It is now over eight years since I nearly lost everything.
(It’s mildly refreshing that I can say ‘everything’ and mean it. There’s a lot of casual exaggeration in all our speech these days.) But I nearly lost my life and, once it was clear I was going to live, I could have lost any other aspect of what makes a life.
As I look back at how I am now, I know that sustaining brain damage, in particular, means your future life is going to be played out on an unknown, undefined stage. With that in mind, my best understanding of how I am breaks things down into three aspects.
There’s the big picture.
There’s the prospect of future change.
There’s the – probably – always damaged.
The Big Picture
Obviously enough, (this is ‘Getting Directions’, after all), over recent years I’ve been looking back to get directions, to get an understanding of how I was, with the hope of being able to predict how things might turn out, how I might turn out. And that’s proved interesting, but not for reasons I’d have predicted.
The simplest way to sum up what I’ve found from looking back is that there are no fundamental surprises lurking. Brain injury has not caused a different ‘me’. Looking back has shown me that, by and large, I am now as I was before the accident. The changes are mostly issues of degree. I’ve always been impatient. I’m more so. I’ve never been good with numbers. I’m even less capable now. I’ve always been emotional. I’m more so now. And so on. If you like, you can say that brain injury seems to amplify what was already there – both the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ aspects.
The prospect of future change
In the early years after the crash there was, inevitably, a lot of confusion and false certainty on my part. I’d imagine I had some understanding of where I was at, only for that certainty to be dashed as time passed and experience proved me wrong.
But, to focus again on the unsurprising ‘me’ that I’ve found is still there, I now understand that having expectations about how my brain might recover (and hence change) in future are futile. There are two aspects to this: I now understand that the core aspects of what makes me the person I am, while fundamentally all known and more-or-less static elements, necessarily also remain fluid to some degree.
To explain what I mean and to return to the earlier examples – perhaps I will regain some patience; perhaps I’ll regain what skills with numbers I once had; perhaps I’ll be able to keep better control of my emotions again. And I’ve good reason to think things are fluid, simply because I know that the ‘me’ of right now is very different from the ‘me’ of eight years ago.
There’s the – probably – always damaged
That all said, I also have to allow for some aspects of me, of my brain, being permanently damaged. That is a distinct subject for which I need the help of those closest to me to gain any clarity. I will return to it in a different entry.
So, where does all this leave me, now, eight-plus years on?
I can say that I’m basically the same person I was, but some aspects of me may (or may not) continue to develop in the coming years. I assume that will be as my brain continues to fix itself. And I’m sure that actively trying to tax my brain will help that fixing.
(And as I’ve said before in an earlier entry on Getting Directions, exercising the brain is a good thing for more than one reason.)
I don’t think all the exploration detailed in ‘Getting Directions’ to date has been a waste of time. I needed to look back to learn and understand that at root I am still the person I was. And yes, cliché it may be, but learning is the way to enrich any life. In effect, you can look upon learning as a form of mental exercise. And I can look back at the last eight years as valuable experience.
But, while looking back has been valuable, it’s also crucial to not be trapped by your past; to not be trapped by who you have been or are. You shouldn’t curse yourself with nostalgia. Nor, for that matter, ‘nowstalgia’ – wishing that what exists will remain forever.
The past can never be recaptured, recreated. The present can never be frozen. With every step forward, with every passing minute, yes, something is lost. But any sense of loss is there to remind us of the truth: that you can never go back. Any sense of loss should be a spur to embracing the future.
And for my future?
I am marking this eighth anniversary because, when I was on holiday earlier this year, I realised I was bored. Bored with me. (I wrote about this at the conclusion of Seven Nights.)
And I’m now realizing that that’s because I need to refocus on embracing whatever time I have ahead of me. I need to focus on directing my efforts towards whatever it is I’m any good at, are potentially useful for, can contribute.
And that’s where I am, eight years after nearly losing everything. And yes, in a sense, I’ve found a different everything. Onwards.
* Note: I do know I’d quibble with the term happiness, in that happiness needs to resolve to contentment because happiness is inherently fleeting. But I can see why Action for Happiness have adopted that name. It’s accessible as a term; commonly understood.