The other day, I had the opportunity to stand beside three beautiful women and share a piece of my heart – my story. I then listened as these women shared their own stories of triumph, their stories of HOPE and HEALING despite heartbreak.
Through our sharing, we became instant friends, joined together by our collective hurts, and our collective healing. We smiled for the Facebook picture, hugged, and said our goodbyes – better for having come together.
I spoke for twenty minutes, a story I’ve shared dozens of times. I am compelled to share my story, led by an unseen hand.
By the end of lunch with one of these wonderful women, I struggled to find words. My brain was done thinking and doing – ready just to BE. At home, I changed into my pajamas, went to bed with my phone, and “liked” all of the posts about the beautiful event.
The next day, I stayed in bed much of the day. My head “jiggled,” as I affectionately refer to the vibration that follows over-stimulation or cognitive work. I was nauseous and off-balance and my head pounded in my skull.
No one but my husband saw the struggles of the morning after. The Facebook world saw my smile.
I love smiling. And I love coming together in our strength. But I must also acknowledge the pain. I must honor and respect the hurt and the lessons it teaches me.
A few months ago, I reached out privately to a beautiful friend, Laura, who courageously shares her own hurt. She shares her journey in hopes of helping even one person LIVE despite pain. Laura’s daughter, Hannah, took her life following a traumatic brain injury and Laura has been walking the long and often lonely road of healing since then, learning lessons that can be taught in no other way.
“I wanted to reach out to you privately to say thank you,” I wrote. “Thank you for being a standard bearer and for helping us to find meaning in our suffering – whether mental, physical, emotional, or spiritual. As we share our stories, we give courage to others to share their stories, and by so doing, we begin our own healing journeys. By our joint sharing, we are able to bear one another’s burdens and, in humility, allow our burdens to be born by friends, family, strangers, and neighbors – and by our Savior.
“After your post yesterday asking us to redefine mental illness, I thought about my own TBI and how very dark my brain was in the weeks and months directly following my injury. Nothing could be found on an MRI that said definitively that my brain was injured, but I knew it was. And there wasn’t anything I could do to will my brain to work. The harder I tried, the darker it got – the more confused, the more jumbled, the more broken I felt. I would cry without any thoughts at all – because I couldn’t think a clear thought. And I couldn’t control when I cried – for no apparent reason. I did everything the doctors told me to do – I sat quietly for 9 weeks on my back porch before attempting to return to work, and yet I still had severe cognitive impairment at 12 weeks post injury.
“Work was impossible. I couldn’t look at a computer screen without becoming dizzy or manage the multiple tasks facing me. I couldn’t learn new things. I couldn’t do old things. My speech therapist recommended an I-phone to help me remember things. My life was speech therapy, physical therapy, balance therapy, doctor appointments, etc. etc.
“At one very dark point, I remember crying and talking to my mom, “Mom, I get it now, I get it.” I understood this very real desire to end the misery. I felt a measure of the darkness that she must have felt before she ended her life. I felt completely alone and helpless to fix me. And hopeless.
“Well meaning family members encouraged me to not quit work and apply for disability because then I would be disabled for life. ‘Just think more positively, Wendy,’ they would say. ‘Quit talking about how your brain doesn’t work and focus on healing.’ What they didn’t know was that every single day I focused on healing. I worked with alternative healers. I worked with psychologists and neurologists and neuropsychologists. I tried to visualize and to bring light into my very dark and scattered brain. And I still could NOT will my brain to work.
“Instead, I had to turn my will over to God.
“Three and a half years later, I still feel like a sheet of black cellophane is covering my brain when I try to think or process. Everything takes a hundred times longer. I often describe my brain as trying to swim through mud – or, when I’ve had too much stimulation, like sparks flying in an uncoordinated display of fireworks. At night when I can’t sleep, it’s not because my mind is racing – because words don’t come. It’s because my mind is jumping – literally – and the vibration I feel in my brain and throughout my body makes it impossible to sleep. Sometimes I ask my husband to hold my head so that by his calming energy, my brain can settle.
“There have been beautiful blessings that have come because I can no longer ‘think’ the way I used to be able to. I have learned to be still. To close my eyes and ‘see’ God’s hand in my life, and let his finger touch my heart. I have learned to love more deeply and to feel God’s love. I have gained a light much brighter than that which was lost. And I am grateful for the lessons I have learned.
“I KNOW that Hannah is helping many others to LIVE despite darkness. And just because we can’t see the darkness on an MRI scan, it doesn’t make it any less real. I also KNOW that beyond the darkness there is light. Light which we cannot see but is every bit as real as the darkness. There IS a Savior. And it is to that HOPE that I cling.”
*To find out more about Hannah’s story, please visit livehannahshope.org
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