Donna O’Donnell Figurski
I once had a client whose words have stayed with me: “How could this happen? Why would God allow it?” The man who said this was very religious, and he genuinely was confused as to how such agony could affect his family. The incident he spoke of was about a cruel betrayal that a dear family member had endured. After much reflection and therapy with him, one thing became very clear. He and I believed that in order to see God’s grace, there must be challenge.
Let me take this a step further. The traumatic brain injury I have came from violence very early in my life. Throughout growing up and in school, a very clear split emerged. Verbal skills came very easily to me. I was able to do well in spelling and in any class that involved interaction or debate. Then there was the other side of my life. I struggled to learn to tie my shoes. Don’t ever ask me to tie a bow, and please don’t ever ask me to give you directions or to read any public transit schedule. While we’re at it, don’t ask me to get you one of those luggage carts at the airport either. I am also very sensitive to light, sound, and movement. In fact, I am so sensitive to light and color that party shops and fabric stores cause me to feel faint and the color to drain from my face.
Everything that ever involved spatial processing, like horseback riding, dog sports, exercise, or any sport, was so not my thing. I struggled to get on a horse. The fear of not knowing where I was in space was so scary and then was critiqued because most people don’t have that issue. Dog sports, like agility, obedience, and herding, require you to know where you and your dog are in space, and herding involves knowing where the obstacles and livestock are as well. I participated in these things but struggled horribly with them. Aerobics, swimming, dodge ball, softball, tennis, or any other sport showed how impaired my visual and vestibular processing was. It took me years to get beyond my motion sickness in all vehicles, and please, I beg of you, don’t ask me to go to an amusement park because for me there is no enjoyment in it.
When you’re “normal-looking,” the last thing people think of is that you are disabled. Because I was bright, there was no testing in school. I was just told I was lazy, sloppy, and careless. I could learn the theory of lots of topics, but I struggled to understand the physical application of things. Until I was a middle-aged adult and my husband taught me how to do a puzzle, I was without the skills of matching and understanding how things fit together. I even had a neuropsychologist tell me that I couldn’t possibly be a therapist because I didn’t have the neurological skills to do the job. This occurred during the end of my 20-year career!
Her comment of “You can’t!” is probably the core of what I believe about traumatic brain injuries. Many experts and well-meaning people, licensed or otherwise, often mean well and want to stop those of us “disabled” not to set our hopes too high, so we, and they, don’t get disappointed. It is my very strong belief that no one can know what any of us is capable of achieving. Whether we appear outwardly disabled or not, those of us who know traumatic brain injury know what it’s like to question yourself: “Can I do it today? Will I be able to do it? I could do it yesterday! What’s wrong with me?” TBI, like all disabilities, causes us to have good days and bad. Some days our brains click along with few glitches; other days we literally cannot put a sentence together. Perhaps that’s why I am as spiritual as I am. On those days when I can be productive, I want to do as much as I can. On the days when I can’t, I work to remember that my worth is defined because I have the light of God within me. Regardless of what my struggles are, I matter. Life matters.
The stories of those whose lives have been forever changed by TBI can rock someone to his or her core. Truly my client’s words – “How could this happen?” – is exactly what so many of us feel. Personally, I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe all things have significance in our lives. Every time we survivors do what the professionals said we couldn’t, we remember. Every time a professional is caring and kind, we remember. Each moment we are blessed to feel love and gentleness in our lives, we remember. What is it that we remember, you may ask? I believe we remember that our lives matter. Les Brown, speaker and motivator, often spoke of how only we can give life and power to our dreams.
Just when we question our importance – our reason for being, God shows us how much we matter. Sometimes we are so lost in our pain that only hurt is released from our hearts and minds. Even within the deepest, darkest night of the soul, there is light. It may be small, dim, and weak, but it is there. It is up to us to remember it exists and to allow it into our lives.
Because I have TBI: I have intuition that others do not.
Because I have TBI: I can hear what others aren’t saying.
Because I have TBI: I can “see” people and places in a bold and global way.
Because I have TBI: I can feel touch and connection in a way that is uniquely mine.
Because I have TBI: I can hold the space for others in pain in a courageous way.
Because I have TBI: I have been able to see how strong I truly am.
Because I have TBI: I have seen the suffering in others in a kind and compassionate way.
Because I have TBI: I have the opportunity to make an impression on this world that is my own.
To learn more about Sue, please visit her website/blog at Platypus Expressions.
Thank you, Sue Hannah.
Any views and opinions of the Guest Blogger are purely his/her own.
(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)