Battle For My Old Self
I’m recovering from a brain injury. But there’s more to me than that.
I tuck myself into bed, around 7 pm each night, before the sun sets, before even the neighbor’s children who I hear screeching like galahs on their oversized, in-ground trampoline beyond the back fence.
It’s summer time in Australia. Long, balmy evenings were once a time for catching up for late evening swims and BBQ’s with friends. This night, like the 729 preceding it, I spend alone in the granny flat behind my parent’s house. It is my quiet, restful sanctuary.
Next week will mark the second year since my brain injury. The first anniversary was spent bed-ridden, in a dementia-like blur of memory loss and fatigue. This time around calls for a greater remembrance to the person who has emerged from the battle.
I fight for my life. Through treatments, rehabilitation and doctor’s appointments, I pushed, pulled, screamed, often red in tooth and claw, hoping to catch a glimpse of my old, un-injured self. I collapsed into bed each night, a weariness in both heart and body, wondering if I’d wake by morning.
The battle continues. The closer I edged toward the Sarah of my past, the more elusive she became. Always a fingertip out of reach, she visited me in my semi-lucid state; the typical broken sleep of a brain injured patient. Ghost-like, familiar, an old friend, and yet, she was a complete stranger.
When I look in the mirror, I see a body prostrated by chronic illness, in servitude to the enemy, an injured brain. My eyes, now cautious, anticipating pain, unrecognizable and deeper, marking a traveller who’s been beyond the veil and lacks the words to describe what she saw.
A realization dawned that the Sarah I wished to return to was gone. I would never again walk in her shoes. The once bright beacon of my recovery, no longer existed.
The victory was here; not how I envisioned. The eyes that looked back at me, with a new fragility, told a tale of a heart softened by vulnerability. There was a period in the hospital when I needed help dressing and showering. I was spoon-fed my meals. Humbled prematurely by an event I didn’t expect to experience until my 80’s, at least.
I learned to receive help. I learned to surrender to the support offered by family, friends and health professionals. As my brain heals with each passing day, I become a new version of me. Ironically, everything I had to do to survive and return to myself takes me further away from her.
To celebrate this year’s anniversary, I honored the courage it took to hold on (and hold out) for healing to come. And when it came, like a tiny trickle, at first unnoticeable, undetected, until it built up and flowed like a strong river.
For the year ahead, I hope I continue to allow myself to change with life’s chapters, expanding me with each new battlefield. At the same time, I hope I resist the pull to return to my old self and embody what’s waiting to take me forward into the future. I hope I remember what I was willing to change about myself in order to survive. I hope I leave the bitterness and heartbreak behind, embracing the joy that lies ahead. Only time will tell.
Meanwhile, the night begins to fall. A Sydney southerly blows away the warm summer night. I wrap myself in blankets. In the required solitude of healing, I celebrate another year quietly and gently. I fall back on my pillows, into the trances of the old me: a faint outline now filled with the new me. Cocooned in a safety net of compassion, I rest.
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