“There’s nothing wrong with being you, just wrong fits that make us feel wrong”. Val Nelson
It’s been a time of reflection and introspection in our home these past few months as we navigate the transition of my work to something that will bring out the best in me instead of dragging me under with the current of expectations.
It had been too easy to get caught up in ‘be more, do more, have more’ way of thinking, and I believe there are two groups of people that are particularly vulnerable to this trap. The first group is those who have already felt a loss of an ability, whether that be physical or mental. They likely already feel they have fallen behind somehow and lament what is seemingly unachievable now. The second group is those that are prone to perfectionism and the need to measure up, fit in, and be counted. If those two groups happen to exist in one relationship, it’s a chaotic, elusive task to maintain neutrality in the space where neither feels like he or she truly fits and have an ease of being.
My husband fits into the first group with his loss of some cognitive and physical functions due to his brain injury. It’s a double edged sword for him to be among the high functioning brain injured because the cruelty of it means he feels like he doesn’t belong to either the camp of the able people, or the camp of those whose disability is obvious to the outside world and comes with a tacit understanding and forgiveness from strangers when actions and behaviour are out of the norm.
As for myself, being a quiet, introspective, and thoughtful individual has seemed like a burden to me most of my life—something to be overcome and conquered like a deficit. The world does not easily make way for quiet people, and without anyone to tell me otherwise, I succumbed to the endless and merciless cycle of trying to change myself to be sure I could be valued. Frequent were the comments from childhood through adulthood that I was too quiet and therefore they felt the need to voice that they forgot I was even there. Invisible. Forgotten. The words burrowed their way into my essence.
Until now. Finally, I heard an honest description of myself. One that gave power to my way of being, instead of as a fault that made me wrong and was unfixable. For the first time in my 40 something years, I saw in writing all the things I thought were deficits explained with the pure honesty of someone who understood my nature.
In the course of researching suitable new careers for myself, I took numerous temperament and personality assessments, most notably the MyersBriggs. I was overwhelmed with new found appreciation for myself. I couldn’t hold back the tears of relief and joy as I read my ISFJ (Introvert, Sensing, Feeling, Judging) description. This was me. And it was good.
It told me in black and white, that I am : ‘warm and sensitive; being quiet I will be there for a friend but won’t push. I identify with others easily and approach their problems with care and a willingness to get involved. Being practical and organized, I use warmth to provide help in realistic ways. I am dependable and conscientious’.
I read it over and over, making a new path over the words of the past that had me believing I was flawed because of my quiet nature.
What I perceived as a perpetual weakness was actually a strength, a secret ally that had been there all along. The only difference was that now I was ready and able to actually hear it.
I knew this somewhere in me, but suddenly it felt like it was actually good to be this way, and I wasn’t a misfit. And certainly something not to be changed. If I changed who I am, not only would I lose, but those around me who need people like me in their life would lose too. The world needs quiet, thoughtful people. The world needs me just as I am. With this flick of a switch, my perceived weakness became my greatest asset.
As I let this sink in over a few days, I began to think of how many others might be thinking of themselves as ‘less than’ because their place in the world isn’t obvious…maybe it never was, or maybe it felt like it was taken away from them by life’s circumstances.
I thought about the struggle my husband faces as he now stays home to take care of our son rather than being in the traditional outside world of work. He’s in that no mans’s land of not being good enough to work, but not bad enough to appear that he has limitations.
In the early days after the diagnosis of his brain injury, the toll was no doubt high on him. His role was now a full time parent to a young, sensitive son while I worked outside the home. He struggled with being at home, feeling his contribution had been lessened, and at a loss in the new role at home. Not surprisingly, he felt his weaknesses were exposed. Parenting is no easy feat, even for those with no physical or cognitive limitations.
Our son is a quiet, sensitive and sometimes intense soul. He notices everything, and feels things deeply. That’s a tough place to be when you’re only a toddler and don’t have the vocabulary to articulate what you feel.
The days were not easy for either of them. I’d often come home from work at 8pm and find them both asleep in the armchair. Our son, feeling safe as long as he’s cuddled by Daddy. And Daddy, asleep with exhaustion and afraid to move lest he wake the little boy that had taken so long to calm. Hard days that always began with a distraught child as I left for work, and ended in the armchair asleep together.
But what happened in those hours in between was my husband’s physical and mental limitations turned into a powerful asset, his secret ally as the years passed and the bond between them grew.
I came across a note I’d written in our IPad from those early years after the diagnosis of his brain injury. It was titled Beautiful Loving Acts from Father to Son. I’d listed all the special, but seemingly ordinary things my husband did for our son. Things he did even though he felt like a misfit in his role, like it shone spotlights on all the things he now found difficult because his brain and body didn’t work the way it used to. It was my testimony to my faith in him and I included little and big things:
-Sitting together under a blanket during a thunder and lightning storm
Building zip lines in the garage
-Looking for squirrels together
-Peanut butter fingers
-Shopping for Mother’s Day and birthday gifts together
-Planting Seedly together
-Driving around looking for Bobcats and John Deere machinery
-Taking him to the Bobcat store many times
-Picking up tool catalogues for him
-Teaching him how things work
My husband and I recently read the note together, and felt the depth of the strength that had arisen from his place of perceived weakness. Profound.
I believe my husband’s experience of those early years after a significant injury of any kind, is common. You feel less than what you were and what you hoped to be.
For him, what he thought of as his greatest weakness, was also actually what made his own life, and our son’s life, stronger. Yes, he has limitations because of his brain injury. But it also took his possible weakness and transformed it into a powerful strength.
For all of us who have ever thought that we are too different to belong anywhere, perhaps all we need is to find the place in our hearts where we can value what makes us different. After all, there are few things better than finding out you were right just as you are.