Focusing on the Big Picture (11 Month Update)

June 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Our Recovery Journal

Sometimes we get so caught up in our daily lives that it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture.  Weeks, months, and years go by as we go through the motions of day-to-day living.  If we aren’t careful, we will eventually wake up to realize that our life is more defined by the memories of the past than by our plans for the future.

Last week, Jessica and I celebrated our 10th anniversary.  It certainly went differently than we would have imagined it 10 years ago.  The celebration we had in mind required passports, plane tickets, and lots of sunscreen.  Reality now dictates something a little less complicated as our plans included seafood but did not include leaving the area.  Ten years ago, we would have chosen the restaurant based on atmosphere and nostalgia.  However times have changed and we chose where to eat based mostly on convenience and accessibility.

Jessica walked in fine and we had a nice meal.  The conversation revolved not around dreams of doing amazing things with our lives, but instead around dreams of competency in day-to-day activities.  Most wives probably wouldn’t imagine being sad about having a year off from laundry, cooking, dishes, and housecleaning.  For Jessica, everyday activities such as these have now become leading roles in what is now a large cast of dreams about her future.

We are now a focal point of interest for passersby when we enter a public place.  I guess it’s just human nature to wonder how a woman who (otherwise) looks young and health could possibly need to walk so slowly and use a cane.  Adults offer to help by moving out of her way and holding the door as we approach.  Children have a much harder time disguising their curiosity.  Most kids have no problem staring and some can’t help themselves from whispering questions to their parents as their eyes remain on young woman with the cane who is walking so slowly.  This kind of attention doesn’t bother me at all, but in my heart I am secretly grateful that Jessica invests all of her attention into walking and lives in a cocoon of concentration that insulates her from anything beyond her next step.


Adjusting our Lens on Life

A pair of summertime realities now serve as motivation for Jessica.  Past memories of her busy life team up with the necessity of living within the busy schedule of a young family of five.  The mom in her insists that she walk outside regularly to watch the kids play.  She takes pride in her role of mothering, feeding, and playing with the baby.  Leaving the house to attend an activity was something that was second nature when we had two adults to manage two kids.  Now that our immediate family consists of one adult to manage four people, the game has changed quite a bit.  Although there are times when it is wiser for Jess to stay home during an activity, we both push for her to attend more of them.  Six months ago, it was difficult for the two of us to walk 50 feet into a gymnastics class.  Now Jessica is able to tackle a 300 foot walk into the pool to watch the kids swim.  Seeing how much fun her baby has in the pool is more than worth the effort it takes to walk in.

Perhaps the biggest roadblock on the road to brain injury recovery is the difficulty with self-motivation.  When broken down to the simplest level, it does make sense to desire to lay in bed all day when the alternative results in significant discomfort.  The frustration of failure and the possibility of pain are powerful forces in major recovery… often more powerful than family, friends, and the need to feel good about oneself.  Early on, all Jess wanted to do was stay in bed as much as possible.  Each step and weight bearing movement contained the possibility of both immediate pain and residual soreness.  An injured brain manufactures excuses to avoid movement, even avoiding therapeutic movement that might cause irritation in the short term but is clearly beneficial in the long term.


Ownership and Initiation

Throughout the recovery, Jessica has evolved through phases of fear, reluctance, and then acceptance of her need to push physical boundaries.  Although pain management is still a consideration, Jess has graduated to a phase of initiation.  She now looks for activities to do and considers practices that enable her to hone both her physical and mental capability.  When she first came out of the coma, Jess required prodding and directives to complete physical activities.  Throughout the first year she has stepped out of the shadows of her condition and gradually taken ownership of it.  She now initiates doing dishes, laundry, speech therapy, moving about the house, cooking, and other light activities.  Each day, she initiates more conversations with family and friends in a small group setting.  Each month, life gets a little easier and her contributions become more helpful.

Snapshots of our family’s everyday life reveal an existence that is tough but increasingly manageable.  At least that is what it appears at first glance.  Those adept at reading between the lines can see the bigger picture of Jessica’s inconvenient miracle.  For most people, the sum of life is equal to the sum of all of one’s individual daily experiences.  For our family, a life focused on recovery serves as a lens that helps us clarify and appreciate all of our daily realities.  We now see life as more than waking up, completing our daily activities, and then going to sleep at night.  Actions like folding clothes, walking to the bathroom, requesting to do dishes, insisting on feeding the baby, and identifying a written word are mundane on the surface, but these same actions are now emotionally significant for us because they represent the triumph of the human spirit.


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