“It’s short moments that can define long paths.” A few months back, I took an extended sick leave from work. It was my first true break in 15 or more years, and was barely a week into a new decade in my life, after celebrating a milestone birthday. Full of the fatigue of managing my family’s life but not my own, I booked a visit to my chiropractor. Why my chiropractor? The smell of the peppermint cooling spray that lingered in the treatment room always made me feel safe. She cared for more than my aches and pains. I woefully lamented that I wish someone would just write me a sick note so I wouldn’t have to go to work and could rest. She took one look at me and said “ if you are feeling that low that you carry this secret wish, then you definitely need it.” Without hesitation, she wrote a note for 4 days leave. And then as I continued to dismantle my armour and lose my composure even further, she reached into my bag for the note and slipped a 1 in front of the 4. 14 days leave. Doctor’s orders. She has cared for my husband and myself for the past 10 years, and was the one who helped me navigate him through the medical system to his eventual diagnosis after the hospital lost the original MRI request. She has been our guardian angel, our nurturer, and our cheerleader. She’s in our corner.
Over the years, it has often felt like our corner was empty, or the wrong people were in it. I think what most people misunderstand about the brain injured family is that we don’t really want things. It’s a nice gesture, but things to make our life easier or more beautiful, while well meaning, don’t quite hit the mark. We are too busy juggling everything, compensating, adjusting, and recalibrating every home activity to really enjoy it. Instead, we’d like your time, your patience, your understanding. Ask us how we really are. And wait patiently while we muster an answer. And I’m genuinely sorry if I’ve just offended anyone who tried to help us.
Please let me explain a bit more. Navigating life with a brain injury is inherently isolating as no one can see the damage. And this leaves us feeling so alone, and so guarded in who we can trust to believe our story. It’s hard to equate what they see on the outside—a normal looking person—to the controlled chaos that happens behind the scenes. Memory lapses. Judgement lapses. Exhaustion after minimal effort. Sensitivities. Short tempers. Lost items. Lost time. Lost days. Lost selves.
During this leave of mine, which not surprisingly stretched long past the original 14 days, I started to open the conversation ever so cautiously with a few people. I went away for a night on my own, giving myself the gift of 25 hours of solitude. I rested, sitting in my favourite cross legged posture on the floor. I stared out the window at the wintered mountains and river until my tea grew tepid in my untouched mug. I unravelled a tangled ball of yarn and mused at how fitting the unyielding knots were to my own hidden pain that was so hard to untangle that my life had no choice but to grow around them. I wrote. And I walked. Alone. I was Helena, for 25 long, treasured hours.
At the last hill on one of my trail walks, just as I was regretting having gone so far, I had an inexplicable moment where I imagined with deep gratitude, that I wasn’t walking alone anymore. Each step brought an individual to my side, keeping pace with me until I reached my room again. One by one, the people I needed in my corner joined my walk. All those years of walking alone on the brain injury journey were slowly fading behind me. When I got back to my room, I hastily put those thoughts in verse. I humbly share it here with you, and hope that you too can imagine who walks by your side each day.