More of Others, Less of Me

“I will make someone’s life better today.” This was a promise I made to myself a long time ago. But somewhere along the line, I forgot that promise.

I’m not sure when it happened. It may have been the brain injury, which turned me from a talkative and slightly-extroverted person into someone who thought only of herself, and didn’t, and sometimes couldn’t, communicate.

Maybe it was before that, when my life was about accumulating stuff I selfishly thought I needed. Using money just for me. Giving less to others, more to myself.

Or it could have been when my life was a flash of movement, shopping and errands, chore after chore after chore. Bumping into people without saying a word. Ignoring others, drowning out voices.

At some point, I forgot the rest of the world existed. I thought I was the only one who mattered. Self-centered. Selfish. Greedy me.

One day, in the middle of a grocery store, I was reminded what life was about, and that I was not the center of it. My reminder arrived in the form of a hunched-over elderly woman.

Her gray hair was tied in a neat little bun. Wrinkles encased her eyes like rings around a tree, each one so elegantly displayed. She was dressed in a dark linen dress, yellow and white flowers sprinkled throughout. She approached me slowly.

“I can’t find the flax. Do you know where it is?”

I wanted to tell her no, walk away, let her figure it out. I was busy with chores to do, and places to go. But when I looked in her eyes, soft, questioning, I nearly stopped breathing.

She was old, and alone. With the voice of a quiet angel, and if possible, a heart displayed on her face. Sweet. Kind. I realized then how long it had been since I’d really looked at someone.

I led her down the aisle, pulled the flax off the shelf, and set it in her cart. The truth was, I really wasn’t that busy. My chores were nearly done, and even if they hadn’t been, this life before me, this woman, was more important than me.

“Thank you,” she said, “I couldn’t have found it without you.”

I looked at her, a giant in a small frame, a woman who, in two minutes of my time, changed my life.

I may have helped her that day, but in reality, she helped me. She reminded me what life is. More of Others, Less of Me.

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Looking Back-How Fear Became My Friend

My gut twists with that kind of anticipation one gets when they know something horrible is about to happen. I breathe deeply and look at the calendar.

It is July 10, 2017, four days before the anniversary of my brain injury.

My inner clock reminds me of this day every year, just like it reminds me of my father’s death, and every major event I’ve ever encountered. It remembers without knowing.

A force clutches at my throat, so tight, I can barely breathe. I inhale the sticky summer air. Tremors crawl beneath my skin, a little earthquake inside me, invisible to others, more than real to me. It is the beginning of a small panic attack as I remember the reason I am in this state.

I live in fear of this day, a day I both remember and forget.

July 14, 2010:
Red, yellow, and green hot-air balloons danced across the summer sky, in a world as blue as the ocean, on a day as hot as hell. In the distance, the Cascades rose, showcasing frosting-glazed tips.

My husband and I sat in our car, waiting to turn into a tiny fruit stand. A screech sounded, a noise so powerful, it sucked the air from my lungs, and arched my back into one solid mass of muscle.

My world went black, a darkness so deep I can only imagine it akin to death. A moment when time was erased, and crushing metal and flinging brains were neither heard nor felt.

Within days, I lost the ability to read, write, speak, and comprehend. My world, my life, was stolen.

You know the rest of the story, or pieces of it, anyway. You know I survived. But it wasn’t easy, and I’m not completely better. Though I can once again read, write, and comprehend, and I can talk faster than a storm, I live with a residual that never goes away.

I live in a state of fear.

We all have fears, but when one has suffered a trauma, fears can sink beneath our skin, living in our veins as if they are blood themselves.

As I am reminded of my anniversary, fear tightens its grip around my chest, trying to steal my life. Fear is my ticking time bomb.

There is a funny thing about fear. It can stop us from pursuing life, or push us into it.

Fear once stopped me from living. Even before the accident, I was often afraid. I lived in a little cocoon that became my tiny world. I didn’t want to go on anything high, for fear for I might fall off. I didn’t like camping, for fear of bugs. Fear was my enemy. But one day, I had to make fear into my friend.

After the accident, I needed new doctors. Fear squeezed my hand and choked my neck as I sought out help. When I enrolled in writing classes, fear was the pit in my stomach, the hug around my neck. Fear helped me meet people, and make new friends. Fear brought me to places I have never been.

Fear is my enemy, but often my friend. Without fear, I wouldn’t be where I am. In spite of fear, or maybe because of it, I move on.

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Time Lost

I was the girl who spent hours of her life cleaning, sorting, and rearranging. Everything in little boxes, labeled and neatly displayed, placed back on the shelf, in the drawer, or corner of the closet, knowing I’d be pulling it out again the next season, and doing the same thing all over again.

Such mindless activities. Such wasted moments. I wish I had those hours back. But they are gone, swept beneath a rug, placed in a box, tossed in the corner of some unforeseen dump.

I look back and wonder if my time was invested wisely. I’m thinking not. Because things don’t matter. They are just possessions that one day will fade away.

I think of the time I gave up talking to a friend on the phone, playing a game with a child, watching a movie with a spouse. Hours I stayed up late, just to sort and re-sort, and sort again.

But if anything good has arrived from all the needless cleaning and caring of material possessions, it is this: I learned how precious each moment of life is.

I’ve learned that twice now. The first time was after my brain injury. Trauma does that, makes you look at life like you’d never seen it before. Makes you realize how incredibly fragile breath is.

Trauma also made me see how little I needed, and that ‘things’ are just ‘things,’ and nothing but life itself matters.

After my injury, I gave away thousands of dollars’ worth of stuff. My husband did as well. Our lives changed. We changed.

No longer do we spend endless hours cleaning a garage, or pulling junk out of one box just to put it in another. No longer do we drag containers throughout our home.

Time is measured differently now, by walks in the park, outings to the sea, sipping tea after a meal, talking to one another. Time is invested in us, not our things.

I’d like to say I’m over possessions, but truth is, I’m just one step away from being sucked in by the glitter and glitz. Tempted to purchase more than I need. Longing for something new. Wanting. And wanting. And wanting.

But then I remember how I used to be. All the hours I lost, all the time wasted. And I never want to be that girl again.

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Learning to Adapt

Some of us are better at adapting than others. I can adapt to weather changes, changing my furniture around, even moving 1900 miles from where I grew up wasn’t hard. But changing the way I eat? That’s a different story.

It began soon after my brain injury. Within one month, I visited the emergency room twice and urgent care once (or maybe it was the other way around, and maybe it was more – this is where my brain gets confused). It seems I had acquired chemical allergies and a whole host of food allergies, which were revealed to me later by my doctor.

Allergies, along with all kinds of bizarre symptoms, can appear after brain trauma, though it’s hard to say if they are lurking in the system, and the injury causes them to come out, or if they are the direct result of the brain injury. ( In any case, I had a new list of items I could no longer eat.

I’d long been allergic to dairy, and avoided it best I could. When I was given this new list, I listened to my doctor, and stayed away like a good girl. But I am human, and a girl, and I have cravings. Like yeast. And sugar. I wanted French bread, and I wanted the sugary cupcakes at the birthday parties we attended. It wasn’t long before I gave in. Nothing major happened when I ate sugar and yeast, just a few little patches of red skin, and an irritated throat. Warning signals I chose to ignore.

Do you know what happens when you don’t listen to your body? It rebels. Within time, I developed a host of symptoms: hives, dark circles under my eyes (known as allergy ‘shiners’), nasal congestion, joint pain, muscle aches, and wheezing. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? As bad as those symptoms were, it could have been worse. Allergies can also cause fibromyalgia, asthma, headaches, and fatigue, and of course, anaphylactic shock.(

Over a month ago, I went back to the doctor, and I am happy to report, I am the proud owner of a beautiful list of 31 foods I can no longer eat.

It’s hard to say exactly why my list grew. Some professionals say that allergies increase due to malabsorption problems, some claim IBS or leaky gut. But in my research, what I discovered is this, new allergens are sometimes born when we ignore the ones we have.

I didn’t listen to my body. I refused to adapt.

Adapting isn’t always easy, and not always fun. But when it comes to health, it is a true necessity. Our lives depend on our ability, and our willingness, to adapt.

If you think you have allergies, I strongly encourage you to see a doctor. Your body will thank you for it.

Here are a few facts about food allergies:

1. Allergies can get worse, or change, over time. What may appear as a ‘shiner’ one time can turn up as nasal congestion the next time, or worse. Never count on a food allergy reacting the same way twice.

2. 80% of the immune system surrounds the digestive system. Your body sees food coming in, and says, “Is that safe?” When you are allergic to a food, your body becomes more sensitive, and sometimes more allergic.

3. Getting rid of food allergies could have helped me better fight my environmental allergies. I suffered this winter and early spring with outdoor allergies. They may have been less severe if I’d been eliminating the foods on my ‘don’t eat’ list.

4. Some people are ‘atopic,’ meaning they have a tendency to develop allergies. (I was already allergic to dairy and dust mites before the other allergies occurred.)

5. If you are allergic to one food, you may react to other foods with a similar structure. This is known as cross-reactivity. (I was allergic to cranberries, and now I am allergic to blueberries, part of the cranberry family.)

6. There is no scientific evidence, but there are claims that if we don’t rotate our foods often enough, we can become allergic to them. Being a daily chocoholic, and a constant consumer of bell peppers, I can testify there may be some truth to that (as I can no longer eat either).

What it comes down to is this, I should have adapted the first time around. Now I am paying the price. We can adapt to anything, if we want it bad enough. I want my health. This time, I’m determined to follow my allergy list. I really don’t want a longer one.

I guess the good news is this, I learned a few things, and in turn, I hope I can help you.

This is what I’ve learned:

*Health is important. Yeah, I already knew that. But when it’s taken away, you realize how good you had it.

*I’m lucky (most of) my allergies aren’t super-severe. And if I stay away from my allergens, I can’t give them the chance to morph into a life-threatening monster.

*Allergies do affect the body. In one weeks’ time, after eliminating my allergens, my aching, tight muscles are limber, my wheezing has improved, and I have more energy.

A tough way to learn lessons. A tough way to learn to adapt.

**I am not a medical professional. If you have any medical concerns, or think you have allergies, please see a doctor.

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Simply Let Life Happen

Years ago, I sat in the office of my new employer, watching her softly creased face as she recited the expectations of my new job. She paused for a moment and looked me in the eye. “There will be times you can’t make it to work, when something beyond your control occurs. Remember, there’s always someone here to take your place, to help. Because sometimes, life happens.”

She was right. Life happens. I’d seen it many times in my own life. Family sickness, accidents, death. I’d felt one too many times the effects of life’s happenings. And to be honest, I didn’t always handle it well.

I wasn’t the type of person to let everything slide off me, though that’s what most people thought. No, I hid my feelings well, letting them fester inside, until I became depressed and angry, stopped eating, or just slid away from the world. But usually, I overdid everything – work, housecleaning, cooking.

Like when my father got sick, I worked harder than ever, cooking for him, doing his paperwork, running to see him every day. And when my mom was ill, I worked extra hours at my job. I started a new business before my dad passed away, and then worked more than ever after his death, ignoring the pain in my heart.

It might be safe to say I wanted to prove myself. Mostly, I think I was trying to hide.

But this woman in front of me, who’d seen more pain than I ever had, was so confident, so quietly assured, and reminded me that often, “Life happens.” There was a soft sadness in her voice when she spoke, even as her eyes sparkled like gems beneath the sun. She spoke calmly as she stated, “Bad things happen to all of us.”

I wondered what heartache she’d felt, what blows life had dealt her. I wondered if she’d ever run away the way I had, or hid behind hours of work. I wondered how she’d turned years of sorrow into a lifetime of joy.

A lot of life has happened since I first met that woman. I’ve had my own share of life’s happenings since then. My biggest was my brain injury. That injury taught me a lot about how to face life, that ignoring the pain, or trying to hide, doesn’t make the sorrow go away.

It taught me to face life head-on, to look for the hidden jewels inside the sand. It taught me that life is a series of lessons, of joy in pain, of beauty in grief.

Life happens. It always does. It’s what we do with it that matters. Click To Tweet
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