The Loneliness Of A Brain Injury
An article that Sonya sent me from the New York Times, about brain injuries and the effects they have on relationships, got me thinking about things that I have blocked out of my mind. For years after my injury, I felt lonely and isolated.
The first year, I stayed in bed for days on end, unable to talk to anyone about what was going on for me. I couldn’t tell anyone at the time, but I was despondent about my lack of memories, about my inability to do many of the things that I could do before my surgery, and about my general malaise. There was a sense that something was wrong, I just didn’t know what to do about it. I listened to Sonya, to my neuropsychologist, to my occupational therapist. I kept hoping that things would improve, that memories would return, that my energy would come back, that I would feel like laughing (or at least smiling) again. It was like trying to wake up from a really deep sleep, only it seemed like I couldn’t “wake up” for a couple of years.
If you’d asked me how I was doing during that time I would have told you that “I’m fine” I didn’t know what was going on inside me, and I had no way to explain it. I was waiting for things to feel right again, or if not right, then at least better. And eventually, things DID get better. I started to be able to do some things around the house, some cleaning, some shopping. I even made a dinner one night for Sonya and I. And then I started working with people again as a healer, and I found that even though I couldn’t explain to patients what was going on for them, my hands could work without me even knowing exactly what they were doing…and people were getting better!
This is not to say that the feelings of loneliness were gone. I remember shortly after returning to Seattle, I finally got up the courage to call up one of my former employees, a great guy that I had socialized with prior to my diagnosis. He was happy to hear from me and we made plans to go out kayaking one Saturday afternoon. When I got there, however, I soon realized that my communication skills as well as my physical prowess wasn’t up to where I though it was. I fumbled a “hello” & “how are you doing” — the only words that came out of my mouth during an agonizing hour that we spent together. My post surgery body couldn’t even lift me out of the kayak after twenty minutes of paddling We had to ground the kayak on the shore (much to his chagrin) before I was able to disembark. I felt embarrassed and weak and useless all over again…and I wasn’t able to tell him why. I didn’t even tell Sonya for several weeks what I had felt while I was there.
The friend never returned my call to him a few weeks later to try and reconnect. I have realized that not everyone that I knew in my former life wants to be around a cancer survivor or brain-injured person. That’s been a stressful thought that through The School for The Work I’ve been able to resolve as just what is (something I’ll talk more about in a future post). I continue to improve a little at a time, month by month, in fits and spurts with some relapses into my periods of solitude. I still have periods when I feel isolated and I am incredibly grateful for my life. I have been given the time and opportunity be a part of all life has to offer.
Photo of Richard at Beach, 2010, by Sonya Lea