After experiencing a brain injury and having our lives thrown into disarray and confusion, we sometimes have to look long and hard just to see anything positive. Some of us, when times are tough, find ourselves searching for a thread, any thread, just
to give us justification for being alive. Too often we think our brain injury has robbed us of all the good stuff we used to feel, and has stolen any chance of a rosy future, replacing these with pain and dread.
What is it about us that causes this to be so?
As we go through our lives, we, humans feel a need to understand certain things about ourselves and the lives we are living. This “need to know”, understand and justify our existence is what sets us apart from other creatures.
A cow doesn’t contemplate her dreary life as she is having her udders tugged on by a milking machine, nor does she get depressed when she realizes that’s all there is to her life. I have never seen a depressed cow. I’ve never seen an ant sulking in the corner when all the other ants are scurrying to and fro, carrying food or pieces of dead ants back to their nests.
There are animals who feel rudimentary emotions, but humans are the only animals who have the ability to ask themselves this question: “What makes my life worth living?”
This question is especially relevant to those of us who have lost much of what we once knew. Not only do we ask ourselves this, but we have the audacity to keep asking ourselves this until we find a suitable answer. If we are unable to find a good answer, we often make ourselves miserable at the thought that we don’t have a good reason for living.
Let’s examine this question so we can better understand where to look for answers.
When things are going well for us, we might not even care about “What Makes My Life Worth Living?”; it’s a non-issue and we put it on a back burner.
This is a question which becomes important in times of crisis; when we are searching for strength and clarity to get us through a tough situation, or when we need something to give us a reason to keep fighting. We question ourselves during these times and wonder why we are even bothering to put ourselves through this whole “life” thing.
Having a brain injury intensifies this, so much so that we sometimes stop asking ourselves, “What makes my life worth living?”, and instead, start asking another question, “Why am I still alive?” When we ask, “What makes my life worth living?”, what we are doing is seeking out positive things that make us feel good. When we ask, “Why am I still alive?”, we almost ask it with disgust, as if we don’t deserve to be alive in first place, or we are making a statement that we have just about had enough pain and confusion.
When we experience a brain injury we lose so much, and coupled with the fact that it is very hard to see any type of positive outcome, we lose sight of many of the things that make our lives worth living. In essence, we are so busy trying to just “get by” on a daily basis, that the present struggles dominate our thoughts. This makes it hard to to see or feel the good, even when it is there.
The stuff that makes your life worth living are the things that matter to you as a human being, and although having a brain injury makes seeing these things more difficult, they are still there. What kind of things are we talking about? Well, they are not things you achieve, and they are not necessarily the skills and abilities you have, but they are the small, simple things that make you smile or send a shiver down your spine. These are hard to see after a brain injury.
If someone were to ask me,”What makes your life work living?”, I would refer to all the great, undefinable moments that have occurred in my life, which many times have to do simply with being engaged in life’s pursuits and in life’s challenges, like accomplishing something you weren’t sure you could, helping others or having a revelation or a moment of great clarity.
Often they are simple and unexpected, and they sneak up on you. You have to learn to let them in because they are by-products of participating in your life; like being in a particular place at just the right moment when that hot wind suddenly shifts to a cool breeze, and you can hear the leaves rustle. Or When you see that sunset and feel the connection we all have to each other and to the earth. These are reminders of what we are, and the promise we all have.
Maybe they are things we see in a new way or allow ourselves to feel because of what we have learned from our TBI.
As TBI survivors, even though we may feel like bystanders to our lives, we need to look for a way to be exquisitely engaged in order to feel these moments, and we have to be receptive enough to know they are there so we can let them in. Our lives, or parts of our lives, might be tough, thankless, frustrating and painful,but through all we experience we gain an understanding of what is important and meaningful, and are able to use that to seek out those experiences and emotions that “Make Our Lives Worth Living.”
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