Sunday, July 07, 2013

Independence Day

Apropos to the July 4th holiday, my brain injury support group theme this week was "Independence".

That's a pretty rich topic for a room full of brain damaged people, many of whom have rebuilt themselves from scratch, often transitioning from living with a caregiver to being "on their own". No, Jamie, the support group does not recommend ditching one's spouse.

The venue was also a great reminder that independence doesn't have to be achieved alone.

While much of our ability to reclaim our lives from mostly-invisible injuries does come from individual work, most people acknowledged that accepting reliance on others and generally relinquishing control (which reminds me of my pre-surgery mantra – "I am open to the universe") is a necessary part of recovery. It also reminds me of my father's often-uttered declaration – "I don't spend time worrying about things I can't control." My usually-internal retort is, "No, but you spend plenty of time trying to control as much as possible." He's right, of course, that we often expend too much effort trying to lasso tornadoes (who was that? Pecos Bill?). But truly opening oneself up to current events (i.e. The Here and Now) can also free you to achieve more than you ever imagined.

For this July 4th, we went – as we do almost every year – to a lakeside barbecue at our friends Ed and Amy's house. It's been so damn hot, there was no question I was getting in the water. Part of my road to independence has meant  knowing I won't be able to make a move without watchful eyes upon me and helpful hands there when I need them.While I was able to get down a short, grassy slope, sit down to remove my shoes, socks, and brace, then scooch to the water's edge on my own; the first few steps in the pond did require support from my buddy Marc. Wearing a life jacket, I was easily able to float and paddle around for quite awhile (one hand, two feet). The biggest challenge was getting out -- dragging myself up the ladder to the fixed dock, getting on my knees, then using Jamie as a steady "table" from which to stand. In principle, I can stand up straight from the ground, but it's still kind of frightening.

Sometimes independence means proving to myself and others that I can do something. Sometimes independence means being trusted to take care of myself and others, such as last night when Jamie camped out with the boys and left me to fend for myself, the cats, and the dog. We all survived. Yes, one of the cats stayed out all night; but that was his own choice, as he ran past me when I let the dog out for the last time; and I wasn't about to follow and wrestle him back into the house.

Taking care of myself at night mostly consisted of sitting myself down in front of a movie, then being able to tote back and forth from the bathroom to the bedroom with my CPAP distilled water container and no cane. "Functional independence" is probably what I'm most gauged by (if anyone's really keeping track):

  • Walking.
  • Dressing and bathing myself
  • Holding down a job.
  • Driving.
  • Relatively easily sitting and standing.
  • Not falling down too often or too easily
  • Cooking for myself and others
On these notes but not a bullet, I remember asking my in-patient PT where patients usually start walking without assistance (I was still confined to a wheelchair, outside formal therapy, at that point). She said "in the kitchen," because of easy access to support like counter tops. Soon after that, during a NRG (Neuro Recovery Group) exercise in the rehab "practice kitchen" (it was nearing Christmas 2010 and we were working on one-handed wrapping), I found myself struggling with the choice of getting from the counter to the supply table. I could blame it on right hemisphere impulse control issues, but it was mostly a desire for independence that sent me suddenly stumbling/lunging toward the table. Remarkably, I think it was the closest I came to an actual fall while in the hospital. I saved all my actual falls for home, which was always disappointing, because it always made me wonder if I had been discharged too soon. Even when I visit the rehab, I've felt like a fraud walking the halls I was never allowed to as a patient. Actually, a week ago, I did finally earn my "green band" to do just that. Turns out, all I had to do was ask. Oh, and not be a patient anymore. So I'm no longer a fraud. I'm a functioning independent with a green, plastic bracelet. Though Jamie says I wrap presents just as well with one hand as I used to with two. Hey, that's what gift bags are for.

On the subject of impulse control, regaining Independence also means freeing oneself from oneself. And that's not reserved for those with a brain injury. Any mature human being must be able to recognize and accept the consequences of his/her actions. I know my hair-trigger mouth runneth over, before and after my stroke. No excuses; only choices. Our brains are often our worst enemies.

But despite the holiday's implications, Independence is not the same as Freedom, as anyone married with children and otherwise productive members of society can attest. Wyatt's been on a kick lately where he insists it's unfair being a kid, because adults can do anything they want when they want. I don't know what billionaire playboy he's been hanging out with, but it sure ain't me.

Though I'm independently wealthy in other ways.

1 comment :

  1. Ha! Ken...Cyrus has been on the same kick lately. He loves to say..."You should try living MY life. It's so much harder than yours." I could kill him every time. :P