4 More Things My TBI Has Taught Me

It’s been almost 22 months since my accident. I think when I hit the two year mark I’ll stop counting but right now, it’s still pretty relevant in my life. I’m not to the maximum recovery mark yet. Here’s just a few things that I’ve learned about myself and God though this hard-oh so hard-but holy season.

  • It’s okay to not be okay.

The longer this season goes on, the less I believe this until I’m hit upside the head with reality of this. It’s been 22 months, for Pete’s sake. I should be okay, but there are times, I’m still not okay.  I started It’s Okay Not to Be Okay by Sheila Walsh. She hits me upside the head with this fact when she says, “The scars tell God’s love story. Some of our scars show on the surface, but some are hidden deep inside, wounds from things that were done to us, or from choices we’ve made and secrets we’ve kept. The love of God invites us to bring our scars into the light. We don’t have to hide anymore. It really is okay not to be okay.” Regardless of whether I feel like I should be okay, it’s okay to still have bad days-to still have days where it takes everything I have to breathe and remain standing.

  • I”M NOT CRAZY. I’m not alone.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m the only one in the world that has gone through this because my brain works so much differently than the rest of my family. I can say or do something and everyone looks at me with a puzzled expression. It is so hard to let people into my brain, and I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. At times like this, the tendency is to isolate myself, but that further feeds my anxiety and depression. I’ll found a support group of people who have suffered a TBI. They offer suggestions of things I haven’t tried yet and remind me that I’m never alone.

  • Life looks totally different now, but that’s okay.

They say comparison is the thief of joy and they are correct. I definitely don’t have an area of my life that even closely resembles“put-together”. It’s hard not to feel jealous or sad because it seems like everyone else my age has at least one area of their life going for them. I’m challenged to take a deep breath whenever I’m tempted to feel that way and remember that 22 months ago, I almost died. Yes, my life looks totally different because things that were important then are not important now. It’s okay to still be searching for that spark and not have life figured out. I’m breathing. It’s a good day.

  • It’s okay to need A LOT of rest. And I mean A LOT.

Sometimes, I forget that I have a TBI and I try to do everything, then my body knocks me on the ground with a headache that won’t quit. In those times, I find that I sleep for hours and hours. When I wake up, my first instinct is to be upset at myself for the hours “wasted”, but then I realize that my body needed that. I remember then of the need to pace myself and my energy so I don’t hit that wall again. The key is to REST. A lot. Like crazy amounts. Like newborn baby or cat amounts.

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The Summer God Pushed Me Out of My Comfort Zone and Taught Me More About Who He Wants Me To Be

This summer has been a great and challenging one. I feel about two years behind my peers. Most of the people I graduated with are getting married, moving on from their first “real” adult job, or having kids. I, on the other hand, don’t know what the dickens I’m going to next. This summer, God taught me again that that’s okay-it’s okay not to have everything planned to the letter.

Here is a list of things that I’ve learned about myself as I learn to take one day at a time with God.

  • There’s not one plan for my life. Just because I’m 24 with no full time job and still living at home, doesn’t mean I somehow missed the turn towards a successful life. I’m a success where I am. Hey, some days, I’m lucky just to be standing at the end of the day. I don’t feel like there’s just one plan, but rather it involves all the things I’m passionate about. It could be littles, missions, or both.
  • Sometimes, accomplishments are not about being the best, but simply completing the task. So what if you’re not the best at whatever it is, you finished. About a month ago, some of my family did a 3 mile run. My mom and I walked the 2 miles required. A year ago, I couldn’t walk 10 feet without getting winded. I finished the 2 mile walk. I finished. I finished towards the end of the walkers and got passed by a couple littles, but I finished. I definitely wasn’t the best, but finishing was a milestone for me.
  • Being ambidextrous is not all it’s cracked up to be. Don’t get me wrong it’s definitely very cool to use both hands, but sometimes, I think my brain is even more confused than it is already. It’s funny to watch people shocked faces when I use my right hand for one thing, and then in the next breath, I use my left hand.
  • Sunsets can be really calming. This is not something new, but it was further reinforced this summer. On days when I was overwhelmed and exhausted, God paints the sky and just looking at it is calming.
  • Music is how my soul speaks. I don’t know how that works, but I latch onto a song and play it on repeat for days. My soul needs—desperately needs—to hear the message that that song has its lyrics. When my soul has no words, it finds some. Music defines every season of my life so far. My first job was “Ride” by Twenty-One Pilots. My accident and rehab was “You’re Going To Be OK” by Jenn Johnson. Montana was “Mountains” by Biffy Clyro. Those are only a few of the songs that defined the many seasons.
  • Jam sessions are required. It surprisingly therapeutic to turn up music and open the windows while you’re driving.
  • Naps are life. It is funny how when we were little, naps were torture as life was not to be missed. When we become adults though, naps are necessary for us to put our best foot forward.
  • Jesus loves in the sweetest ways-if you have eyes to see. In the midst of shoving me—not just pushing me—He showed me I’m loved by allowing the kid I was watching to be all cuddly and fall asleep on my shoulder. He knew that I just needed someone to love and allow me to love him.
  • I have to push the envelope in regards to my healing. I can’t base how I’m going to be based on how I am right if I keep working towards 100%. I may not get there, but I definitely won’t improve if I sit on my butt and watch TV 24/7.
  • These are a few things I’ve learned, but I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that the best place to be is at the center of God’s Will by making the next right, brave step.
  • I’ll Carry the Fork and Other Phrases

    If you want to know what goes on in my head or in the heads of people that experience any sort of brain injury, then read this book!

    Kara Swanson puts, in a light-hearted way, the struggles that encompass a brain injury. Brain injuries are like snowflakes-no two are exactly the same-but there are similarities in the things we struggle with. Here are just some things that apply to most people, but especially to brain injuries.

    • It’s hard but necessary to rely on others. It’s extremely humbling to wait for others to come and help you do simple things that you used to be able to do independently. It’s hard to admit you need help in an area, but it’s necessary for you and for others.
    • You choose when you’re recovered. Recovery is not synonymous with absence of symptoms. It’s when you mentally choose to move forward regardless of your symptoms or handicaps. “We are the only ones who can choose when we are recovered and it is only then that we are no longer waiting for our old lives to return on handsome white horses, ready to rescue us from this ridiculous nightmare.” We accept the new, emerging version of ourselves and choose to move forward.
    • Post-it notes are your friends. If have a tendency to forget things, write them on post its and stick them around. They come in so many different colors so you can make your car or room look like a rainbow. I like yellow sticky notes because they bring the sunshine inside.
    • Attitude is everything. Those who say they can’t and those who say they can are both right. If you don’t believe you can do something, then you won’t try. If you do try, then you will only give enough effort to say you tried. But, if you believe you will do it, you will put all your energy into trying to succeed. In my case, my stubbornness paid off or according to my parents, there was a use for my stubbornness.
    • Forgive. Forgive. Forgive. Forgive those people that have the audacity to succeed-to be well. Forgive the people that don’t have to deal with the weights you have been handed because they didn’t choose the cards they were handed. Forgive those people that are doing what you want to be doing. Forgive the injury for changing your life. “Regardless of how you have been wronged or hurt, choosing not to forgive this injury for doing what it does is entirely your decision. It is exhausting, frustrating and unsustainable to try and fight the natural forward current of life. It makes you smile less. It makes you a sour puss, really. At the end of life, it’s routinely one of the top regrets people have, holding on to the ugly grudges of disappointment and of hurt.” Forgive them and let go, because it only holds you back.
    • Thank the people that jumped in the hole with you. It applies to any situation you can’t control, but I’m going to talk specifically about brain injuries. I didn’t choose to fall into this hole called brain injury. My family and friends did have a choice. They could choose to leave-to not have their life shaken up. They chose to stay-to jump in the hole after me, knowing that their life would never be the same. For that, I’m eternally grateful to the people the have walked this journey with me and those who will walk with me in the future.
    • Nothing has the power to damage you, unless you let it. “Brain injury does not deteriorate as if a cancer. It does not kill us over the years. Not unless we invite it to and feed it that power.” Granted, it stops life as we know it, but we can choose to let it stop us from living. This applies to almost everything that happens to us. It changes our lives, but unless we give it the power to damage us, it doesn’t stop us from moving forward.
    • We need to fill up the holes in our lives before they fill up by themselves-because they will. Fill the holes with positive people and positive things-things that lift you up on a bad day. Put kindness into that hole-kindness to yourself and others. Be kind to yourself because you’re trying as hard as you can. Furthermore, “Identify at least one true person who remembers the best of you before your injury so you never forget that you have, time and time again, devised sound strategies which returned successful outcomes to you. Find another who understands how it feels to be brain injured now. And finally, maybe most importantly, find one shining star who will challenge you to dare big and who steadfastly believes in the person you aim to be. Let them help you fill that hole. Fill it up. Hand over hand, fill it back up.” My friends, the Fab Five, have been that for me. They have walked through this journey with me. They remind me of all I’ve accomplished and am still accomplishing. I also have a dear soul friend who pushes me to dare big, reminds me of my dreams, and pushes me closer to Jesus. I’m very thankful for her and the fact that she only knows the new me. She doesn’t have anything to compare; I’m just me, and she loves me.

    School Nursing and Little Humans

    So I’ve been a school nurse for about a year. It wasn’t anywhere in my plans, but God knew I needed this in this season. Here are a few things I have learned on this journey so far.

    1. Littles are honest and unbiased. They don’t care who you are, and they love you unconditionally. I had one girl just come in my room for a hug. It’s moments like those when I’m reminded of the soft hearts of littles and fact that they need nurturing on all fronts.
    2. Just because it’s not what you pictured yourself doing doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. At the beginning of the school year, I sat in my office, hearing all the hopeful voices, and I felt deep down in my spirit that this was where I was meant to be. It was nothing like I pictured a year ago. This was the perfect job for right now because it allowed me to still practice nursing without all the stimulus and fast pace of hospital nursing. It gave me lots of little successes that boosted my self esteem rather then tear it down with everything I knew I used to be able to do and now can’t.
    3. Never underestimate the power of a smile and listening ear. Half the time, littles are in my office for a short span of time, but they just need to know someone is listening and cares. I treat their pressing ailment and send them back to class with the option that if they can’t do it, they can always come back to the clinic. Often knowing they have that option reassures them, and they are good for the day. Sometimes, the older humans just need someone to smile at them and tell them everything is going to be alright.
    4. Littles give the best hugs. I definitely think in this season of my life, I needed to hear that I’m needed and wanted. After something traumatic happens, you start to doubt yourself and wonder if you’re still a valuable member of society. Being at MCS showed me that I’m still valued as a human being and nurse. My opinion is still wanted and unique. I may not know everything, but I’ll learn. Recently, I had a birthday, and I was sung to by 3 different classes. It made me feel so loved by this community—this community of littles and teachers that know and love me fiercely. My heart simply melts every time I hear a little voice say “Miss Walthour”, see those bashful smiles, or receive those timid hugs.

    Yes, it’s definitely not as fast paced as hospital nursing, but just as impactful on lives.

    When God Says No

    As christians, we offer the cliche, “If God shuts a door, He opens a window.” This is true, but how do you keep going in the meantime? How do you wrestle with the fact that God said no to this seemingly good thing? How do you still manage to believe that God’s plan is still good?

    These are some of questions that have been rattling around in my head. How do we handle the fact that all of our dreams come crashing to a stop? How do we reconcile that with a good God? I don’t have a theological answer for you. All I have is my own musings and things people have said to me, so take it with a grain of salt and research this for yourself.

    I was watching a video clip by Inky Johnson. If you’re like me and had no idea who this person is, he is a former football player who was 8 games away from the NFL draft when his world was rocked. In a normal tackle in a game, he ended his football career at the University of Tennessee with an injury that permanently paralyzed his right arm. Johnson went on to study psychology and is now a motivational speaker at schools, community centers and ceremonies throughout the United States. He stresses multiple times, how important the process is, not simply the product that you have in your life.

    Right after my accident, I wished it never happened—that my life would go back to the way it was before because it was good. I wished that my scars would disappear because I was embarrassed by them—they looked weird. Now though, I don’t wish the accident never happened because I’m a stronger person because of it. I’m more empathetic towards people, and I’m a better nurse because I actually have been there. I have a crazy and incredible story of how God saved me. I’m no longer embarrassed by my scars when people notice them, rather I’m kinda proud of them. They are physical signs that I survived something meant to break me. I wish they would be a little less obvious but they are talking points. When someone asked what happened, I can tell God’s story.

    So I don’t really know what to do immediately after God says no to something that could have been good. To be completely honest, I’m still wrestling with that. Some days I’m perfectly capable of seeing the good things that have come out of this season, and other days, I wallow in my pity party because I look at others, and they have the life I could have and would have been living. I do know this though, in time, God sometimes reveals why He took us down that detour. We just stand there, simply in awe that God would use a terrible thing like an accident and turn it into a part of His bigger story of redemption.

    I’m in awe of God, and how He would use someone as insignificant as me to show His glory though.

    This is God’s story, and I’m just the lucky one that gets to tell it.

    The Art of Being Still

    I have a tendency to worry and let my mind wander to all the impossible scenarios. I want to have control over every area so I my mind does not appear to stop. I worry about what people think about me. I worry about what is going to happen next. I worry about whether any change is the right thing for me right now. I have struggled recently with worry because of my accident. I worry that, even though everything fell into place rather quickly, the other shoe would drop. I worry that I am not enough–that I’m less than because my brain injury. I simply worry.

    Be still.

    Be still and know that I am God.

    In all my worries and fears, God spoke this truth over me.

    Be still and know that I am God.

    I am not the one that can change the world. God changes the world. God can change the world through me. I can only be a useful vessel if I am willing to let go of my worries, my fears and my plans, and sit still before the Lord.

    God wants me to understand that who He created me to be so that I can fulfill the purpose that He has for my life. I cannot understand who I am in Christ if I spend my energy worrying about what people think about me, or fearing that I am not enough.

    Fear and worry is a handicap that keeps me from embracing who I am and what I can do. Fear holds me back from taking those steps of faith that could lead to great adventures for the Creator of the universe.

    I realized recently that I have been feeding my worries and fears. I had been subconsciously encouraging the lies that I am not enough. This hurt me.

    I was believing the lies and letting Satan get a foothold into my dreams. He was halting my progress because I was more focused on myself and my insecurities that I could not focus on God. I was being selfish because my focus was on me. What would happen to me? Would people like me? Would I be good enough? Would I be likeable?

    My mother confronted me about my attitude. At first, I was frustrated. Didn’t she see that I was just worried? I was not being selfish, rather I just wanted people to like me. After a while, mainly after I moved to Washington, D.C for 2 months, I began to see the wisdom in what she was saying.

    If I wanted people to like me, I needed to put them first. I needed to find ways that I could bless the people that I am around. People like others who bless them. People who are positive and uplifting. People who think about the needs of others first. I was getting so wrapped up in myself, my worries and my fears. I began to notice during my first week in my internship that the more I focused on blessing others, the less I thought about my fears. The less I needed to be liked. I could be who God created me to be, without worrying what people would think.

    Be still and know that I am God.

    When I get wrapped up in myself, I forget to quiet my mind and look at God. God is the Creator of the universe, yet he values my time spent with Him. Just like any other relationship, if I am spending too much time focused on myself, I can’t give a lot of time to the other person. I have to step back and realize that being still and spending time with God was going to be very important in my battle against the worries and the fears. I need to fill my mind with the truths of who God is and who He created me to be if I wanted to be free. My prayer for the beginning of this journey is to keep this phrase in my head so that I can remember to be still and know that He is God.

    Accepting the New Me

    Isn’t it crazy how after a mission trip or something like that, we are no longer the same person we were, but we embrace that change. After something traumatic, we change, but we push against it. We want the “old us” back.

    Why is that?

    I think it’s because in one situation we put ourselves in a situation where change is an option. We don’t consciously choose to change, but we know change is a possibility. We see things and are impacted by people where there’s no turning back. There’s no chance to unlearn the things we have been through.

    In the other, we have no control.

    Zero. Zilch.

    This change in our personality is forced upon us. In my case, I never saw it coming. I’m a different person, but I’m still Sara. If that sounds confusing, it’s because I haven’t really quite figured it out myself yet. My TBI changed me, not only because of the trauma of it, but because it changed the actual chemistry of my brain. I didn’t have a choice to not change. I’m still trying to tread the the line of trying hard to be the old me, or give up completely.

    I have a choice—I can choose to fight against the change or I can choose to accept the new me. I’m still struggling with actually accepting the new me. It’s not easy to encounter things I used to be able to do, but now can’t. I’m still trying to figure out how to balance trying to be as close to 100% as I can, but also embrace the new me. This new person who gets overwhelmed easily—that can’t handle loud noises or flashing lights.

    There may be things that I can’t do as well as I could, but there are also things that I can do better now. I’m still working on figuring those out. For now, I’m going to try not to fight against the changes. I’m going to embrace the new me.

    One thing I do know is that I’ve never been more sure of God’s love for me.

    There are days where His love is the only thing that gets me through the day.

    There are moments where I hold on to the phase by Lysa TerKeurst: God is good. God is good to me. God is good at being God.

    There are moments when I get frustrated with myself and my limitations, but God chooses those moments to show me that I’m more loved than I would ever know.