Now is the time to forgive yourself

Sunrise ForestSo, I had my nap… woke up after an hour in a panic over a deadline I thought I had missed, then re-did the math and dates and realized I could go back to sleep. Crisis averted — and it was only a crisis invented by bad math and forgetfulness and fatigue. I woke up about an hour later, feeling like I was done with my rest… and I went out to the woods.

My home is pretty much surrounded by forest. There is town-owned land, and there are acres and acres of woods that neighbors keep wild. When I first moved to my house, I spent a LOT of time hiking the trails nearby, and it was a rare weekend that didn’t find me spending most of each Saturday and Sunday morning on trail and off. Summer and winter, I was out there, exploring, hiking up hill and down, cutting across sections of low undergrowth, finding where the deer wore their paths into the forest floor. There were streams and ponds along the way, and I’d stop now and then to just sit in the summer sun and take it all in.

Life was really, really good.

Then I fell. And I stopped hiking. I stopped exploring, I stopped getting up early and heading out to get my exercise and see the world I didn’t get to see inside my cubicle at work. I also stopped doing a lot of work around the house, and everything just sort of slowed down, got murky, got strange. I thought it was stress. I thought it was work. It was actually traumatic brain injury. And I just didn’t realize it till years later, when so much had gone to hell, and I was sliding towards the brink.

Over the past several years, I have meant to head back to the woods again – to get my exercise, to get out of the house, to get my mind off, well, everything. But the few times I’ve been out, I just haven’t felt it. I just haven’t had the same sense I once had of the openness, the freedom, the possibility. The relaxation. The peace in the midst of everything. Even though I was hiking the same trails in the same way, with the weather cooperating and the hours all to myself, it just wasn’t the same.

Thinking back, I believe a big part of the problem was that I was so sensitive to everything.  I startled easily, and I had trouble with light and sound. Walking outside was such a gauntlet for me, and doing a lot of the things I used to do, like going to the beach — or walking in the woods — were suddenly all but impossible. I dreaded the thought of meeting anyone on my hikes. I had a hard time judging what they were saying to me or how they were acting towards me, and I was unsure about how to act with people. Something about me seemed to put them off, and although I thought I was being friendly, they always seemed to back away from me or avoid me. God, how I dreaded going outside into the world. I couldn’t figure out what, if anything was wrong with me, that I had such a hard time interacting with people.

And why was it so difficult to be outside, where I used to love to be?

Well, it took me a few years, but I finally got back in the game. I started walking outside again, although it wasn’t as regular as it had been. Maybe my preferences for how I spent my time changed. Maybe my interests changed. I know I was spending a lot more time working, so that cut into my outdoor time. But at least I was out again, out in the daylight, out on the roads, out in the wood. It was something.

Walking today, I was dogged by this sense that I haven’t done nearly enough of that kind of activity, lately. I’ve been working a lot, it’s true. But I still have time on the weekends to get out. I just haven’t done it. I haven’t taken the hour or so — even half hour — to walk down the road and back… or head back into the woods. I haven’t made the time, made space for it in my regular schedule, haven’t put other things on hold, while I tended to what I needed to tend to.

And I’ve been pretty hard on myself about it. I have to admit. I’ve been down on myself for not doing enough, for losing that part of my life, for not making more of an effort.

But today, as I hiked up the hill, the thought came to me, “Now is the time to forgive yourself.” It was clear as anything — I need to forgive myself. For all the things I’ve done that have had a bad effect on my family, myself, my finances, my future… I need to find a way to make peace with those things — what I’ve said, what I’ve done, what I’ve not said, what I’ve not done. It’s been weighing on me for so long — All those things that used to define me: my presence of mind, my calm, my centered-ness, my strength, my patience… that were lost after my fall. And with them went my self-respect, my self-control, my Self.Try as I might, I just couldn’t seem to keep it together, and I have faulted and blamed myself terribly for a long time, because of it.

As though it were all my fault. As though I were to blame.

Now, I know that TBI has a way of messing with you royally, turning you into someone you don’t recognize. But there has always been a part of me that’s believed that on some level, I was responsible for what was going on in my life. I probably felt that I was responsible for far more than I was capable of “owning”, for a number of years. But knowing that doesn’t change the thought in the back of my mind that I need to “own my sh*t” and take responsibility for what I’ve done.

I’ve done a lot that I’m not proud of, that’s for sure. And it’s terrible to think of.

But walking up that hill today, this thought came to me that no matter what, I just need to forgive myself. Forgive myself and move on. I need to wrap my head around the fact that that the things I’ve said and done, the things that have harmed myself and those around me, the things I’ve done that have hurt my well-being and personal situation… yes, I did them. And yes, they were wrong. But I’ve got to forgive myself, quit beating myself up, and move on to what’s next. Cut my losses. Cut loose from the guilt and shame and wounded pride and just live my life free of that burden. Be generous with myself, as I would with any other human being who came to me and said they’d done and said these terrible things. I would forgive them. I would understand them and show them compassion. I need to do the same for myself.

I don’t need to carry around that burden anymore, I realized. I don’t need to haul it around, like a bag of rusty old car parts clunking against each other and digging into my back. I’m not the same person I was, four years ago. I’m not even the same person I was two years ago. All the things I did and said, those things are behind me, and I don’t need to hang onto them, or believe I’m doing to do them again and again and again. All those good things in my life I thought I’d lost for good, some of them are starting to come back. And the more I work at things, the steadier I am, the longer I work at this, the better I can function. It’s not fast, it’s not easy, it’s not simple. But it can and does happen – things can and do improve. After all, I’m still here.

I’m tired again, so I’ll go to bed.

Forgiven.

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Author: brokenbrilliant

I am a long-term multiple (mild) Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI or TBI) survivor who experienced assaults, falls, car accidents, sports-related injuries in the 1960s, '70s, '80s, and '90s. My last mild TBI was in 2004, but it was definitely the worst of the lot. I never received medical treatment for my injuries, some of which were sports injuries (and you have to get back in the game!), but I have been living very successfully with cognitive/behavioral (social, emotional, functional) symptoms and complications since I was a young kid. I’ve done it so well, in fact, that virtually nobody knows that I sustained those injuries… and the folks who do know, haven’t fully realized just how it’s impacted my life. It has impacted my life, however. In serious and debilitating ways. I’m coming out from behind the shields I’ve put up, in hopes of successfully addressing my own (invisible) challenges and helping others to see that sustaining a TBI is not the end of the world, and they can, in fact, live happy, fulfilled, productive lives in spite of it all.

19 thoughts on “Now is the time to forgive yourself”

  1. Thank you for making me realize that I need to do the same thing. It is reassuring to know that there are people out there, like me with a TBI. I blame my self for alot and I too carry it around also. Now I must forgive myself. Thank you for your words.

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  2. Thanks for writing Lisa –

    The more of us who manage to forgive ourselves, the better place our world will be.

    TBI can take so much from us – including our self-respect and our ability to see clearly where we are responsible, and where other forces are at work. I’m not saying we should use TBI as an excuse for bad behavior, but knowledge of our neurology can be a starting point that helps us better understand ourselves and give ourselves some room to simply be human… And that is something we should do, in my opinion.

    Be well
    BB

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  3. BB
    You were inspired. Beautifully composed and written as you do…

    May I please add the story to my site – I have a tab for ‘Our Stories’ so that people with TBI may share their experiences. I expect the site to ‘go live’ by the end of the week…

    Kindest, Annie

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  4. Thanks Annie –

    Absolutely, you may add it. If you could link to my site from yours, that would be great. I’ll be happy to link to your site, as well. Please let me know when it is ready.

    Thanks and best of luck!

    BB

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  5. Hi
    The site is up and running – I would love to make your story about forgiving yourself the first one that I load into ‘Our Stories’ if I may? I still have to add all my content but am working on this! I am also ready to accept stories from anyone else – plus all those valuable little insights that those of us with TBI’s glean from life. I know you will only post this if you are happy BB – my site is http://www.mylatentself.co.uk

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  6. I’m glad you are forgiving yourself. It is so good you are walking outside again. If you ever don’t feel like confronting people when you walk though and just keeping to yourself it is soooo easy though. Just keep your gaze down and act self-absorbed. People may think you are either shy or thinking or maybe think you are not too friendly. But you don’t have to deal with people. Lots of people do it so it’s okay if you just don’t want to communicate. However, some people like to have conversations when they hike about trails as they are pretty nice just to connect on that level. I might even give you a link in a moment. Glad you are feeling okay according to your more recent post. That’s a good place to be.

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  7. My ‘geek’ will be uploading your story very soon BB – I am honoured that this story will be the first one to be added to ‘Our Stories.’ I just see so much value in sharing, and I totally believe that other people with ABI’s can really benefit from reading about other people’s experiences. You write beautifully and a really BIG well done on having such a huge following! 🙂 🙂 🙂

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  8. That is a big ‘Ditto’ BB. I know that I am in the very, very early stages of reaching out and trying to help others; your support tells me so much about you that is simply between your lines…

    You are an inspiration to me…

    As you will doubtless know, one of the common consequenses of TBI is misdiagnosis and / or a total lack of follow-up support. I was diagnosed as a serious TBI back in 2000 but the health services here in the UK failed to give me any information or follow-up care. It took me four years before I was able to verbalise myself ‘well enough’ that my doctor could understand the significance of the problems I had. I don’t think she ever understood how significant they were…

    This happens so commonly that our National Health Services dub as as being those who ‘fell through the net.’ I eventually got occupational and speech and language therapy almost five years after I fell on my head. Nobody listened to me. Nobody understood. I had to stand my own ground with the severe deficits and disabilities that I experienced up to this time.

    I was ‘born’ positive and tenacious. My brain injury left me almost totally oblivious to my impairments. I just ‘knew’ that my brain didn’t work anymore and that I couldn’t accomplish much of anything at all.

    Before I fell on my head I worked as an International Sales Manager for a company that provided the equivalent of a ‘private’ internet for media companies. I had always held ‘technical’ managerial roles and earned over three times the average salary. I had loved my brain, loved the way it worked, loved my photgraphic memory that was not only visual but also verbal. I liked me. I was both stalwart and a big softie. I was practical and spiritual. I was scientifically minded and yet absorbed in working out what my own experiences of life and the universe meant to me.

    I didn’t do quitting – not even on my husband who treated me abismally…

    I always believed in the perfection of life, in owning your own responsibilities, in understanding that we are always all doing our best armed with whatever tools we have in our box. I bounced back like a rubber ball, believed that the most beautiful roses grow out of the smelliest manure and hat everything that happened was a gift.

    I totally lost all of this. I had to start all over from scratch. I may be a woman but I could take anything apart and fix it – what I couldn’t initially fix was my own brain. I was oblivious to the person I became until I started to learn my routines of getting dressed, brushing my teeth and so on with my OT. Every routine task took me way over a year to learn. I had no concept of time until last year.

    As someone who was born ‘knowing’ that we are ‘All One’ I find it incredible that I could so often have found myself on my knees praying to a ‘God’ that I now believed was seperate from me, to give me ‘me’ back. I find it almost inconceivable that I could possibly ever have felt that I was alone…

    For all these reasons and more, I am grateful to you for your understanding and willing support….

    Annie x

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  9. Thank you Annie –

    I appreciate your kind words. I think when it comes to TBI, we are all very alone, yet so much connects us. I have had to learn to tolerate others not fully recognizing the challenges I have on a daily basis, including my own neuropsychologist. They are very good-hearted and well-intentioned, and they have been an amazing help to me with their deep experience and positive mindset and very effective techniques. Yet, to this day I am not sure they fully understand the degree to which my life has been turned upside-down by my TBIs. They tend to downplay my difficulties — and I think I know why, so I don’t get overcome by them — and I think that perhaps I have not been as clear as I might have been, over the past several years. But it’s all clouded — their perception and mine — by the brain injury aspect. So, I’m not sure they know what to believe.

    When I try to describe to them what it’s like to have intense sensitivities to touch and sound and light, they tend to redirect my attention away from them. I’m sure they’re trying to keep me moving in a positive direction and not make myself disabled by focusing on my difficulties, but at the same time, it is still a little troublesome that my experience is not acknowledged. This is NOT EASY. It is just plain hard, sometimes. And at times, all I really need is to have someone acknowledge the difficulties that I’m having.

    It would also be nice to have them acknowledge the losses I’ve sustained as a result of my series of accidents, most of all my most recent fall in 2004. I lost a LOT — years of hard work, savings, salary, professional reputation… all of it — POOF! — out the window. Not immediately, but over a gradual process that seemed to speed up, as time went by. It sometimes makes me nuts, to look around and think how far I might be right now, had I not fallen. But that just makes me crazy, so I have to stop. I can certainly do a great impression of someone who never missed a beat, when I first meet people. But the internal pressure of having to keep up, and feeling like I’m losing things and missing something, and I’m not where I “should” be… it’s a lot.

    I can understand why people would want to kill themselves after concussion or TBI. I don’t — it’s not like me to do something so drastic, as I’m much too fickle and I know it — I’m sure I’d regret it immediately after swallowing the handful of pills and chasing it with some hard liquor — then I’d have to make myself throw up, possibly go to the hospital, have to explain myself to everyone, and end up having things be much more of a mess than they were when I made the attempt. No, suicide is not at all an option for me. But I can certainly understand how others would feel that way.

    Nobody ever said it would be easy. Nobody ever promised me perfection. I know that. Yet, it would be nice, every now and then, to not feel like I’m insane for feeling the way I do.

    Over the past years of working — alone and with my neuropsych — I have managed to find ways to put my TBIs in the background and not have them be the singlemost important defining aspect of my life. Yet, they are always there. They do not go away. And I have to find ways to make peace with them, as I go about my business.

    This is probably one of the most difficult aspects of TBI — it’s there, and you need to accommodate it and adapt to it, to some extent. Yet, it’s only one part of your whole experience, and if you get too caught up in focusing on the difficulties, you miss the opportunity to become something other than a “TBI survivor.”

    I suppose it’s all a balance. But it can be difficult. Then again, many of the most valuable activities are…

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  10. I hardly ever saw my neuropsychologist. When I did see her I had absolutely no idea what her role was anyway… (LOL) Come to that, I still don’t!

    I wonder about the way the professionals deal with us… Sometimes I think they dismiss things that they don’t view as being important (despite the fact that it is important to you if you raised it), and I think they can float over things that they simply don’t have the answers to. I have certainly been treated as someone who is making things up, is delusional, or even as someone who is a ‘complainer.’ By no means would I tar everyone with the same brush, but there seem to be an awful lot of commonalities in the reports and comments people with TBI’s make about their experiences…

    I try really hard to focus on recognising when I do things that I wouldn’t have done with my undamaged brain. Over the last year or so I have become much better at identifying these ‘broken’ aspects of myself as my memory about who I used to be improves. I then try and focus on improving things to bring them back in-line with where they used to be.

    I had to take my dog to the vet today and the receptionist was trying really hard to exlain the way my insurance worked. In the end I had to put my hand on her arm, and say, ‘I have a brain injury. I recognise that you are being really kind and patient and that you are trying to help me. The more you are trying to explain, the more confused I am becoming. I have noticed that you understand, and I am totally happy to trust that you are able to deal with this for me.’ She seemed relieved! I felt happy that I had been so sensible!!!!

    I think that it is possible that sometimes we switch off and nod in all the right places in order to be more socially acceptable. Our specialists should understand that we have real trouble processing our incoming data – and yet – they don’t seem to make any allowances for this. Perhaps they hold inaccurate beliefs about us, maybe they think we are all psychologically screwed.

    My neuropsyologist was involved in helping me understand the legalities of my divorce. My solicitor ran out of ideas of ways to help me, and so he enlisted her help. There was one time she fell back on her training and made the assumption that I was ‘guilty’ of ‘all or nothing’ thinking. I told her she was wrong. I told her my brain injury meant that I could not process my thoughts, and so therefore could not expand my views, and this was what I had been trying to tell her…

    Maybe it is down to us to teach them…

    Keep up the good work…

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  11. Yeah, Annie, that’s pretty messed up that your neuropsych wasn’t getting that you were having issues. What is wrong with people? Especially people who are trained in this stuff? I don’t get it. I think sometimes my own neuropsych pushes me to be more self-sufficient and start behaving more like a “regular” person. But in fact, the thing they accomplish most is getting me to withdraw back into my shell and start acting the part of a regular person again. That does not help me develop techniques and approaches that will do me some practical good. But I think they also get tired, and they deal with people who are much more obviously impacted than I, so they may genuinely believe that all is right with me. And I hate to disappoint them.

    Ah, well. It’s all a big lesson. Yes, I think we do need to teach them, too.

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  12. That is EXACTLY what they do when they don’t understand or they are dismissive of our disabilities – they send us right back into our shells, and when they do this, they also inadvertently strip us of opportunities for us to heal. I am convinced that we can recover more quickly if we are understood, and this is one of the main themes of my website…

    Those of us with brain injuries need a tremendous amount of resillience just to get through our daily lives – we need to be ‘super’ people to deal with the added challenges that they unnecessarily cause us to face when they misunderstand us…

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  13. Yes, Annie — I think the missing piece is the simple acknowledgement of what we have lost and how much we have to deal with. It would not hurt to simply recognize it — and it would not make us feel crazy for feeling the way we do. I think they sometimes get so focused on fixing what’s wrong, that they don’t want to admit it’s there.

    But it is there. And personally, I feel that recognizing the things that are “amiss” is the first step to taking steps to heal it, develop new awareness, find ways to compensate for it, and also learn how to avoid conditions that give rise to worsening situations.

    We do need a lot of resillience, that’s for sure. It can be very discouraging to turn to them for help, and then get none — or be treated like we don’t actually need help.

    Ah, well. I think it’s also good to not depend too much on others – to learn to find our own resources and sources of strength, so that we can make it through without being crushed by the world.

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