Somewhere between being struck by a car and the ambulance ride to the hospital, I seem to have lost my life and who I was. The past 4 ½ years have been dedicated to putting me back together – unlike a bookcase from IKEA after its assembled, there are no extra parts – but missing pieces.
My Story ... It all starts somewhere
On October 28, 2006, my day started out like most Saturdays; wake –up, chat on phone with friends, plan the day. The day would go something like this; run some errands, early afternoon meet Elsa for coffee at Timothy’s Cafe, [then home to relax and change into my favorite designer jeans, new pale pink cashmere sweater set, accessorized with tan leather and suede patch work Steve Madden boots, tan Cole Han handbag and a stylish white check pea coat] followed by late-afternoon meet with Janice for a quick girl’s catch up at Sassafraza in Yorkville, before heading to my friend Rogner's for dinner, to celebrate a mutual friend’s birthday.
The day went pretty much as planned. I made it to Rogner's sort of…
As I attempted to open my eyes, the light was blinding … I didn’t recognize my surroundings. Was I dreaming? I tried to focus … “she’s awake” I heard someone say– then a flurry of questions from all directions. My head, my body felt like it had gone through a meat grinder. Where was I? “you have been in a terrible accident, you are going to be ok” I heard a voice, a familiar voice, my sister – what was she doing here and where was I? What accident?
Over the next few days, I would learn, I had been struck by a car while crossing the street to Rogner’s house; that I had suffered serious life threatening internal injuries; had multiple broken bones; my right elbow was destroyed; sustained a brain injury; had received over 54 units of blood, been given a trial drug- had not been expected to live; the list of injuries went on and on; and that it was the end of November.
The next few months would become a blur as I went through various rehabilitation processes. I had to learn to speak, eat, walk and my head (thoughts) was not cooperating – it was difficult to recall things and usually what I wanted to say was not what came out of my mouth.
Returning to my home, it felt strange like I no longer belonged there. The person in the mirror was a stranger to me. My voice had lost its pitch, clothes did not fit, I had to depend on others for most of my basic needs – showering, dressing, eating and sometimes using the facilities. A whole new team of people was hired to provide on-going care and the rehabilitation I required.
The past couple of years I have underwent various surgeries – I now have an artificial right elbow to compliment the steel bars and screws in my right forearm.
In a blink of an eye, I went from a completely independent, physically fit, career- driven, adventurous, fashionista, social person to someone who was completely dependent on others, pajama wearing, with-drawn home body. There were some break through moments – when I thought I could beat this and I would push myself, only to be beaten by exhaustion, pain and frustration. As weeks turned to months and months turned to years, the pain and torment at the loss of me pre-accident did not lessen, at times it seemed even more painful than the physical pain I deal with every day.
I stand before you 4 ½ years post accident; wishing I had a magic wand that I could wave and make your life the way it was before it took that inconvenient detour, because that would mean that I would have my life back too!
What I do have is the ability to say I have been there, I’m still there and at times I still find myself grieving for a life I had lived and the me I was. I can also share with you things I have learned through this experience;
Contrary to myth, most disabilities are not apparent to the untrained eye – making a brain injury effectively known as an “invisible disability”.
A Brain Injury affects everyone differently. For me personally - In the beginning my speech was like that of a child and the words that were in my head usually were not the words that came out when I spoke. It continues to be very frustrating to be aware of a deficiency in my speech –pitch, vocabulary, speaking style – and not be able to correct it- It does not matter that others may not realize this, I realize it. The energy that it takes to focus, concentrate and try to communicate effectively is most of the times overwhelming; leaving me exhausted and frustrated.
Loud areas, multiple people conversing, and excessive background noise make it nearly impossible to remain composed. My head starts spinning like an out of balance machine, on spin cycle with no off button. I have to remove myself from these situations ~ something that took me a long time to realize - these were triggers for other things.
Sometimes I push myself to participate in social activities – like when we went to watch a Raptor game - Mr. G was so excited to have Platinum tickets and was so looking forward to taking me. Not wanting to disappoint him, I agreed to attend. As soon as we entered the ACC – the excitement from the fans in the concession areas started to overpower me, I had to retreat to our seats and remove myself from the area, leaving Mr. G in the jersey shop. During the game, the cheering and booing from the fans and the activity of the game kept me on pins and needles. I managed to get through the game and seeing Mr. G happy that we had shared this moment together, was worth the anxiety I felt inside and next two days of bed rest.
My attention span is at times is very limited, and I am easily distracted. This became more apparent of a problem when Mr. G started finding pots at the “boiled dry” state on the stove; while me without a care or thought was chatting on the phone; or outside with one of our doggies. Now, I only use the stove when someone is around. Uggg …. More loss of independence. Being easily distracted, means that it takes me more effort, energy to stay focused. It also affects many areas of life such as needing someone (usually Mr. G.) to remind me about simple everyday things like eating, grooming and at times choices in dressing.
For anyone who has an invisible disability life becomes even more challenging, as people often do not give you the help you need. Like the seat on crowed public transit; the help you need in a fitting room; making sure you remember to eat; feed the family pet; make sure you don’t over exert yourself; offer to accompany you shopping; or just offer to come over to sit and keep you company.
Then there is the added anxiety: the seats on public transit that are for disabled or elderly are a wonderful idea, but if someone who looks ‘normal’ sits in them they worry in case an obviously disabled person gets on the bus/subway.
Even though they have a Legal Accessible parking permit – parking in an Accessible parking spot and the reaction some people give them can be just as painful as the reason why use of such a spot is required.
Just because you see someone at the grocery store pushing a cart, don't assume that they're not being truthful about being disabled. For all you really know, after making a short trip to the store, they may be flat on their back when they get home, and in a considerable amount of discomfort.
Or just because someone is having a “good day” and has managed to dress themselves stylishly – don’t assume they’re really not injured – Fashionistas are not exempt from Brain Injuries or physical challenges. You can’t “see” the disability of a person who has depression, anxiety, fibromyalgia or migraines - an invisible disability cannot be seen, but it does exist!
I may not be ready to climb back on my heels like I use to, but to move forward I must find the strength to close the chapter of my pre-accident life and embrace the process of creating a new life. By sharing my struggles, and triumphs, I hope to inspire anyone who is going through a life changing experience to keep going, to not give up (myself included). For those who live with or know someone who is going through a life changing experience, I hope to give you some insight into the world of the Invisible Challenges they face trying to accept what has happened to them, create a new life; discovering the person they are now or the body they now have; and most important learning to live again.
Read Celia's blog at http://attitudeivlife.blogspot.com/