On June 6th, 2007, I swallowed handful after handful of pills. With all the happy colors and assorted sizes, they looked like candy, but there was no sweet taste. I washed it all down with gulps of my favorite Shiraz wine right out of the bottle. Now was not the time to worry about looking like a wino, and I rather liked the sad image it evoked. Then, I laid down on my bed to die.
It was almost 4 hours before anyone found me, and hours after that before what I had taken became known. Because too much time had passed, my stomach wasn’t pumped, and the drugs went all the way through my system. Although I did not die (obviously), I did end up with a brain injury and was seriously mentally impaired.
The brain injury forced me to make the hard changes that I could have chosen to make under less duress earlier in my life Believe me, it would have been much, much easier, but I was the kind that had to be hit over the head with a crisis before I made any big shifts for the better. Not anymore.
With the brain injury, I had to focus on myself and put all of my energy into my physical and mental rehabilitation and improvement. I absolutely had to in order to recover. While, in retrospect, I wouldn’t choose this for myself under any circumstances, ever again, the resulting brain injury and accompanying lifestyle, behavioral, mental, and emotional changes have proven to be blessings for me.
After 20 years of smoking , I quit and started eating healthier. Exercising for decades out of vanity, I began working out for health reasons and started meditating. I learned about and started using mental health tools such as thought reframing, visualization, and positive self talk.Turning off the TV, l learned to be by myself, and like my own company even. Finally, I began to extend compassion to myself.
Although the person I am today still talks funny, has poor penmanship, and can’t type very fast, I’m a happier, healthier person all around and would never want to go back to who I was before the brain injury.
In her book,Shadows Bright as Glass: The Remarkable Story of One Man’s Journey from Brain Trauma to Artistic Triumph, Amy Ellis Nutt tells the fascinating story of Jon Sarkin. As a young husband, father, and successful chiropractor, Sarkin suffered a massive stroke. He became a very different man. Before the stroke, he was calm, disciplined, and neat. After, he was wildly obsessive, volatile, with a manic desire and talent for creating art. He went on to become a proclaimed artist with New York art shows, commissioned to paint pieces, murals and album covers in his unique, characteristic, “full-Ninja art” style.
In addition to the stroke intensifying certain tendencies, the stroke forever changed his personality and sense of self. The book paints a picture of a man trying to reassemble the pieces of himself and give some meaning to a very different life and interpretation and experience of it.
The book was a very poignant reminder to me because, as Sarkin tried to do, I spent years expecting and working to get back to the person I was before the brain injury. Again, like Sarkin, only when I changed my perspective and began to accept and relax into who I’d become, could I embrace and fully allow the benefits of the new me to manifest and thrive.
By traditional standards, some things were worse, but some things were better. I prefer to see it now as nothing is worse or better….just different.
Sarkin’s artwork is featured in this video of “Do You Love Me” by the group Guster:
image source: Jon Sarkin http://jsarkin.com/art/