Here I am, at age sixty-four, about to enter a new phase of my life: forty-five years after my month-long coma, I’ve reached that age when I can retire.
That idea sounds great, so I tell people I am going to retire in a year.
Their usual response is, “Well, what are you retiring from?”
“I am going to retire from being disabled.”
Do I really believe that? No. No I don’t. I’ve got to admit, though, sometimes my mind wanders and I reflect on the past and dream about what the future could be.
My Strategy for Success
I never thought I was going to “fix” everything that was wrong with me. Instead, I told myself I just wanted to be human and find some peace; be at peace with myself.
My thought was: I would strive to become human again by discovering the new person I was, and, by doing that, I would find peace and get the healing I so desperately wanted. That healing wouldn’t come through concentrating on “fixing” myself, but instead would come through knowledge and self-acceptance.
So, I didn’t focus on what was wrong with me. Rather, I focused on what was right with me. I thought that if I did things for the right reasons, concentrated on accepting who I was and on being a good human being, I would eventually reach that place where life would be good and come easily to me; without the daily breakdowns, survival issues and emotional turmoil. I’d find the place where the sun shone; that magical place where gentle warm breezes would waft over me and everything would make sense. Once there, I would have an understanding of me, my life and of why this all happened.
I became focused on the discovery of who I had become due to my brain injury, and what was possible in my life.
I got married, had children and was fortunate to be able to work in a family business, but, looking back, I see now that, even using my forward thinking strategy, my day to day personal life had become all consuming and I was over my head. I struggled with some parts of my life because I wasn’t clear or present enough, even though the other parts of my life, where I received more support, seemed to be moving along.
I also see now that I was putting all my energy into “getting to that peaceful place,” as if it were a reward for all the hard work I was putting in. The downside of this strategy was I was more focused on reaching that “peaceful place” than on the moments that made up the journey. I can see now that I missed much, either because I wasn’t paying attention, or I was in a brain fog; unable to relate. I didn’t notice those incredible “life” moments that sometimes occurred and could have helped connect me with other people. This especially showed up in my roles as husband and father.
I don’t know if there was anything I could have done about missing those moments, given I was living with the affects of a brain injury, but I do know I can learn something now from simply trying to understand it.
What I’ve Learned
I’ve learned much from the last 45 years; about what I could have tried to do better or different, and how I can better move forward now. That knowledge is powerful and I use it only for information, not to beat myself up about what could have been or what I could have one differently. My life after brain injury is all about learning to accept who and what I am now so I can find a way to exist in this world.
If I could have done things differently, though, I would have been more accepting of people, and not let the fact that I wasn’t accepted by others affect my attitude or my actions. I would have tried to go out of my way be more magnanimous so that I could have created more connections and more relationships, although I know this would have been difficult given how disconnected we all feel after brain injury.
Rather than looking at my life as a train ride with a beginning and an end, I would look at my life as a train ride with lots of stops along the way. Each of these stops would represent a moment; a moment in my life when I felt, realized, or did something that made me feel alive. Again, I know that would be difficult because my brain injury often kept me from feeling present, or made me confused, or I was slow to process what was going on around me.
Instead of feeling the pressure of arriving at a good ending, I would try to live more for today, and feel the pleasure and warmth of moments in my life; each one important, representing a time when I shared something with someone else, grew a little, or accomplished something.
I had to go through all this so that I can understand and appreciate what I am now. I’ve learned I may not reach the final destination I always dreamed about, but I feel more whole than I ever have. I can now live through and appreciate those magic, fleeting moments that occur in my life, and understand that instead of waiting for that big payoff at the end of my journey, I am accumulating a collection of moments that make me feel alive; and feeling alive happens every day, not just at the end of the trip.
Those moments are important right now, as they are happening, and the appreciation of them doesn’t need to be put off to a later date.
Most importantly, I realize that, although I may not be able to retire from being disabled, I can definitely retire from feeling disabled and replace that with the feeling of being alive.
Thanks for reading, Jeff
Kim Waterman says
Love this! Great words! Blessings to you! Kim
Thanks for sharing your perspective. I’m 68 and reaching some of those conclusions too.
James Bono says
Thank you Jeff. As always, your wisdom, insight and helpful ways continues to make a make a positive impact not only on myself, but our community as a whole.
Greatly appreciate you Jeff,
Thanks for your message your final sentence
“I can definitely retire from feeling disable, and replace that with the feeling of being alive.”
Is one of the must beautiful things I have heard
Thanks for sharing !!
Gail Waitkun says
Hello Jeff, Thank you for connecting via my email. I was excited to read your story and smiled as it is always nice as you may be aware to feel a sense of validation for the thoughts and feelings I have experienced. I love the train ride analogy. I am looking forward to reading more of your work and wish you the very best.
Dennis Ray Hageman says
Very nice, article. Congratulations on your upcoming ‘retirement’. Great points were made for someone who only has 10 years experience with his TBI and about 15 more years to retirement age. Thank you. Keep on keepin’ on! Merry belated Christmas, New Year and new decade!!!!
BARBARA M MARTIN says
WOW..i understand exactly what u r saying..my first brain injury was 2001..January 3rd..anniversary just passed and I am in that spot exactly…
Cathy Turner says
Barbara B Martin
Your twin!☺️ I’m okay with myself -I just wish others were.
Randy Miller says
Excellent comments! I appreciated your comments about going to “fix” everything that was wrong with me! Your statement: “I just wanted to be at peace with myself”; came so strong to me today!
Today I was waiting on my wife to have her vehicle repaired at an auto body shop. I had the paperwork and all the documentation with me for the Name/Location/Body Shop, etc.
Finally, I received a call from my wife and she asked: “Where Are You!” Unfortunately, I was in the parking lot of the WRONG AUTO BODY SHOP waiting on my wife!
These are the “tidbits of frustration” for one with a brain injury. Thus, “peace” is sometimes difficult to find?
January 6th, 2020
So true and so well stated! Such a similar experience for me too (almost the same age and 1st TBI as long ago).
“I would try to live more for today, and feel the pleasure and warmth of moments in my life; each one important, representing a time when I shared something with someone else, grew a little, or accomplished something.”
I was always focused on the future, and rarely the present. I’ve since learned mindfulness and while hardly perfect at this, it has helped me to live in the moment and to help me recognize when I am not (but should be!)
Wishing you the best for your retirement years!
Hello kind sir.
After many TBI experiences (10 real bad events) I finally got around to the research.
I have built my career and persona around disinhibition and breadcrumbs.
Disinhibition giving me the Freedom to talk to everyone. And to ask for the order.
Breadcrumbs, taking good notes and pattern analysis guiding me through life. Self actualization through list making. To quote Earl, you do become what you think about – so write it down. Fortunately I survived all the risk taking.
It wasnt until 58 years in that I grasped the reality of it all. The X-file perspective, we are not alone, is good to know. Thank you for sharing.