Merriam Webster defines compassion as the “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” To me, it means giving someone a break – not being judgmental and finding some understanding and maybe even a shred of humor in a situation.
Having a brain injury has taught me compassion. While I certainly considered myself a compassionate person before the injury, I was the biggest, bleeding heart around, but, my compassion didn’t include myself. I could forgive anyone in my life for almost anything and there was always a plausible excuse in my mind. However, no reason was good enough for me not to live up to the high expectations I held for myself.
In some ways, being this demanding of myself has served me well. I put myself through a good college with a scholarship, loan, grant and by working various jobs to graduate in four years with a business degree and honors. After twenty-four hours of back labor, I gave birth to a whopping nine-pound baby boy without pain medication. My whole adult life, I have managed to stay within a ten-pound weight range.
This perfectionism has also caused me to have through-the-roof anxiety and stress and provided ample fuel to keep my low self-esteem going. I never put that college degree to good enough use earning big bucks in a successful career. I was never a good enough mother because there was always a mom who was better than me at volunteering at school, showing up for their kids’ baseball games, getting yummy and healthy meals on the table every night, blah, blah, blah – you name it. No matter what my weight, I didn’t look like the women in the magazines.
Shortly after my brain injury, I walked awkwardly with no grace. Think baby giraffe. My arms hung limply at my sides. When they swung naturally again as I walked, I rejoiced. For months, I sounded like I was trying to talk with a mouthful of marbles and the act of putting thoughts into words was a frustrating challenge because my speech didn’t happen simultaneously with my thoughts. I was thrilled when the two came together in my head, and people didn’t constantly get that funny look on their face and ask “Whaaat?”
My fine motor skills took longer to come back, and I still have a slight manual dexterity challenge. One day, when checking out at the grocery store, after fumbling for what felt like forever to get my card out of my wallet, I ended up literally throwing the thing at the cashier’s face. Oops! A blunder as small as that would have bothered me mercilessly before, and I would’ve replayed it over and over in my head torturing myself with “You should have…”.
My post-injury imperfections – and there are plenty – have taught me to accept myself as is and appreciate the things I can do well. Before the brain injury, I took so much for granted. My mantra has become “I’m doing the best I can with who I am at the time.” This was just as true then as it is now. While I was nowhere near perfect before, I was pretty damn awesome and didn’t even realize it! And because I didn’t believe it, I didn’t expect others to treat me as such and allowed far less.
No more. Now, I treat myself with honor and respect and fill my world with those who do the same. While I still have high expectations and push myself pretty hard most of the time, I allow myself to be human and am much more realistic, forgiving, appreciative, and happier as a result.
Note: Someone recently sent me a message stating that I come off as arrogant and holier-than-thou. (And I am using nicer words!) While they are certainly entitled to their opinion of me, I want to be very clear that I am in no way putting myself on a pedestal. Let me point out, as I often do in the blog, that it took my attempting suicide and sustaining a very serious brain injury before I made the necessary positive changes in my life. I am sharing my experience here in the hope that maybe someone can learn from my path and not have to hit rock bottom, as I did, before making beneficial changes in their own life.
I also want to stress that I believe life is an ongoing journey in growth, learning, and evolving. While I wish I could say that mine is all unicorns and rainbows now, I can’t. Far from it. I have new challenges currently that many would consider unbearable. To paraphrase one of my gurus, Pema Chodron, when you are pointing the finger at someone else, you usually need to turn the finger back around to yourself.
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