It’s been unseasonably warm in Chicago lately. So much so that yesterday I ventured out on foot to my local grocery store to pick up ingredients for my sister’s birthday cake I’m making from scratch today, which left me drenched in sweat.
After I loaded up my backpack with groceries, I found myself reluctant to make the trek back home. I can’t do it! It’s too heavy, I thought. This is the voice of my inner child, the one that whines whenever I’m about to do something tedious but beneficial and/or responsible.
Not even a second later, my inner adult replied, That’s bull. You used to do this every week in far worse conditions.
As a matter of fact, only one year out of the hospital, in my first study abroad year in Italy, I used to have to walk to and from practically anywhere I went. This included grocery shopping, and yes, sometimes I’d cheat and catch a cab home because I’d bought so much stuff and the weight was unbearable. But other times I’d just suck it up and push myself back to the apartment, on cobblestones and uneven surfaces, no less. Granted, I used to wear an AFO back then, and gym shoes on a daily basis, but in retrospect realizing I used to do that only a year out of my injury humbles me.
If there were ever a more valuable lesson from this whole experience than humility, I’m not sure I know what it is. And being the type of person I am, headstrong and assertive, it’s admittedly a lesson I need to learn repeatedly.
I think humility quiets down the ego. The ego, which fuels so much of what we do, say, and think every day. The ego is prideful and the ego separates us from others — it’s pretty much at the core of a lot of society’s problems, and not just yours or mine. As a huge exercise in humility, I began the Rehab Revolution blog and started writing my memoirs on my experience going through and coming out of the injury. I felt it was important to reach out to others in a similar place, tuck away my (sometimes very loud) ego, and show people, “Hey. This is what it was and is like for me. I’m no different from you or anyone you know; let’s join together and get through this stronger and with more compassion, because the fact that it happened to me doesn’t make me special — it really can and does touch each and every one of us in some way or another.”
And even though most people don’t notice there’s something a bit different about me physically when they meet me, there are still reminders every day to not get overconfident. I have to make sure I don’t roll my ankle every time I walk, and there have been several stumbles in public where I, appearing no different from anyone else, will suddenly topple over. When I’m out somewhere working on my writing, I try to dodge questions from strangers commenting on my speedy one-handed typing (you caught me — it’s still something I’m very guilty of). In any situation that may involve sprinting after something, I have to invent an excuse as to why I refuse to run. Or even something as trivial as getting my nails done; I have to make sure my left, affected hand is calm enough for the manicurist to paint properly.
This past Saturday, I attended a cosmetics trend show at Nordstrom in the morning. I was a little late, and another lady was too. She saw me after she tried unsuccessfully to enter through the main set of doors where I was also headed. She regarded me as I emerged from my car in a handicapped spot and told me the doors weren’t open. “I think we have to go in through there,” she said, pointing to the right. She patiently waited for me and asked, “Did you have a stroke?”
This totally caught me off-guard. She told me that she worked at a hospital, which certainly explained her understanding and all the help she offered (an arm to hold on, running ahead to check the door situation out), but I was still a bit stunned that someone would be so forthcoming with her observation of such a sensitive subject. “You’re doing very well,” she added.
While she assured me my physical condition wasn’t “obvious at all,” it was still yet another reminder that no matter how hard my ego may try to conceal it, the truth still was that I’ve had a traumatic brain injury. Even when (I say when rather than if because it’s what I must believe) I’ve recovered all my capabilities, this will remain an issue for me. Though I may leave the neurologically weakened physical condition behind, I never want to forget what I’ve learned from the experience.
It’s pretty common for at least a part of us that want to just forget it ever happened: wake up and be the way we once were. But in order to make peace with our new realities, humility is required, as is the ability to take away some wisdom we never would have gained otherwise.
To our healing,