I don’t know how many of you have seen the movie, “The Matrix”, which came out a few years ago, but I found it valuable for what I was able to take away from it, even though it was fiction; and pretty fantastical fiction at that. In the movie, a character named Neo was chosen to help save the human race. Neo, however, wasn’t a ready made superhero, he was a superhero that had to be taught and developed, and he went through some interesting things to prepare to be that person who was going to save the human race.
In order to save the human race, Neo, apparently, first had to almost start over as a human being, seemingly going back to the womb, surrounded by amniotic fluids and with umbilical cords hanging off him. It was almost like what some of us go through when we suffer a TBI or ABI, and spend time in the hospital hooked up to machines that make soft noises and emit strange light. In the movie, starting over as a human being enables Neo to reach his full potential by discovering and using the powers he had no idea he had. In real life, after suffering a brain injury, we also need to find a way to reach our full potential by discovering our talents and our power.
Even though Neo went through all this transformational stuff to prepare him to save the human race, it became clear that the physical stuff would not be enough, and had to be supplemented by something else. That is, his mind had to be trained so that he could function within his new reality. Enter this bald dude named Morpheus, who had the responsibility of training Neo so that he could use those physical powers properly.
I know this movie is fiction, but there is one simple, relatable thing here, and that is the similarities between Neo and those who have suffered a brain injury in terms of how they need to learn about their new person. We have all been abruptly displaced from the person we used to know, and flung into a new and unknown world. We both have powers or strengths that we didn’t have before, and we both need to find them and learn to use them, while brain injury survivors also have losses we need to learn to deal with. There are no negative connotations associated with Neo’s metamorphosis, while we are forced to work through feelings of pain, anger and loss which can hide the positive things. The question is, how do we find those positive things?
We don’t have a Morpheus to help us learn, but we can learn one thing from him. While Neo was being trained by Morpheus to use powers, one phrase from Morpheus stuck out for me. This was when he told Neo to,”Free your mind”. The same phrase applies to us.
Freeing your mind is a very powerful idea, and it is what allows Neo to accept the changes that have occurred in him, and to move on with his life. That is something those of us who have suffered a brain injury need to do in order for us to move forward with our lives.
Freeing your mind does not mean giving up on the way you were, and it doesn’t mean settling for less than you think you should. Rather, freeing your mind signifies a type of thinking which allows you to be more accepting of the person you have become, to look for new and exciting powers you might have, to not be constrained by the past, and to move on.
In the movie, when Neo listens to Morpheus and “Frees his mind”, he is able to put aside what he thought were limitations, and to jump from rooftop to rooftop. The old Neo couldn’t have done that; he didn’t have the physical powers. Nor did he have the mental ability to put aside the old fears and thoughts that were limiting him, and go for it. Although the new Neo had the physical ability to jump from rooftop to rooftop, he, at first, was constrained because of the way he had always thought about things. Only after he had learned to “free his mind” was he able to explore his abilities and learn to be something he had thought impossible.
Initially, it was Neo’s perception about such a jump that made it impossible. Much of brain injury is about perception, and it is about not trusting yourself and not knowing what you have become. Finding the inner strength to trust yourself and to “free your mind.”, is what will allow you to grow and live a fulfilled life.