my emotions are usually even keel and upbeat with a few exceptions, but at night things change for me.  The lights in the house go out and the people in the house sleep peacefully.  I lie (lay?) in my bed -- trying.   I close my eyes.  I stay still in the dark.  My body heats and cools and heats and cools ad nauseam.  My heart pounds.  My brain has zero thoughts or 50 million thoughts all at once.  I gasp for air.  I try to find a comfortable position.  A couple nights while roaming the house, I found my cell phone that has been confiscated, and my non-processing brain automatically picked it up and started texting people.  This annoys my poor husband and mother who have been charged with Keeping Melissa Safe.  I'm not very good at Safe.

One night I opened my eyes and I saw light gray skies through my curtains, so I stumbled outside in my pajamas.  Oh, that's another thing.  My balance is off as well.  I thought I could take a walk to calm my brain, but that didn't turn out very well.  I sneaked out the back door since the front door squeaks, and I didn't want to disturb anyone else who was capable of sleep.  I couldn't walk east because the rising sun hurt my eyes, so I walked south.  But the road ends pretty quickly into a farm field south of us, so I didn't get a good long walk in like I had hoped, and - surprise to me - I am not very good at walking any more.  One more thing to cross off my list of calming mechanisms available to me.  (I can't take a bath or shower without help either because I can't determine if the water temperature is safe.)  In disappointment at my own inabilities, I returned home.  But the front door was locked, and I couldn't figure out how to get back inside.  After some confusion, I eventually curled up on my front porch with my back to the sun.  And that's where Jeremy found me a few hours later.  VeeVee was crying and screaming, "Mommy!" in terror.  Not a happy ending.

They made me promise not to leave the house at night, but I HATE being cooped up inside all the time.  I spend most of my days on the front or back porches now, and sometimes people take me for slow, discouraging walks.  I like to be free in my mind and my movement, and neither are free right now.  I feel so bound up.  The other night at 3:04 in the morning, the full, silvery moon beckoned me from my bed, and I stood at the back patio door, my forehead leaning against the cool, smooth glass.  My hands fingered the latch; my heart longed to float outside in the moonlight, in the peaceful stillness of the quiet night, watching the mist lying across the top of the pond like a lover.  Instead, I remembered my promise, and I stood there staring.  It was 4:37 when I looked at the clock again and decided I should quit standing there.  That's the longest I've stood unassisted since my injury, so I suppose that should be an encouragement, but it didn't feel so.

Who am I?

- I am a wife who cannot dress herself.  My man makes me laugh by picking out lingerie for me to wear and teasing me that maybe he'll just not pick out anything this morning since he enjoys the view too much.  (I should be grateful for his silliness and patience and kindness to me, and I am.)
- I am a mother of young children who are better at babysitting me than I am of them.  (I should be grateful that my children are capable of babysitting me.  I guess I've done my job well.  I just didn't expect it to end so soon.)
- I am a grown woman who needs her mother to cook and clean and keep house.  (I should be grateful for family members who care enough to stop their lives and enter mine and for a wonderful relationship with my mom, and I am.)
- I am a friend who sometimes cannot understand what is being said in conversations, who usually cannot express all that I am thinking and feeling, who frequently cannot contribute to the laughter and humor even though I am enjoying it all.  (I should be grateful for amazing friends who still like me and value being around me and sitting on unusually quiet phone calls with me, and I am.)
- I am a member of several planning committees and teaching teams who has nothing of value to contribute any more and who cannot even attend meetings or fulfill my obligations.  (I should be grateful for their flexibility and understanding of my situation, and I am.)

All of that genuine gratefulness doesn't cover up the fact that I am grieving who I used to be, and figuring out who I am now.  Even though I understand that most of these - possibly all of these - symptoms are temporary, it doesn't make this current waiting time easier, and it doesn't change the fact that I'm grieving and asking God to show me how to cope with my changed circumstances.  I still want to be a person who glorifies and praises God.  Because He is still very, very Good.  Circumstances cannot change His character, and I choose not to allow circumstances to change my character either, except for the better.  But change is always a painful process.  Yesterday, Liberty cuddled up next to me and quietly said, "I miss you, Momma."  "I miss me, too, honey," I smiled at her and squeezed her tightly against me.


Except, a thought strikes me just now:  who I am is not summed up in what I can do or what I can offer.  When I was a newborn, I was still me.

So who am I?

- I am God's creation.  Damaged, yes, but still His.  And still valuable because He values me.  Hmmm