Insulted for Being Slow and Picking Battles: Fire Walk With Me
I began walking daily; and even short walks down my street would get me winded almost instantaneously. My whole body was very weak, especially my lungs. What little lung capacity I had would vanish and soon the panting would begin. So then, I would focus on breathing in a controlled and steady meter, and continue on to a difficult but not impossible distance. Pushing through the uncomfortable nature of attempting things that were difficult was a tendency I showed in all of my therapies and exercises to regain abilities. There was an application for my phone that would record my rate of speed, distance, and would map my walks. The average speed for a healthy adult is approximately 3.5 mph, however, I had lived in New York for eight years, and a New York walk is much faster. Indeed, I was slow, and being slow for a New Yorker felt like some kind of an embarrassment. But progress was made and soon I was able to push on to a distance of approximately one mile and a half. As long as progress was being made, then I had the drive to continue my walks, and inch by inch, step by step, I would heal.
One day, while walking across a street in my neighborhood in Austin, a car came to make a left onto the road that I was crossing. Apparently my walking speed was unacceptably slow, because this guy yelled out of his window at me after I had crossed: “Could you walk a little slower, a**hole!?” I was so angry, and so powerless. I knew that there was nothing I could do. I wanted to yell at him, but it took far too much effort to even talk.
And so I found myself in a situation I did not feel comfortable or safe being in. How could I convey to this man in his car that I could not walk any faster? There is nothing that I dislike more than to be misunderstood, misrepresented, misinterpreted, and under/overestimated, however it seemed all four of these states were occurring at once. At that time period, when I was upset, I would erupt into a state of flailing arms and livid speech. The problem was that the words stuttering out of my mouth could not keep up with the thoughts and emotions: a particularly frustrating artifact from my injury. Thus, eventually I would get so mixed up, I would forget what I was going to say next because I was speaking too far behind my thoughts. This was not the time to be in a potentially dangerous situation with an upset driver. I was already in a confrontation, which is inherently uncomfortable, and I was definitely in the state where I had little control over my body when something upset me. It also was not much of a stretch to speculate that this guy might respond to my slow, panting, and upset voice with violence which I could definitely not defend or handle in my current state. I stared him down as he drove to his house and parked his car. He got out and stared right back at me and I got a good look at him, but my foggy mind didn’t feel the need to get the make and model of his car, nor would I recognize him… It’s probably better that way. I still had not cleared the fogginess after my brain injury, and I wasn’t moving fast enough for ME… So why would it be fast enough for an impatient, suburban dwelling a**hole (to use the same terms that he used) in a black SUV who REALLY wanted to get home to watch the football game and felt the need to pick a fight with me. I’m sure that saved him a lot of time.
I walked for many reasons, but the biggest reason for me was to be alone… To be independent. I had been entirely dependent and hadn’t been alone in months… Even for a minute. So it was nice to get away. I applaud my mom for letting me out of my bubble. I was still very fragile, and she knew it even if I didn’t. I didn’t quite grasp how much I had been injured yet.
I was entering a period of self realization towards a full awareness of my condition. I had been treating things as isolated nuisances from my injuries instead of holistically having a global understanding of my current state. It was like my life was a jigsaw puzzle that had been dismantled into individual pieces, shaken up, and dumped all over the floor. The pieces were there, but it wasn’t put together and the picture was gone. But I remembered what the picture looked like and would behave as if the puzzle was put together because my perception was that it was still constructed.
I didn’t fully understand how lucky I was. I felt like I had fallen off of my bike and I wanted to just brush myself off and get back on it and ride. All I seemed to know was that this injury was in the way of me doing what I wanted. IT was in the way. I was a victim of this damn brain injury and no one had confidence in my abilities which just pissed me off. I was like a teenager “give me the keys and let me go!” I was paranoid that my mom was holding me back because of her neurosis and not because I was actually in a rough state. I felt like she didn’t know what my abilities were. I didn’t have a fear for my life and safety like I should have. I didn’t feel as vulnerable as I was. It absolutely takes time to heal, but I wanted to be healed yesterday. “Of course I’ll get better” is what I would tell myself.
I was realizing that it was more than “this damn hand doesn’t let me play guitar” or “my balance won’t let me skateboard.”. I began to realize that “this damn hand” was a part of me. So it was just that “I can’t play guitar like I used to” or “I can’t skateboard because I have terrible balance.” My abilities were impaired and that was all that mattered. I was changed… I was still me, but I was a different me… Not necessarily a worse me, but a different me.
This is a simplistic description, but it’s useful in explaining the general functions of different parts of the brain and how those parts communicate with each other: The brain stem (primitive brain) receives alerting or traumatic stimuli which causes a response of one of the three Fs: fight, flight, or freeze. That information is then passed on to the limbic system which attaches emotion. Finally that information, with attached emotions, is sent to the right frontal cortex of the brain (neocortex or executive functioning brain). So the right brain contains all of the emotions, sensations and images (sensory input). Painters and sculptures translate this sensory input into their work. This is where any physical or emotional traumas can reside and result in PTSD. The PTSD patient doesn’t find relief until the trauma is transferred through the corpus collossum to the left brain, which controls the three Ls: logic, linearity, and language.
It amazes me that I’ve created new pathways in my corpus collossum which is where I was diagnosed with a Diffuse Axonal Injury. As a songwriter, I tended to write songs about traumatic topics… I guess this was and is to come to terms with them, accept them, and realize why I feel the way I feel when something brings me back to a traumatic memory… to make sense of it by transferring it through the corpus collossum. I guess this is why I’m writing this memoir about a traumatic brain injury that I experienced. I guess I am activating my corpus collossum and finding new pathways to bridge the right brain trauma to the left brain narrative. This is absolutely therapeutic to me and sharing it is my pleasure. Thank you all for reading.
I walked everyday in order to get away for a bit and be independent. While it was so uncomfortable to walk and talk, I had a choice to either compensate or power through to overcome.
Conversations were still very uncomfortable. It was better talking to friends, because I wanted to talk to them, so I got a pair of headphones for my cellphone and would continue through how uncomfortable it was physically. I would call my friends while I was on a walk in order to stay in touch with some people that I loved while relearning to walk and talk together. I would think about young children getting winded while trying to walk and talk at the same time. I would speak in a slow voice that would also gradually start to noticeably pant as I got winded.
I wouldn’t accept my ability to walk and talk being at their current strength and just deal with them being difficult by walking and talking as little as possible for the rest of my life. I had to get stronger.