(Editor’s note: Writer and stroke survivor, Isaac Peterson, penned a beautiful personal essay about navigating through these unprecedented times with a traumatic brain injury. Please read on (you’ll be glad you did). Thank you, Isaac. KT).
Reality has become seriously unreal lately. I hope I don’t have to explain what I mean.
Right now most of us are in the same boat, hunkered down without a get out of the house free card.
We’re all learning new things and new perspectives. A few months ago pretty much no one would have known what things like flatten the curve or shelter in place were about, but now we hear them dozens of times every day. Protective masks aren’t far off from becoming fashion accessories.
On the other hand, this new unreality is providing a perfect opportunity for laying around binge-watching favorite shows, getting caught up with knitting, working in the garden, or like me, reading. I don’t have to shave every day, at least. But I am constantly reminded that daytime TV hasn’t gotten any better.
Usually my traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a bit of a nuisance, to put it mildly; but I think some perspectives I’ve gained since my brain injury are helping me, and will help me make it through the current dark times.
I think learning to cope with the aftermath of a massive stroke and resultant TBI is giving me some useful survival skills. I made it through a potentially fatal stroke and I’m determined to make it through these times intact. Those were dark days, too, but I managed to navigate my way through, and I will this time, too.
First, I learned that attitude is everything, and I think my new attitude will help me get through this. Everybody has a general attitude about life, and even now, I’m finding the attitudes and perspectives I’ve learned give me a bit of a leg up. I’m finding it helpful to remember that it really serves no useful purpose to fret over this, something over which I have no control. Not fretting or complaining or feeling sorry for myself frees up mental and emotional energy I think is better used on focusing on the things I need to do to get through this.
From having to learn to live with a TBI, I’ve got the perspective to know that in the grand scheme of things, even though this already feels like a long, drawn out ordeal, it won’t last forever. It’s kind of like being a child in school; while you’re going through it, it seems like it’s taking forever. But when you’re older you look back, and it seems like those long years were over in a flash. I hope one day this will all be like that. And besides, I had a TBI long before this, and I’ll still have a TBI long after it’s all over and done.
Overcoming the initial lack of confidence in myself and the anxiety I had after the stroke I experienced has been a huge help here and now. Re-learning to love myself makes it easy to enjoy my own company and spend some real quality time alone with myself. Having the feelings of loneliness and isolation right after TBI might have only been in my head, but it was real to me at the time; this time it’s for real.
I made it through that reality once and I’ll make it through it this time as well.
After this is all over, no doubt this world will be a different place, not just for me, but for everybody. I’ve viewed living through a stroke as an opportunity to reinvent myself, and living through this is another opportunity to keep that process going, with a renewed sense of purpose. There is no other choice.
Every day is a new day, with new challenges, but every day is also a gift. Every day can be whatever I make of it, and I’m determined to make each one a day worth living.
When the time comes, I will emerge from this cocoon like a beautiful butterfly. Of course, I’ll be a butterfly with a traumatic brain injury, but the important thing is I’m bound and determined to be a live butterfly.
That stroke turned out to be a stroke of luck.
Isaac Peterson grew up on an Air Force base near Cheyenne, Wyoming. After graduating from the University of Wyoming, he embarked on a career as an award-winning investigative journalist and as a semi-professional musician in the Twin Cities, the place he called home on and off for 35 years. He also doesn’t mind it at all if someone offers to pick up his restaurant tab. Peterson also welcomes reader comments. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.