Friday, June 10, 2016

Lost in Translation

My girlfriend of more than two years, Anna, is Russian, and though she speaks English with nearly native precision, it is still her second language. 

This morning over breakfast, she made an astute observation.  To paraphrase our conversation, beginning with her, “When we began dating, speaking English was outside of my emotions - I could say the words and say what I was feeling, but I couldn’t feel the words as I was saying them.  I’m past that now, but it took a long time for me to really feel the words I was saying to you as we spoke.”

“I don’t understand…”

“Well, say I love you in Russian.” (I’m currently at the early stages of learning the language).

“Я тебе люблю.”

“Do you see what I mean, it’s all in your head.  You can’t feel the meaning behind the words.”

The example struck a chord in me - though she has a strong  understanding of the grammatical rules and the vocabulary, when we began dating, communicating her thoughts was still an intellectual exercise - a language game.

When I spoke “Я тебе люблю,” I was translating my English thoughts to Russian, not actually using Russian to express myself.

The line destruction between translation to a language and expression in a language may seems insignificant at first, yet Anna pointed out that it is crossing this line that holds the totality of honest communication.  When words are merely translated without being felt, a hollowness exists in the utterances, a non-verbalized aspect of the communication that is missing.

This is related to why I began this blog.  In brain injury, and I believe this is true with all traumatic incidents, it is easy to become lost in the academics of the experience - the intimate details and personal particularities are translated to numbers and likely symptoms or outcomes.  The interpersonal honesty is lost as loved ones and professionals attempt to understand the incident in a larger context.  The experience is translated to a language that can be better understood by caregivers and physicians, but the fullness of the experience may be lost.

Do not read this as a criticism of the process - this is necessary for caregivers to be able to work in a productive manner - but I also believe insights come from the personal stories of survivors.  Sharing an experience helps to dismantle the “language barrier" that is erected when the story is translated to the necessary medical terminology.  Recovery from trauma is never easy to fully understand, and though generalities are necessary to form a efficient and effective treatment plan, the intricacies of an experience should not be forgotten by the survivor or the caregivers.

The stories and thoughts presented in the articles on this blog are personal, but my hope is they spark your memories.  Please share your stories as a survivor or a caregiver to recognize the individuality of an experience.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Another TBI Blog

Several years ago I had the honor of having my piece "Who Am I, Again?" recognized by attorney and brain injury activist Gordon Johnson.  He then took it upon himself to sponsor a filming of a production of the story as his kickoff project for his TBI Voices project which features the stories of brain injury survivors.

Recently, Attorney Johnson has begun a blog for the Chicago Brain Injury group that features good articles about recovery, including some commentary about scenes from my story.  I encourage you to take a few moments and look at both sites - both are filled with good thoughts and observations about recovery.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Failed Joke

A quick memory and then some thoughts:

My father’s co-worker Michael - also my best friend’s father - and his family are visiting in the living room.  It’s soon after I’ve returned from Magee Hospital and I’m standing in the doorway to the stairs that lead up to my room.  Shirtless, but unashamed, I giggle to those assembled, “Michael, I’m modeling myself after you - I have a gut now, see!”  My belly juts forward, seeking applause, - all I can get from the audience is a forced, politely awkward laugh.

At the moment, the joke seemed appropriate - I was attempting to imitate Michael’s tongue and cheek, self-depreciating humor.  My own reaction to the failed joke was brief - mildly recognizing the failure, perhaps a slight adjustment to future jesting jabs, moving on.  No major repercussions or revelations - in truth, the reason this memory remains so vivid alludes me.

Yet the memory is there, so this documents it and now I will provide reflections. 

The exact thoughts Michael had are unknown to me, and since then Michael has sadly passed on - but contemplating this a decade and a half later, I see it as demonstrating the uncertainty that exists for those a survivor returns to.  Michael, and everyone in his family, has been a close family friend ever since our lives came together, and as I recovered their search for an understanding of my condition while providing emotional and practical assistance was a strong part of the base from which I bloomed again - yet even with this strong support and understanding, the proper reaction to my behaviors seemed unclear.  At first glance, my snide comment, though not intended as such, was rude, and as a young adult I should have known better than to say such crass comments - yet I was clearly trying to model my actions after his - making fun of my own gut.  Michael may have questioned if he should criticize me for what he demonstrates, though he presents jibes in a more tactful manner.  Should my parents intervene and gently reprimand me in front of family friends for an uncouth comment?  Should my ignorance in the situation be presented to so I can learn from my mistakes? 

Questions such as these can arise with any awkward situation, but I believe the element of brain injury adds another confusing factor to the equation - my parents may have wondered, “Does Lethan need to be retaught and drilled on the norms of social acceptability after his injury or will he learn this independently as his brain continues to heal?  If Lethan’s brain is allowed to heal independently, is there a time when this social unawareness must be corrected?  What is this time?”

Whether any of these questions passed through anyone’s mind, I have no idea, and I highly doubt they rose with such clarity in the moment, but it seems clear from my research that confusion such as this is not uncommon.  People don’t know how to respond to a survivor relearning the “rules of society”, and while education can help to provide an understanding and perhaps a patience, i don’t think it can ever become easy.

I don’t have a clean way to complete this entry - my hope was to end on with powerful insight that makes the reader go “Ahhhhh….”, but currently, I’ve got nothing.  I suppose that’s how a discussion about little understood traumatic incidents often needs happen - a recitation of the remembered facts of an event, a reflection upon the questions it raises, and moving on.  To assume there are always answers is to deny the chaotic variances of reality. 

Or maybe you know more about the topic than I do.  The reaction of a support group to a survivor recovering from a trauma is something I’m highly interested in - I would love to hear thoughts and comments, so please share this and leave the comments below.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Leaving the Ghetto with a Smile

As readers of this blog may have reasoned, I can complain about my situation in life.  More than that, I can complain with panache. I recognize my skills with logic and locution allow me to produce reasoned, eloquent, passionate diatribes wailing about my position in the world - soliloquies that produce no real results, but damn-it if they don’t sound like they should.  I’m good at complaining.  What’s more, my complaints have been in high form, as of late, because of the dissatisfaction with my current job - but recently I had a privilege that helped to put things into perspective.

It was a Saturday, so I went for a walk.  I’m currently living in the small city of Pohang, Korea and there is an abandoned railroad track near my apartment, so I decided to follow it to where it ends - or starts, depending on your perspective.  The tracks run along the edge of town, and to the right I could see the skyline of high-rise, high-tech apartments that South Korea likes to showboat as an image of gaining a strong international presence - the image of a rising economic and cultural power.  This is an image that, while beautiful and at times absolutely stunning, I’ve become used to in my years in Korea.  What is easy to forget, and what city planners seem to hide, is the image that was to the left side of the tracks - for lack of a better word, it was…a ghetto.  A ramshackle of houses, some well kept while others crumbling, peppered with gardens between the residences and sometimes on the roof, many of which had an older man or woman digging and gathering plants and roots.  These were not the luxury conditions Korea displays to the media, yet each time I saw an area such as this, people were smiling.  It looked to be a hard life, a life ripe with trials and tribulations that I am privileged enough to not be used to and I would not want.  The life in these communities is likely harder than anything the heavy workload I’m struggling with now could give me, but people still smiled.  From my perspective, the road ahead of them seemed taxing, but these travelers of life seemed ready to make the best of the journey.

I relate this to recovery from brain injury by recognizing the struggle.  There is struggle in the mere act of being human - everyone has a different set of trials, and anyone can focus on the hardships of a position.  The goal is not to deny this struggle or to accept the struggle as inevitable.  Nor do I think one should simply enjoy the struggle - struggles suck.  They are painful and can bring a sense of being unable to move beyond a limiting moment in life, yet it is this desire to move on that must be embraced - one can appreciate the enlightenment gained in the quest to move beyond any stagnating struggle.  Don’t grant a false appreciation to hard times, but gain what you can as the opportunities present themselves.  To simplify the idea - make the best of it.

In the piece “Who Am I, Again?”, the TBI survivor, Larry, has a revelation near the end of the story.  To quote him, “If I could have any wish at all…I wouldn’t wish that my accident didn’t happen.  That’s not to say I’m glad my accident happened, or I think it should happen to anyone.  I mean, it sucked, like…a lot…It’s just…well…I’ve met a lot of really great people because of my accident, been a lot of places, seen things I wouldn’t have…It’s just, I guess my accident has kinda made me who I am today…and I like that.”

Larry has reached what might be considered a sort of enlightenment - he doesn’t think what happened was good, but he recognizes it has allowed him to be who he is today.  When I interviewed the survivor who inspired the character of Larry, and this line is a direct quote from one of my interviews with him, I don’t remember him feeling satisfaction with his life - I don’t remember him displaying any complacency toward his situation - but what I do remember is an acceptance of what is and a desire to gain all he can from the healing processes  Due to his injury and circumstance, he has been thrown into a ghetto of a life situation - maybe not economically struggling, but highly limited in seeking any opportunities to improve his situation - yet he chooses to approach this limitation with good grace.  He strives to move on from where he is, but leave it with a smile.

Larry displays a deep peace in his attitude, a wisdom to approaching any situation - don’t accept a given situation, always seek self improvement, and take what you can from where you are.  You have every right to complain, and you can rest assured that I will likely complain again, but while you are in a situation, try to learn from the process of moving forward.

These are my thoughts, transcribed after a long day work - a long day I won’t complain about…this time.

Please leave comments below.

Thanks for reading and keep in touch.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Question Concerning Lonliness

This entry posses a question, and my hope is that we can gather some thoughts on this question from survivors of traumatic incidents, brain injury and otherwise, in the comments.  Or if anyone else has thoughts, please share them as well.

But first, the question’s context - Ever since my accident, I’ve often felt like the one on the outside of a social group or maybe some accessory to a scene, acknowledged due to my role or duty in the situation, but not because of any desire from other people for interaction - not cast out or avoided, but never sought.  I’ve felt as the loner, though often not by choice.

For those who know me, these thoughts may seem strange - I have consistently been socially active and have a wide array of friends, but as my mind works, I often feel as though I am inserting myself among these social groups - they put up with me.  Its not that I’m not enjoyed or accepted, there’s just no desire from others for me to be around.  People don’t call me, instead I call to ask, “Hey, is anything going on tonight?”  I should also say that this is not how I feel about all people - I am fortunate to have an amazing girlfriend and I know she wants to spend her time with me - just with most.  I recognize, what could be considered, the baselessness of my beliefs and I don’t purport to have a solid logic tied into these emotions, but this is how I feel.

Tied to that, I recognize that many of my life choices haven’t followed the “typical” path, and this may have something to do with the sensations of loneliness.  Beginning with my graduate degree of storytelling, this is a solo performance art and is also a fringe from that struggles to gain mainstream recognition.  These facts make it hard to connect through conversations about the job - if a conversation brings up my passion I, and this could be a personal tick, tend to become a performer instead of a discussion partner by demonstrating my art.  While initially entertaining, I recognize how this might be tiering for extended friendships.  Furthermore, when the opportunity of teaching abroad revealed itself to me, I quickly plucked myself out of my home country of America and planted myself in Korea, where I didn’t (and still don’t) speak the language, yet still, in many instances involving people in my circle of friends, I feel as if I am accepted because I ask to be, not because I am sought.

Please don’t misread this as any deep pain or a cry for help - First off, this is not an destroying feeling, just a sense I get in many or maybe event the majority of social situations.  Furthermore, I am comfortable with perception of my current social position in life and have also been blessed to be in a relationship with an amazing, inspiring woman who I know wants me as part of her life.  I am not depressed about this, at least not anymore - I have come to terms and am happy with my social life, but am now seeking a better understanding.  I do not mean to suggest that any of these feelings blanket my existence, yet I also don’t want to deny that they exist.

Which is why I write this entry. 

And now the question:

Do other survivors of brain injury and/or other traumatic incidents feels a similar marginalization by society?  I want to know if there is any more of this sort of experience - I am interested in understanding it more and I think I can do that best if you share your story as well.  Thank you and I look forward to your responses.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Lonliness and Moments of Understanding

As a pall draped across existence, loneliness quickly saps motivation and inspiration.  I hesitate to call it an emotion, because it so often acts in concert with all emotions - though often paired with sadness, one can just as easily be celebrating a joyous occasion with friends and laughter yet feel a lonely swamp beneath one’s smile.  What’s more, this condition can easily be constant.  Granted, there can be moments that pass as companions arrive, but when one is engulfed by the condition it will not leave - and as it plagues your being, even the desire to be rid of it can become elusive.

I remember loneliness in my recovery.  Surrounded by dozens of active supporters - family, friends, therapists, doctors - the sense of loneliness didn’t logically make sense, but I couldn’t deny that it was there.  Countless solitary moments of questioning - questions I couldn’t share with anyone for fear they would question my sanity - questions of self identity, self-worth, self motivation, appropriate self denial.  As I write this, I notice the word self is dominate in these questions, and as I reflect, that might be a source of where the loneliness came from - questions of Self sent by the self. 

Some, at appropriate times, were shared, but the very act of sharing only increased the solitary nature of the search - other’s can’t identify with the linguistically indescribable complexity of these questions and for a questioning person to reach out only to feel the listener, even a professional listener, can’t even see the context of the question you are trying to present is disheartening to say the least.

Now there were moments of understanding, but only in rare, unanticipated, unrepeatable circumstances: a stranger at a concert - a homeless man on the streets of Memphis - a fellow solitary wonderer on a forest trail.  Each of these connections were fleeting, and likely would have dissipated had the opportunity for an extended relationship presented itself, but that’s not to say these moments weren’t important and endlessly gratifying - they let me understand that life can and would (and will) continue through an endless collage of tragically beautiful moments of understanding. 

We are alone - every one of us - and no one can truly comprehend the Fullness of any one person.  Our goal as survivors, or as humans, shouldn’t be to find answers from any one individual or one source - such a goal is either doomed for a necessary failure or the creation of an unhealthily dependent dogma.  The goal must be to exist, to be ready for, and embrace the moments of unspeakable understanding that might come in any of the momentary meetings or extended relationships that decorate our lives.  And we must let those moments pass - recognized and appreciated - but not held, for if you hold somethings too tight, it’s very likely that it will become strangled.

Deep breath.  Not at all where I expected this entry to lead, and I found the journey interesting as I wrote it.  I do believe everything I wrote, just expected to focus on the specific feelings of loneliness that often come to recovery.  I will come back to that topic of loneliness in the future, but feel I need to leave this entry as it is - I think I hit upon something important, though I don’t feel the thoughts in this entry have been completed yet.  That said, I hope they help someone, or does something for anyone - or at least provides a few poetic passages to ruminate on.  Whatever your thoughts are, please keep in touch and leave your comments below.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Bambooing It

As may have been clear in my most recent entry, I am not entirely happy with my current employment situation - the school I work at demands long hours and has an educational philosophy that I strongly disagree with.  Furthermore, due to financial difficulties imposed by my last employer becoming a criminal and fleeing Korea (where I currently live), my girlfriend has had to return to her native country (Russia) until we are financially more secure.  This is not the best of times.

That said, this is also not the worst of times - it’s merely a time that happens to have some difficulties.  My world has not ended, nor are there insurmountable challenges.  The next eleven months will likely be difficult in many ways, but they need no be damning.  In truth, my life is not that bad - I have a job I don’t like and I’m lonely without my lover, but I’m alive and there’s a path to take to that will likely lead to a better future.

My girlfriend has dubbed a new verb to describe what we’re going through - we must “bamboo” through life right now.  This means we push ourselves to continue growing in what is not currently the best of spaces (as bamboo is able to do) - and we must remain strong as we grow, toughening our skin (like bamboo) so that we do not even consider breaking under the stress of the current situation.  For this reason, bamboo can be a symbol of our current growth in life - finding nourishment for continued growth despite difficult circumstances and using these situations to strengthen so that we will never break.  We are bambooing it.

I share this idea because I believe it is an important state of mind to hold onto while in recovery.  The healing process after brain injury, or other traumatic experiences, is never easy.  Physically, one’s body is reconnecting functions that may have never been previously acknowledged, while mentally, there is a complete rewiring of synapses simultaneously occurring with a rediscovery and recreation of self-identity.  This is not “a walk in the park”, but neither is it “a walk to the grave site”.  The challenge of recovery is not to merely get past the challenges presented, but to accept and learn from them.  To find a way to make oneself stronger and more resilient while remaining beautiful - to bamboo your way through the situation.

I know this is not a simple task, and I don’t mean to oversimplify the process - recovery is a roller coaster of trials that will provide far more falls and frustrations than epiphanies of self-reflexive contemplation - yet growth is possible.  The challenge of a survivor is to accept what has happened and to see how that by dealing with the circumstances, the individual can improves his or her own character.

Yet keep in mind that the recognition of personal growth probably won’t occur as it’s happening.  From my own experience, it has only been the 15 years since my rehabilitation that allows me to look back on my recovery and can see the lessons it taught me.  Furthermore, I most certainly do not encourage anyone to receive lessons in any similar manner, but what I want to highlight from my experience is that I allowed myself to grow (though sometimes I had to be prodded by outside inspirations to do the growth).  The roots dug deep and, despite despicable circumstances, they allowed my being to grow - perhaps, even, to grow stronger.  I was bambooing it.

With this in mind, I will shout out to all survivors - life is not easy, it is not fair nor is it just - life simply is.  We have to make the choice of enjoying it or sulking in miseries.  To help with this decision, try bambooing it - we grow a tough skin while still reaping the nourishment from any situation that offers itself - we grow tall, strong and become hella hard to break.

This isn’t a fix-all solution - this idea doesn’t make the recovery process any easier - yet keeping this idea in mind can provide a supportive mindset as recovery continues.

Those are my thoughts, supplemented by my girlfriend’s terminology, but I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.  I would also love to hear any stories of you “bambooing” it through a job, a recovery, or whatever your journey has brought you.  Please leave comments below.