People think your soul lives within your heart, but it lives in your brain. Your soul, your personality, everything that makes you who you are, and when that fails you, when you can no longer rely on your brain and those parts of you to function normally, to make you feel yourself again, what do you do?!?Emilia clarke
So much can change in a year. Lots of progress, lots of setbacks, but I have never given up…
Over the last year and a bit I’ve hit my two year and three year mark in my accident recovery, spoken on a worldwide concussion panel, shared my story with a brain injury organisation in Canada, interviewed for numerous podcast channels, created a brain injury awareness website with my good friend Locky, became a trainee board member at Brain Injury SA, worked immensely hard through all aspects of my rehab and fitness, trialled nerve block injections with some short term successes, and continued my work with the YMCA, disability organisation JFA Purple Orange, and my mentoring with Brain Injury SA.
I have also had many downs, and that’s completely normal.
This shit is hard sometimes, rough patches happen. It’s what we do with them that counts the most.
It’s all in the process of finding Lauren again; my sense of self, my identity, and my sense of purpose in life.
One of the biggest challenges I faced after my accident, one that I was not prepared for at all, was the loss of identity. Looking back, I realise now I defined a lot of myself based on what I did for a living and my hobbies.
Think about it. One of the first questions we tend to ask someone we’ve just met is “so what do you do?” or “tell me about yourself.” My response would always just be something as simple as “I’m Lauren, I’m a special education teacher, or I’m a ballet and Irish Dancer.” Those traits about myself were always the first things that would come to mind. And you can imagine how well I coped when I suddenly couldn’t answer the above questions with that simple response anymore (Audrey pic for inspo haha >>)
Would you be happy with the person you’re left with if the major components of your life were suddenly things you couldn’t identify yourself with anymore? Would you even know who that person is?
Tough question to think about, even tougher to actually live it.
Imagine, all the things that make you who you are, what you identify yourself with. Your job, your studies, hobbies, social life, sense of humour, how you communicate, how you feel about yourself, your confidence and how in tune you are with your body, even your personality. Now imagine them all being taken away from you in the matter of minutes.
That’s a brain injury.
Reading that Emilia Clarke quote above I get super emotional. She’s absolutely right. Everyone thinks your soul and personality live in your heart, but I swear they live in your brain. It’s not until your brain stops functioning the way it once was that you realise it.
It’s like starting from scratch again. My accident happened a week before my 26th birthday. I spent 26 years of my life finding who I was, only having to start over from the beginning again.
I’d constantly walk around feeling hollow; like an empty shell of a person. Sure I looked the same, but I didn’t feel the same at all. For a long period of time I became isolated and numb. I didn’t feel a thing, I couldn’t feel a thing actually.
I didn’t know who I was anymore, and that’s a feeling I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.
It was soul destroying, but very much real and very much one of the unspoken realities of head injuries.
For the first two years of my recovery I felt this way. I had no purpose in life. All I did was sleep (terribly), wake up fatigued, go to rehab, take medication for the pain, come home, sleep, force myself to eat, sleep, and do it all over again tomorrow.
Was my purpose doctors and hospitals now?
Was my purpose sitting in a room with ten professionals speaking about me as if I wasn’t even there?
Looking back, and even writing this now, I can’t believe how much darkness I was able to pull myself out of. I’m in a different head space now, and unfortunately there’s no magic button we can push that allows us to get there any faster. It’s just time; it’s a support system, it’s reflecting, and it’s asking for help when you feel alone.
My purpose wasn’t going to doctors appointments and rehab every day. My purpose was ME!! It was putting myself first, looking after my physical and mental well-being, it was working hard, it was working hard every day to get better and improve, it was learning to listen to my brain and to my body, it was learning to live with my current limitations and being okay with resting instead of pushing through. It was finding the strength to acknowledge that yes this is the toughest thing I have ever done, but look at me doing it!
It was me all along.
Only took me two years to figure it out, and sure there will be days where you’ll forget. You’re human! But we can remind ourselves of this at every chance we get.
I’ve lived the last year of my life feeling like I’ve found myself again. My identity. You have to constantly work on that mindset, but I do it every day.
Instead of defining myself by my career and hobbies, I have reminded myself of what I truly believe in and what I value most in my life. I define and identify myself this way now, and I’m so much healthier for it. My worth is not defined by my career, how successful I am or how much money I make. My worth is defined by the qualities that make me a better person. Always remember that, because it took me a long time to get through the dark moments before I was able to start recognising my strengths again.
Personal values are “a collection of guiding principles: what is important to us, deep in our hearts; what sort of people do we want to be; what is meaningful to us; and what we want to stand for in this life.”
Some of the values I now identify myself with are…
I am a kind and compassionate person
Love and friendships are special to me
Community and support
Self respect is important to me
I am a determined and strong person
I am honest and trustworthy
Inner harmony and happiness is what I strive for
I aim to live my life in line with my personal values and beliefs, and I want to spend more time doing things that bring me joy and with people who see me in a positive light. Life is too damn short to do anything else. Going through a traumatic experience changes you, and I have most definitely changed as a person and I’m finally okay with that. With my continued hard work, I hope to bring all these aspects of myself into my future goals and plans. I know I have come such a long way in the last three years, and I want to keep reminding myself of all the things I can do in the future if I continue to strive.
Our brains are wired to produce a positive emotional response to moving forward in a desired direction in life. That’s why purposeful and meaningful goals not just through recovery, but through all aspects of life are so important!!
I found my purpose again. And you will too.
“There is a past version of you that is so proud of how far you have come. Keep going.”