Emotional Wreckage (23 Month Update)

June 23, 2012 by  
Filed under Our Recovery Journal

The past few monthly updates have focused on physical gains that Jessica has been making.  They included the events leading up to foot surgery as well as the subsequent recovery.  During the past four months, Jess has endured four different apparatuses on her right foot.  Prior to surgery, she wore a hard brace.  While recovering from surgery, walking was made possible by a cast, boot, and then a brand new brace.

It is easy to focus on the physical part of the recovery.  Movement and endurance are measureable and days can be thought of as “good” or “bad” depending on the activity that took place.

It has been months since I have shared thoughts of the other parts of recovery.  One might think that the medical, mental, and emotional parts of her life have all been normal.  While the majority of our effort has gone into physical recovery, these other aspects have all played supporting roles during the past few months.

I understand how intelligent you are, and I am sure that you have read between the lines in my previous posts.  You have seen a Jessica who has been trying to do the best for her family, but you have also seen a Jessica who was a bit naïve.  You saw her as someone who was able to box up doubt and depression and put these feelings aside… as someone who considered it sensible to hide those feelings whenever the kids were around.  Jess has suppressed negative emotions and remained even keeled through many a frustrating day.

In medical terms, there is a word for a patient who does not show a normal amount of emotion.  The person can be referred to as “flat.”  This word doesn’t necessarily represent a lack of caring, it simply means that the person does not show much emotion.

The medical professionals that see Jessica characterize her as one of the most determined patients they have ever worked with.  She is encouraged to do the best with what she has and try to focus on the things she could control.  Being “flat” has been a huge benefit up to this point.  However, the days of naïve positivity are coming to an end.


Discussions of Feelings

Like most guys, I despise discussions that relate to “feelings.”  When Jess says “can we talk about something,” my ears hear it interpret it as “can we talk for 30 minutes about something that could be taken care of in 10 seconds.”  Experience has taught me that discussions of feelings do nothing to improve my life.  I could think of many places I’d rather be than trapped in a room with somebody who desires a long discussion about how they are feeling.

For all you women out there, please understand that there is no good time to bring up feelings with your significant other.  Even if you’ve waited for the perfect moment… and even if you have planned the entire conversation out in your head.  It is probably not going to go the way you planned.  Men were born with an innate ability to sidetrack such discussions.  You will usually end up arguing and coming to some sort of contrived resolution.

No matter when you pose the question, discussions about feelings will always be a big interruption for him.  If there are no sporting events that need to be watched, your question will certainly remind him of all the time-sensitive projects he has put off until this very instant.  Bringing up “feelings” is a trigger that helps remind him that he’s really busy.

Men are designed to interpret feelings as wasted thoughts.  Feelings don’t get anything accomplished.  They are not easily measurable or attainable.  Life would be easier if we could simply decide how we want to live and let the chips fall where they may.


A Question of “Why”

Jessica is reminded of her limitations every hour of every day.  Whether it is making herself a snack or trying to phone a friend, life is so much more difficult today than it was prior to the trauma.  It still doesn’t feel normal and it still doesn’t feel right.

Her body has accepted these limitations, but her mind wonders “why me.”  All of us understand that pain, suffering, and even death can strike at any time.  Once the initial shock has worn off, we know the answer to the questions who, what, when, and where.  The questions that will haunt us forever are those that begin with the word “why”.

It is during the slow times of our life that these “why” questions are considered.  They present themselves when the noise of three children fades into an early bedtime… when candles are lit, tea is in hand, and quiet music is playing.  In the past, quiet time was a time to discuss our dreams.  It was a time to talk about the whats, whens, and hows of our future.  Now quiet time includes a heavy dose of the “whys.”

Our minds constantly return to questions that have no answer.  We are left to wonder about the moments that define what we have become.  We question every last detail of our conduct, especially

  • How did we act in those situations?
  • Would things have worked out differently if we had chosen a different path?

It is these moments that consume our thoughts.  Decisions in our past that have changed our future… these decisions are sentenced to a lifetime of scrutiny.


Emotional Explosions

When pondering events that are out of our control, we still feel at least somewhat responsible for the outcome.  Jessica often looks down at her spastic hand and wonders if she deserved this.  She considers all the things she can no longer do and wonders if it is some kind of cruel punishment for something she has done in the past.  One recurring thought is that this might have happened because she wanted so badly to be skinny (again) after the pregnancy.

There is never a good time to talk about the “why” questions in our lives.  Jess always seems to bring them up right after the kids go to bed… once the distractions are removed, her mind is free to delve deeper into her perception of life and how it is going.  It is during this time that her emotions do much of their heavy lifting.

These emotions are like a volcano, and the pressure builds with each passing day.  Memories of how easy life used to be are noted and then stored in her mind.  These memories add fuel to the fire.  Eruptions are unexpected but powerful as all of the worry, doubt, hate, and rage exit her body in an explosive display of despondency.

The event begins with a question of “why,” then escalates into a tantrum.  The climax brings the first round of tears.  The tension in the room is slowly relieved as the tears continue.  The bad feelings are released each tear that runs down her face.  In the end, order is restored.  We both accept the limitations of our lives.  We revisit the concept of doing the best we can with what we have.

Post-traumatic stress is a common but annoying result of a life of survival.  Our physical deficiencies make for a hard life.  It really doesn’t seem fair that our mind adds so much additional stress.  After 23 months of trauma recovery, the time is right to delegate this responsibility to a professional.

This professional isn’t just any therapist.  He is a medically trained brain injury specialist… someone who can understand the physiological and emotional differences of a brain injured patient.  It is our hope that talking more about what happened can minimize the emotional wreckage so we can focus on things we can control.


The Overall Picture

Jess’ emotions have become the lead role in this month’s story, so it is easy to overlook the rest of her progress.  Last month Jessica surprised me by ditching the cane and sweeping the family room.  This month has brought even more surprises.

If you’ve ever worn a brace, you know all the irritations it can cause.  The hassle of strapping it on is one issue.  The skin damage and pain are what really cause a patient to dislike the brace.  The foot doctor has been pleased with Jess’ overall progress after surgery.  He gave her a 50/50 shot of strengthening to the point where she would be able to permanently shed the brace.

Call it a blessing or a curse, but we see a lot of doctors.  We’ve been seeing the foot doc so often in recent days that we had no need to visit her main rehab physician.   Now that the foot has healed, it was time to pay him a visit to assess our overall program.

The rehab doc gave an even better assessment than the foot doc.  One of our goals for the visit was to obtain a script to be tested for a computerized walking aid.  The doctor’s assessment was that she had recovered past the point where a walking aid would be needed!  Her foot is now flexed enough to allow her to walk without any special medical devices.

The brace is still our go-to option for walking, but her rehab doc encouraged walking without the brace (and even with bare feet).  The long term goal is to strengthen the leg so that the brace can eventually be discarded.

Barefoot walking means that Jess can now get out of bed herself and make it down the stairs.  She now has the freedom to move around the house without worrying about strapping on equipment.  It means that she will be able to check on the kids and put a stop to their chicanery before it gets out of hand.  She will never again feel like she is a prisoner of the bed, couch, or chair.

At therapy, Jess is learning to fine-tune her movement.  Her goals revolve much more around practical activity.  Reaching higher has allowed her to procure items from the upper shelves of kitchen cabinets.  Bending lower allows her to reach further into the dryer to get the clothes that lay in the middle and the back.

One of her biggest improvements is in carrying a plate.  Jess prepares her bagel, toast, or pop tart at the counter and then carries it into the dining room.  The preparing and eating have gone well for some time… it is the delivery that had a poor success rate.  Hard work and practice have trained her hand to keep the plate in an upright position.  No more worrying about stomping on a bagel and no more consideration of what becomes of the pop tart after the 5 second rule has expired.


Your Role in Jess’ Recovery

This journal is like a trail of breadcrumbs for us and our readers.  It is an account of our progress that focuses on the most important aspects of the recovery.  I generally write the entry over the course of two or three days.  Right before I publish it, I read it to Jessica.

Sharing this journal together is one of the best things we do each month.  The thought of knowing that someone cares enough to put in the time makes her feel special.  Understanding that there are many people reading about her progress is enormously motivating.  She accepts the fact that her successes and failures are being shared with others.  She likes knowing that others empathize with her challenges and celebrate her successes.

Jessica desires the best possible life for herself, but there are days where pain and frustration seduce her into laziness.  It is one thing to feel like you’ve let yourself down.  It is another to feel like you are letting down an army of supporters.

You are a member of that army.  You are a member of the “family and friends” that she does not want to disappoint.  You are one of the faces she sees when I tell her that I am about to post this story.  The unseen support that she feels does just as much for her as all the encouragement she receives in person.

Most major functional gains are made within the first 6-12 months of recovery, but that doesn’t mean that the recovery stops.  As we plan to celebrate the two year anniversary of her survival, we still hold onto expectations and hope.  One thing we’ve learned is that the life we want can only be attained through hard work.  We appreciate each and every one of you who stand on the sidelines and encourage her to keep going.


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6 Responses to “Emotional Wreckage (23 Month Update)”
  1. Lara says:

    Jess (and Jason):
    I look forward to every single chance I get to get a glimpse into your journey together. I know there is little glamour in it. I remember the struggles after my father’s stroke– how frustrated he would get when he would try and try and try to get ONE sentence out that would make sense and how helpless we felt when he flew into a despondent rage when we just couldn’t understand what he was saying.
    I think every tear you shed, Jess, and every tear you wipe, Jason, should be thought of as detoxing your soul of the toxins of gathered up frustration and hours of work and trying– and a way of letting the good stuff back in to let you gear up for more progress which never seems to come fast enough I’m sure.
    The why questions have to be so hard. I remember feeling guilty after my dad’s stroke because I recalled making a silly bargain with God about letting him live… but in my heart of hearts I know God is bigger than that and doesn’t collect on those kind of crazy human debts. There are some divine events that must just happen and we don’t get to understand until later. MUCH later.
    So, I’m rambling. But I’m listening and reading and cheering and loving and respecting you both more than you can imagine. God bless you!!!!

  2. jturka says:

    Thanks for sharing, Lara.

    There are many limitations and it is easy to become frustrated by them. The only positive is that they enable to focus on the really important things in life every day. Some days it is difficult to find positives, but life is a lot better if we keep on trying.

  3. Annie says:

    Hi Jess and Jason, I’ve been a little behind on reading your updates but am catching up a little today. My mom is visiting from PA and helping with Rocco and helping us get more settled. She reads your updates too and we keep you in our prayers. You guys are so special to all of us. Thanks for continuing to share and what you describe about struggling with understand why bad things happen makes a lot of sense and in different ways we’ve traveled and continue to think about the whys of things that happened to us…and there is no way to even compare one person’s struggles to another’s but we all have them to some extent, others just seem to really get the raw deal. reading the book of Job always helped me b/c he asked a lot of questions about why God took away everything from him. His friends and wife were trying to find reasons blaming it on something he did and his wife wanted him to curse God and be done with it. God finally responded to his whys, maybe not the way he wanted but just that God is God and he doesn’t have to answer us. That might seem harsh but on some level I find a peace with it. It’s out of our control and for whatever unknown reason until we meet God in heaven, we don’t know but can know he does and he knows exactly what we are going through and loves us and wants us to trust him the best we can. anyways, just wanted to encourage you that you aren’t alone in asking the whys, and it had a whole book dedicated to it in the Bible so God must have known it would be important to help us. Keep running your race and hang in there. lots of love, Annie

    • Annie says:

      PS: the men and emotions comments were funny and so true. i see andrew get deer in headlights look whenever i bring up feelings hahaha, but turk we are girls and NEED to talk about these things often!!!!!!!!!!! it’s part of the marriage vows! well, implied anyways if we didn’t literally say it. :D

      • Jason Turka says:

        In a perfect world, talk about feelings all day long with whomever you want. In our world, try to have “feelings” discussions with female friends. Only talk to a husband about them when absolutely necessary (laughing)

  4. Paul says:

    exactly…why me? I am asking myself that question everyday.Good people are punished (who knows for what) and bad never even appreciate what they have.Sometimes, I just wish others can be ‘ in my shoes’ for a day and then they will maybe feel more compassionate and understanding ( I guess I am not a good person to wish them that).As I noticed when I am going somewhere with my family,the only person who waits for me and walks at my ‘turtle’ speed is my 8 yrs old daughter-all the others just turn back their heads from time to time if ever.

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