“This the core of spiritual work. When you are comfortable with pain passing through you, you will be free. This world will never be able to bother you again because the worst the world can do is hit the pain stored within you. If you are no longer afraid of yourself, you are free. You will then be able to walk through this world more vibrant and alive than ever before….Eventually you will understand that there is an ocean of love behind all of this fear and pain…peace and love will run your life.” ~ Michael Singer
Learning to Lean on Yourself
One of the greatest gifts to come out of suffering a serious condition and severe, if not terminal, illness is that you at last become your own best friend. Perhaps this is divine intervention, or perhaps it evolves out of necessity because, as explained here, friends tend to fall away whenever a person changes, particularly in foreign ways such as these. However, brain injury also leaves survivors reevaluating all their relationships, so sometimes the survivor is the one choosing to move on from a friendship, which is another interesting evolution of the condition.
Following are some of the changes that I experienced that allowed me to become my own best friend. My hope is that if you struggle with this issue (as I did before my injury), whether or not you are suffering a chronic condition now, you will find some wisdom in these ideas.
1. Forgive Yourself. You’re going to be a whole new person, radically changed by your experience. The only way to calibrate the rate of change is to hold on for the ride. This requires vigilant forgiveness, not of others because remember–you’re trying to survive something life threatening–your focus naturally falls on yourself during this time. You have reached a point where you simply cannot take care of anyone else, but you must take care of yourself. You are going to think and feel and do some out of character things that may surprise even you, let alone leave everyone else shrieking. It’s part of the process. Embrace it, but to the best of your ability do not overindulge it. When you do feel disappointed in yourself, understand that you’ve been wounded, and that healing isn’t always pretty. This perspective shows you how beautiful a mind is, that it is adaptable and that it can improve. Forgive every foolish thing you say, do, think, have and will say, do and think. There is no tax on self-forgiveness. Practice it daily.
2. Find Your Value. Nothing can prepare you for the feeling of worthlessness that brain injury induces. It’s like you’re on one of those carnival rides where centrifugal force makes the floor drop out from under your feet. Just as you work on this ride to feel grounded, like you aren’t falling into some vast abyss, you have to work to find your worth again. It’s likely that you will be reduced to feeling that the only thing you have accomplished is surviving…and for a long while, that’s not going to feel like a victory–more like something you didn’t have a choice in much like you may not have had a choice in being injured. Even if the only thing you can proclaim is that you are human having a human experience, that is enough. In fact, that is a lot. You have value because you are. Simply because you exist…but also because you endured. Your body and brain are among the strongest, depending on the extent of your injuries, and that in itself is remarkable. As unlucky as you may feel, you are actually quite lucky.
3. Practice Acceptance. This is probably the toughest step on your way to becoming your own best friend, but perhaps the most essential one. You don’t have time to whine or be angry about what you’ve lost, even though it is okay to feel this and act this way (and you will). Your energy, however, is best used accepting who you’ve become and whether you have sufficient help and love or not. Chances are you won’t, so this is how you begin to become adept at providing your needs for yourself. Also, you get to give up the hope of being “perfect” and the drive toward perfection. You finally get to let your hair down and just be whatever state you’re in. No sense fighting this, because you won’t have the strength, at least for a good while. Use your time to find new ways to occupy your time. Change the way you think about what you need to be doing and what you want to be doing. I was amazed at how alive I was even just lying in my bed not speaking to anyone. You can learn to be totally isolated and still sane. And once you learn that, becoming your own best friend is relatively easy. Your thought patterns are crucial, so if those are dreadful, work on changing those, or know that they will change as your body and your brain heal…even if your circumstances remain the same.
4. Express Yourself. You do this for you, because most people aren’t going to be interested or tolerant. Most people do not want to hear about your trauma, your ailments, your challenges, your problems. Life is tough for everyone, even the healthiest. However, the catharsis of self-expression moves you forward in magical ways. It does not make you popular. Remember, though, to have a friend you only need one–in this case, you! If you can find an art form, play or listen to music, design or decorate anything, write…you get a bonus. Let the rough patches out to smooth them; let the fear out to overcome it, the confusion out to clarify it. Be gentle, be patient, but allow yourself to try. Even if you have to talk to yourself in your head, you are working that brain, and any working brain is an alive one. Keep expressing yourself, even if you have no audience. Especially if you have no audience.
5. Know You. Be skeptical of anything anyone tells you about who you are. The fact is, unless the person has experienced and survived intense head trauma, they really do not know you. You know you. Your knowledge is sufficient. To bolster what you do not understand, you can read–but know that reading takes the form of actually reading text as well as watching and listening. Reading becomes a fuller, richer, more varied activity. When someone judges or scolds you, know that what they say may or may not be accurate. You get to decide. You become selfish because you don’t ever have to worry about becoming self-centered. You just have to endure. You’re trying to get your life back. People scratch their heads, but you were there whenever your injury occurred. You experience the knitting back together of your own bones. No one knows your body or mind like you do, and you are free to stop worrying about theirs. For a while, you get a PhD in who you are. So pay attention, and let this distract you from all the drudgery you have to endure.
6. Know Your Limits. People may tell you that you expect too much or you do too little. People will tell you all sorts of things. You just have to concentrate on what you can do and when. If you can’t do something you want to do, accept it and don’t try to force yourself. When you are ready, you will do whatever needs to be done. If you can’t cook dinner, or even if you don’t want to, you get a pass. Your family members might not give you a pass–you have to give it to yourself. When it comes to activity, who doesn’t want to be up and at it? No one would choose to check out and be a blob. Even people who might do that are fighting some sort of challenge. When you need rest, rest. When you want to run a marathon, consider whether you can. Sure, you can try anyway, but don’t beat yourself up when you run last. You are okay just where you are. When you weren’t injured, you were better. When you heal, you are not going to be the same as you were before being injured, but you will in some ways be even better!
7. Defend Yourself. People are not going to like you for this, but you are going to have to be strong enough to stand up to them. Head injuries help with this, because you can get really good at giving someone a piece of your mind. You’ve already lost a few million brain cells and survived, so what’s a few more, right? Don’t let someone break your heart without acknowledging it at least to yourself. If you can, stand up to them while they’re doing it. If someone says, “You never come out with us,” just say, “I’m sorry, I haven’t been feeling well.” If someone says, “You are a purple people monster eater,” say, “No, I am not. I am a person. I have a heart.” People are eager to pick on brain injured survivors, don’t be bullied. You didn’t hit yourself in the head, and your karma didn’t make you get hit in the head. Maybe it was someone’s voodoo doll that got you hit in the head. The point is, you have to take a defensive stance because you now know that there is a bulldozer and it is coming for you. You might not have been able to avoid your injury, but you don’t have to be bulldozed for the rest of your life because of it.
8. Do What You Love. Nothing says mortality like almost losing your life. Learn the lesson that life is short, and then use your time on this earth to do what you can for yourself by doing what you want. I spent my entire life trying to help others; I still do that to a fault now. Help yourself by doing what you love to do. If you like to bowl, bowl. If you like to write, write. If you can hang curtains, do that. Do what you’re good at and what makes you smile, makes your heart beat. Be alive even if it is in a small, quiet way. You don’t have to be the provost, CEO, and leading lady. You just have to be happy…and you will be surprised at how little it takes to live happily.
9. Be Kind to Yourself. Let the rest of the world ignore you if they choose. Practice self-kindness, self-acceptance. Focus inward instead of outward. No plans for Saturday night? What can you do on your own that will make you happy? No likes on Facebook? Be the bigger person and like someone else’s post…but try to like it only if you like it, because it is never kind to lie to yourself. Don’t worry about your image or how many followers you have. Quite frankly, that is a pain in the butt. We are not all trying to get elected. You can earn a living without a social media presence or even being part of the in group. You just need to monitor your self-talk, and to correct it when you are being harsh to yourself. Everything else will take care of itself. You will be loved again. You get there by being loving. In the past, I mastered loving others but always put myself second or even last. Then I got hurt and no one understood me and no one could help me, not fully anyway. I had no choice but to learn to pay attention to what I needed. If I didn’t pay attention, I didn’t get what I needed. You don’t have to worry about not being hard enough on yourself. Most of us are way too hard on ourselves.
10. You Decide. Since it is so important to know yourself and to do for yourself, I leave this last one to you. What do you need to be your own best friend?
Becoming your own best friend is important because it brings you fulfillment you cannot experience without it. It enables you to provide for yourself what others cannot or will not, and thereby reduces your anger and helps your heart health. Once you learn to provide what you need, to truly care for yourself (even if that means hiring a caretaker), to like yourself just as you are, you can live through the worst calamity you’ll ever experience. Once you learn to rely on yourself, you do not have to fear death. You have walked the labyrinth in solitude, and you are now free to fall in love with life, with your own life, however little or big it is to you or to anyone else. Once you learn to lean on yourself, you’ll be a more reliable place for anyone else to fall, because you will be solid and true.
Remember it’s not how many fans you have, it’s how many smiles you can smile.
Thanks for reading Stumbler.
This is Day 29 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue
© debra valentino, all rights reserved, www.firstlightofevening.com