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. (www.holisticprimarycare.net) 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.(www.recipe4wellness.com)

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. http://www.allergy-clinic.co.uk

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. www.olsonnd.com

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. www.olsonnd.com

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.) www.nhs.uk

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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How This TBI Victim Journeyed Into Simple Colors

Imagine a world where colors combine like shattered glass of a broken kaleidoscope. Imagine a world that was mine.

*****************************
Everywhere I turned,
I saw a crimson cloud.
Red was an apple hanging from a tree,
A shirt plastered on a clammy figure.
Red were cheeks flushed in noonday’s blistering heat,
A siren flashing on the street,
A bird soaring through the sky,
A finger cut by book’s loose pages.
Red was my brain
Sizzling in the fiery sun.
Every time I think of moving,
I see the color red.

I see green.
Flashing,
Neon,
Bubbling in a store.
Shampoo’s bright bottle,
Nails popping colors.
Green as grass,
And trees against a summer sky,
That highlight doors
With shelves that hang,
And hold lit signs.
A child’s shoes running by,
A candle on a rack.
Every time I see a store,
I see the color green.

Yellow. Blue.
Colors swirl and combine.
Yellow as sun that
Burns my eyes
And blisters my brain
On summer’s hot day.
Yellow is a shirt worn
On vacation
Where blue jeans were
My husband’s choice.
A rose on the seat,
A hat upon our heads.
I think of vacation and
See yellow and blue.

Rose and teal,
Aqua and brick.
Beads and baubles,
Paints and brushes.
Flashing colors
On a child’s toy.
A television glare,
A computer screen,
Everywhere I turn
My colors combine.

Black.
White.
And in the middle
My world is gray.
********************

Now imagine a world void of color, and, according to some, the world of a minimalist. (I don’t know if that’s true or not.)

I only know I can’t imagine my world without reds and greens, purples and pinks. I can’t imagine life with no color. Color enhances our existence, magnifies our experiences. It brings our world life. Unless you’re a TBI victim, then colors can turn everything upside down.

I used to love color, bright teal pillows and blue scarves strewn across a sofa, a pretty picture of a red rose on a wall. Greens and yellows and orange-colored chairs. I loved it all, and still do. Just not at the same time, and not in my home. Not since my brain injury.

Today I live in a world of beige, with hints of nature in the middle. In my dining room, a lone green vase sits on a creamy wooden table, the signature of nature at its finest. My stove holds a teapot highlighted by a tan-colored wall, a splash of sunshine on a dreary day. Red and blues in a Paris setting, pictures that show life in the home, travel, adventure.

I still have colors, but they are simple and few. Well-chosen, with meaning and life. My colors in a world of cream.

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How a Brain Injury Turned Me into a Minimalist

I’ve never been a fan of clutter. At least I didn’t think I was. Looking around our home, one would never have thought I was a collector of anything.

But the truth was, I was the master organizer, the grand arranger, the disguiser of all things collectable. I could hide anything in a cabinet or drawer. I could even hide it in plain sight, making a collection look like a grand array of art.

Strings and old ribbon, cascading like a fountain over an ivory colored lamp. Buttons and gadgets, baubles and beads, in amber colored bottles lined on a shelf. Painted canvases pressed against a wall, brushes stacked in terra cotta pots.

Books upon books, like soldiers on a shelf.

In a closet, in a small corner basket, a pile of material, folded, each color elegantly displayed. On a shelf above, evenly spaced, boxes and packing material, neatly aligned.

Such a beautiful vision of clutter.

Then one day, I was in a car accident. My brain snapped, and within days (or was it weeks?), I changed. My personality became an extreme of who I once was. I no longer just wanted things arranged, I wanted them out of my life. Clutter became my enemy.

Everywhere I turned, I saw clutter. In books and papers I couldn’t read, in jewelry supplies my clumsy fingers could no longer hold. I saw clutter in the canvases I painted, and cards I no longer had the patience to make.

I began to let go, though I don’t remember the first items I threw away. That memory, like many, is gone. But the act of decluttering, the emotion it spun, stuck with me forever.

I think decluttering was my way of releasing my old life, and letting myself become someone new. Over the next couple years, as I changed, so did my home. I slowly let go of more stuff, until two years ago when I did a significant cleanse.

Decluttering, like the brain injury, changed my life. It changed me. But I rather like the person I have become. Like my home, I feel cleansed. I feel like someone new.

To think it all began with a brain injury.

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