I recently sat down to write a book telling my life story and quickly decided two chapters would be enough. I would call the first chapter “Before My Brain Injury” and the second, of course, “After My Brain Injury.” But just a short while after starting, I began feeling uncomfortable with the name I’d chosen for the second chapter.
I knew that I was being dishonest with the book’s readers. In my mind, the word "after" indicates some sense of finality. It gives the impression that something has ended. But I knew my brain injury hadn’t. It never left me nor would it ever.
I knew that I needed to figure out a new and better word to more accurately portray this final chapter. Because I'm not the greatest wordsmith, I decided to use a Webster's Dictionary to assist me in my search. The word I finally decided on was "wake." I would call this second and final chapter “The Wake of My Brain Injury.”
Now, growing up, I always thought of wake as simply being "the water behind a moving boat” Maybe that’s what you think of as well. If that’s the case, I know wake probably seems like a strange choice. Well, I found another definition for the word. Wake is also defined as "the aftermath or consequences of something.”
When I was able to understand wake from this angle, it seemed like an almost perfect word for me to use as a replacement. That’s because “the aftermath or consequences" of a brain injury is something I will be dealing with and trying to figure out for the rest of my life.
If you ever decide to read my book, here’s what you can expect to find in its second and appropriately titled final chapter, “The Wake of My Brain Injury.”
I try to do many of the things I used to be quite good at, only to find I no longer am.
I try doing much of what I previously liked doing, but many of these don't bring me the joy they once did.
I return to my medical practice, a job I knew and loved, but after just three years, am suddenly forced to retire.
I look exactly the same on the outside but feel completely different on the inside.
I worry a lot about what other people think of my "disability," suspecting others believe I might be fabricating or exaggerating my injuries in an effort to gain sympathy and attention.
I often second guess myself and my effort, wondering if I would have had a different outcome if I had just worked a little harder in my recovery.
I am not nearly as confident as I used to be and have a difficult time making decisions, always worried I'm making the wrong one.
I start doubting my ability to be the husband and father my family needs me to be.
I begin to deal with many emotional problems (i.e. depression and anxiety) that I’d never dealt with before.
Because of my short term memory problems, I'm forced to rely on various coping mechanisms that I never had to before.
I become very rigid in my daily routines and get flustered when something doesn't go as planned.
Fatigue becomes a major problem for me, especially after activities that require a lot of thinking.
My communication skills aren't as good as they used to be, often struggling with finding the right word to say and with maintaining focus during conversations.
I lack "social IQ," meaning I occasionally say or do something without fully thinking about how it could affect me or others.
I’m well aware that after hearing all that you are probably thinking, "What a depressing way to end a book!” However, I would encourage you to please read this second chapter anyway because that's not all that happens while I’m in the wake.
I begin to discover new skills and strengths, ones that even in my wildest dreams, I thought I'd never have.
I start finding meaning and purpose where I never had before.
"Perspective" becomes a key word in my vocabulary and I start understanding how much it determines my attitude.
I no longer look at comfort as the ultimate goal and begin learning to embrace the uncomfortable, seeing it as necessary if I want to mature and grow.
Although remaining as "normal" as possible was my previous goal, I no longer strive for it. Instead, I start learning to embrace being "abnormal."
Going against everything I had understood before, I begin finding my strength in my weaknesses.
I always understood humility as something I could just think about, but now realize its something I need to practice as well.
I no longer take things for granted, realizing it could all be gone in the blink of an eye.
My faith becomes real and I become more courageous in living it out and sharing it with others.
The Wake of My Brain Injury hasn't been an easy place for me to live and it certainly isn't a place I would recommend visiting if you don't have to. But if you ever find yourself in a place similar to this, please trust that something good can come from it.
Your wake can serve a purpose and it may very well be the place you needed to be all along.