7

I’m sure it could be safer to stay at home

It was a catch-22: If you didn’t put the trauma behind you, you couldn’t move on. But if you did put the trauma behind you, you willingly gave up your claim to the person you were before it happened.”
― Jodi Picoult

Two days ago on January 24th I put on some roller skates and skated in circles for about an hour. ‘Big deal, so what’ I hear some of you say. Yes, on paper it’s not a huge thing, it’s not even really a slightly large thing. I realise how insignificant it sounds to my own ears but in the timeline of my trauma and brain injury it’s MASSIVE!

It’s as massive as 4 weeks ago when I pushed the vacuum cleaner around the living room and cried because it’s the first time I’d done it since injury, it’s as huge as when I put the kettle on and made a cup of tea without having a panic attack. This is the reality of trauma, this is my reality. This is how much brain injury set me back, I was on factory reset. I can write it over and over and still never adequately express how the minutiae of life became massive and scary and hills to be climbed. I’m aware of people ‘worse off’ than me, I know this, it doesn’t help being told there are people ‘worse off’ than me because trauma is personal, my pain is mine and my mountains are only mountains to me. It’s the same for each individual, our experiences and struggles are very unique but they are massive and scary and exhilarating.

Strapping on roller skates and moving in circles on wheels was my particular Everest, those skates were blamed for my injury, they were the cause of my pain, my standing still, my loss. Something I loved became the thing that hurt me deeply and permanently. So yes you tutters and eye rollers putting those things back on my feet was kind of a BIG DEAL.

I’d planned the outing before the festive period, there were only a few people in the know in case I backed out, a date was set and with the help of Mr Braingirl and a lovely friend D from Belfast Roller Derby it became my goal for January. In the run up to it I’d had a birthday and another lovely relapse with through the roof anxiety and sadness, it was looking like I wouldn’t make it out the door. On the morning of the skate I was shaking like a leaf, my reptilian part of the brain was doing its best to keep me ‘safe’ at home. It ran through my body from head to toe scanning for any aches and pains it could find and warning me that they all meant certain doom. This time though I observed the thoughts and thanked it and told it not to be so suffocating and that I was perfectly safe.

We arrived at the rink (that was freezing cold!), I took a deep breath, got ready and went for it.

Me on skates!

Me on skates!

I’m glad I did it, it felt great to banish that particular demon and add another penny in the ‘it didn’t kill me’ pot. I couldn’t do it for very long because I got too tired and I ached the next day but it’s crossed off the list and has given me a boost to see what I can tackle next.

5

Colour me in

“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness”

Maya Angelou

I’ve always loved music. My pre brain injury days were always filled with it, from my teenage years of feeling like it ‘spoke’ to me and soothed my angst to my maturer years of listening and learning and escaping through the gaps it provided. I think it was Jimi Hendrix who said there are only two types of music – good and bad, he was right of course but this definition is subjective for each and every person. What I like is good and everything else is bad. I have a varied taste and like many different styles (I am however firmly stuck in the 1990’s for a lot of my listening preferences). There are those I have carried with me from my youth such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam, those I discovered a bit later and those I am still discovering today.

What I love about music is that it’s universal, it cares not about your gender, colour, creed, age, sexuality, whatever. It speaks to us all in a voice we all hear differently. I have music to suit my mood, I can flip from Nick Drake to Ella Fitzgerald to Rage Against The Machine and each one will take me on a sonic journey somewhere familiar and comforting (or not very comforting at all sometimes).

I write each blog post with a song at the end and the title is always a line from the same song and it’s always one that gives an idea of where my head is when I write. I make no excuses if this post becomes whimsical, because music is hard to write about from a feelings perspective without slipping into a bit of whimsy.

So here comes the bit where it gets a bit strange. For months and months after my injury I couldn’t listen to music. At all. I couldn’t even physically sing songs in the shower, not through any obvious physical impairment but because I just couldn’t get it together, my body/brain didn’t want me to. I drove my car in silence, no more musical accompaniment. My CD’s gathered serious dust and my Ukelele and guitar were left untouched. Now this could have been because EVERYTHING felt like it had been sucked out of me into a big black vaccuum and all I could do was stare and sleep. Or a part of it could be because music was too triggering for me, it was too rooted in my emotions and my brain was saying ‘no, none of that yet for you young lady’, maybe it was a combination of both. Who knows? All that I knew was that my world had become very still and very very silent.

Then there was a breakthrough, one day I started listening again but it was in very short bursts and it didn’t seem to have any emotional effect on me whatsoever, I’d lost my connection with the one thing throughout my life that had been a constant. This rumbled on for some months, I listened but it almost felt like a marriage that had run out of juice, I’d be present physically and showing all signs on the outside of being a ‘good wife’ but my mind was flat and cold and empty. It was horrid. There’s music I cant really listen to now because it reminds me of that period of time and feels so desolate and uncomfortable.

I persisted though and found that as I slowly came back to myself, the music came back too. It’s still not fully intact, I have a narrow window of stuff I can listen to but it’s back and boy is it back with a vengeance!  There is one musician I listen to that, throughout his career I have remained with and that has been one of the few that didn’t seem to get affected by my flat state and that is Mr Damien Rice (not everyone’s cup of tea but I don’t care!). He has been with me every step of the way. When I listen to Damien and a few select others I go on what can only be described as the most magnificent journey, it’s like turbo charged music love. The music paints pictures, it wraps me up in a wonderful melodic blanket and whisks me away somewhere. I can almost touch the notes and words as they dance around me. This is no exaggeration, it is the strangest, most wonderful thing I have experienced, I get a bit, well, high off it. I told Dr L about this and he said that its a new one on him! Not only that, I cry and laugh and sing along at the top of my voice. I cry and laugh like a person who is shedding the deepest, darkest, heaviest pain but you know what? I feel AMAZING afterwards.

So Dr L my wonderful neuropsychologist who I no longer see told me at our last appointment to use music as a tool to help me access the emotions that I shut down initially, he said it will help me balance things out again. Maybe this is why my brain made me flat initially because of the sheer volume of what I had to feel it wanted to make sure I was physically a little stronger first. I have no idea why music affects me so much now, maybe it’s temporary, maybe it’s because my frontal lobe with my mood regulator has gone a bit askew or maybe it’s because now I’m much more in touch with myself and less embarrassed about being a human with emotions. Quite frankly I don’t care two jots about what others think of me anymore and that is very freeing.

So I will leave you with a song from Mr Rice and the one that started a wee discussion about this on my facebook page.