The other day I was walking with a friend and as we walked she deliberated on what to call the day her injury struck. It was coming up and something about the notion of calling it an anniversary was bothering her. She was wondering if it was something to celebrate. Of course she was hearing supportive messages urging her to celebrate her strength. How far she’d come in her recovery after another year has passed. The life she still has ahead of her to live. All that encouragement in large part because of how hard she has worked to restore herself.
I agreed that the word anniversary didn’t have the right connotation for commemorating such a devastating day. Usually remembering an anniversary is a positive thing. A happy occasion. We all have our own that we like to remember. We continued on our walk but we just couldn’t come up with another word or phrase that had the right tone. I do know that some brain injury survivors refer to that day as a new beginning and use the word rebirthday. That just isn’t ringing true to my ear but it does make sense to me, especially considering how a brain injury changes us to some degree. Some people have a fighting attitude and use other, more militant terms, thinking of them as a big middle finger flown high in the air to fate – and also to the people they feel are judging them harshly. Others have a more inspired take on that word and see it as something to gladly embrace. There are probably other terms out there, too. You could chime in here with any interesting ones you’ve heard.
For the record I’ll just say right here that I’m not thinking fondly about this process of remembering the date of my own TBI each year.
Later on something crystallized in my head and I’m going to try to lay it out here in this post. What I’d like to say to her, like others probably do, is that she has made amazing progress as that day approaches. She has many things about herself to celebrate, but maybe it would be better to not tie appreciating her progress to this date. Like her I’m looking at my own looming anniversary date and it sometimes feels like I’m stuck. Like a dog on a leash tied to a stake out in the middle of the yard. The one my parents used for our dog would end up wrapped around the stake. Stake, leash and dog all in a grumpy little bundle. I don’t want to feel like my life all comes down to that single point in time. I’m trying to get on with my life. Put one foot in front of the other. Move forward. You know, all those inspiring messages. At least for now those sentiments are helping me along my path but maybe I’m just going in an ever smaller circle back to that stake.
After thinking about her plight some more I realized that meeting up with her was like a landmark for the week. Like one of my therapy appointments, only a lot better. I’ve got nothing but love for my therapists mind you, but talking about real life with another survivor, this person in particular, is special. Like a touchstone. A little stone worn smooth over millions of years that you can carry in your pocket. A comforting reminder as you get on with life hoping better things will come your way. You reach for it on purpose sometimes. Other times you feel it in the course of getting something else. Brush your hand over that pocket and it’s there. A good thing and a pleasant reminder to keep going. Knowing we plan on going for regular walks regardless of the weather is like that.
Yeah, whatever. Looking forward to those walks is good but remembering my crash isn’t that kind of touchstone right now. It is a sour and dismal one, more like the finger I broke in the crash. It didn’t heal well enough and now I feel a little pain every time I bend it. I wake up every day and immediately see the double vision I have when I open my eyes and I’m right back to this sticking point.
But let’s continue on with that touchstone metaphor. Holding onto remembering the crash, as bitter as it is, may be worth it because I’m not finished with it yet. May 18th, my birthday AND the day of my crash is now an unfortunate convergent date in my life if there ever was one. People who love me will probably remind me of this day for as long as I live. Well, at least I hope so, but only the birthday part. Anyway, thinking of it like a special stone in my pocket could be a good thing. Why? Well one, because I lose stuff – even before my TBI – and I don’t want to lose the happy part. And two, because I still have something I need to do with the sad part.
I have always carried extra things in my pockets because I found I was using them all the time. Like the Swiss Army knife my sister gave me for Christmas decades ago; I’ve replaced it a few times but I still have one in my pocket and I use it just about every day. Over the years I’ve added new things. And I’ve stopped carrying others. Why? I dunno. Maybe they got lost and I just didn’t need them enough anymore to go on a thorough search. Maybe I just didn’t bother to replace them because whatever they reminded me of wasn’t worth remembering anymore.
I’ve forgotten about those things, those touchstones from much earlier in my life. And it’s for that reason I have to hold onto my crash date for a while. Because what I need to do with it is to forget about it. I hate it when I forget important things but this is one that I wish I could rid myself of on purpose. Yes, I want to make the forgetting the date I crashed my job, because once I’ve stopped lugging it around, it’ll no longer be one of my touchstones.
Doing that might work for you, too. Because maybe one day in the future you’ll realize you’ve forgotten. Somehow it passed you by one day without notice. You might do that slight tilt of your head as you look at nothing in particular while you think on having forgotten. And get a little smile. Who knew forgetting something could be a good thing?
You could make THAT day an anniversary to remember. I know I’m going to.
**I revisited this post in February of 2019. I still hadn’t forgotten about it all by then but this post was brought to mind in a therapy session so I decided to take a look. Yeesh! Talk about needing an editor. I’ve done a little rear-view tweaking so hopefully it reads better now. Maybe even makes better sense. Oh, and if you do remember the original version? Well, all I can really say is uh, sorry.**