Almost two years ago, metal came to a screeching halt one January night… and my world with it.
The words that were once my superpower became my profound weakness. Letters and syllables and meanings were knocked loose, dislodged from their places in my brain and I could no longer find them. Writing used to be something I found joy in. It felt like flying, virtually effortless, the thing I was most born to do.
Now it feels like trench warfare, elbow crawling through sludge under barbed wire most days. Even two years later, writing a blog post feels like a hard-fought battle. I’ve tried to write this one little freaking post for months. It’s been like staring at a relentless white swirling fog that obscures the words I need and mocks the energy needed to go in search of them.
Words used to be my escape. Now, they are my battlefield.
The first 4-6 months after the accident that caused the brain injury, I couldn’t tolerate bright light or noise at any level. I spent the days mostly alone in a dark quiet room watching as my business dissolved before it even got a chance to fully take off. It was so close to erupting on the scene. Instead, it faded and much of my hope with it.
I still struggle to articulate how excruciatingly painful it was to watch that dream die. It kills a part of you that you never get back. Even if you find a new dream. It is never quite the same.
The dark pit I was in threatened to swallow me whole. And no, there is not one little bit of hyperbole or dramatic overstatement there. I mean it quite literally. I had to fight for every fraction of an inch I got back like my life depended on it. Because it did.
And I’m nowhere near done fighting. I want my brain back and I’m not stopping until I get as much of it back as possible.
But in the middle of that exile, I had to make the choice to refuse to give up. I didn’t know what not giving up meant exactly, but I wasn’t going quietly into any night.
Even when I couldn’t paint or draw or write or even hold a paintbrush unless I duct-taped it to my hand. Even as I watched my friends and peers online making strides forward to grow their businesses while I was facing the death of mine. Even as perfect shared squares of curated realities and worlds taunted me with all that I was losing in the mess of my own.
But somewhere in the middle of the fray, I made a decision that changed my life. It didn’t change my circumstances. But it did change who I was in the middle of them.
I made a decision to find a few people doing exactly what I was most upset about losing, what I longed the deepest to be able to do again and become a relentless encourager of their individual journeys.
Find the people who were doing what I longed to do and pour courage into their worlds.
Not nice words. Not flattery or fishing expeditions. Courage. Raw, imperfect, genuine encouragement that sought nothing in return.
Even if I completely lost my stationery business. Which I did. Even if I was unable to ever rebuild it. Which I was, due to accident-related wrist injuries that necessitated I let the stationery design part of what I do go permanently. It was an 18-month long fight to get better with rehab and surgery and more rehab. But I eventually had to choose walking over wedding stationery.
Yet out of the ashes of loss, I was cultivating community. And I was learning I loved the role of cheerleader so much I wanted to build my new business around it.
Out of the storms of pain, I found a newly emboldened persistence. And in the middle of having my world stolen out from under me, I found I could still choose to show up in the arena and fight even if I had to show up differently. Marred, bloodied, dust-covered, totally antithetical to curated social feeds everywhere. But dang-it, I was daring greatly.
In the words of Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
I’m in the middle of that crowd in the photo up top surrounded with friends, many of which I met first online. And it was a fight to get there. It took every ounce of energy I had. But I got there. And it was the first time I’ve been able to stay at an event for most of its time in 2 years.
There is so much farther to go and my life looks so very different than it would have if not for that night in January 2018. There are things I’ve lost that will never be regained. And that’s hard. Really hard. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Brain injuries are brutal. Rewired nervous systems, also not so helpful. Time lost, irretrievable.
But I won’t waste my pain. And I won’t give up. And I will stand up, show up and stir up courage. Because friend, YOU are worth standing up for.