In my last post, Different Lenses, I wrote about my experience with cancer, from diagnosis to chemotherapy. I also briefly described my attitude that life is made up of all of our experiences, good and bad. In this post I will discuss brain injury, cancer, or any other issue in your life as not simply something to ‘put it in the past’ or not think about, but as a an integral part of your life story and to be understood as such.
I have previously brought up the statement, “Don’t let brain injury/cancer/whatever define you.” The thesis of this article is not not let brain injury/cancer/whatever define you. I know that’s a cumbersome sentence, but in an odd way it’s actually clear. It’s not that I think it’s a good idea to let brain injury (etc.) define you. It’s acknowledgement of the event, the profound influence it has had on your life, and a willingness to take in the whole of your life and to learn and grow from it. There are parts, big and small, of life that aren’t perfect, happy, or what you may think of as “good”, but it has helped me a lot to recognize that these things happened, and more than that, to know and accept that they are part of my life. Not ‘were part of my life’, ‘are part of my life’. I don’t ‘like’ my brain injury or cancer, but nor do I think they were ‘bad’ things that happened. I certainly don’t dismiss them or their importance, but my life is fuller by understanding and accepting that they are part of it.
Granted, it took a long time for me to get to this point of view, and emotions are rampant after a traumatic event, so this wasn’t some epiphany that came to me right after my coma. It has been many years in the making. In fact, it was likely my stubbornness after my brain injury that allowed me the opportunity to walk again, return to my master’s program, and to be more mentally and physically active. I remember when I was first admitted to inpatient rehabilitation in October 2003 I couldn’t walk, I had trouble with my left side, double vision, slurred speech. Nevertheless, I thought I’d be running by May. That didn’t happen. Hasn’t happened. However, at that point in my recovery I wasn’t looking for a mantra or guiding lesson. I was 23 and wanted to get back to life. I write about accepting and taking in our entire life, but that’s hypocritical. Right after my brain injury I didn’t want to accept anything, and I didn’t want people to look at me and see someone who needed help.
Fortunately, my cancer diagnosis wasn’t until 14 years later and by then I had time to do a lot of thinking. I was able to see how my father dealt with his cancer and, although my diagnosis wasn’t until two years after his death, I learned a lot about accepting help and knowing when it’s better to do something yourself, even if it’s tough. By my cancer diagnosis I was ready for what it meant – well, as ready as I could be not knowing how much chemo sucks.
I started yoga in 2016, had to take a long time off after my surgeries and chemo, but in the past few months, since my soon-to-be-ending chemo ‘holiday’ I’ve gotten back at it. My strength is down, my balance and double vision pose the same problems they always have, but I still find it to be very rewarding and challenging. In May or early June of 2017, I was gaining strength, balance, and flexibility. I was feeling more confident in many of the poses – although moving too quickly, especially my head, meant I got dizzy – and I was attempting more and more balance postures without a support (a wall or something to hold on to). Then cancer, surgery, and chemotherapy.
Now I need a support again. My strength is down. My swimming is slower too. That, however, is part of my life. It doesn’t mean I feel bad about it. I don’t beat myself up over it. I’m starting to feel my strength slowly returning, and with it, some more balance. Swimming is going better as well.
I’ll be going back on chemo. Maybe before the end of 2018, maybe in January. Either way, this holiday from chemotherapy won’t last forever, and once I’m back on I’ll be tired, I’ll get dizzy easier, and I won’t be able to go to as many yoga classes or swim as often.
That’s not ‘bad’, it’s just part of my life. It is something that’s going to happen. Or something else will happen. Either way…