I’ve always said that I wanted this blog to be more than just me
yammering I mean reflecting on how life goes after a brain injury. Maybe I’m a good writer, maybe not. I do know that no matter how I write, not everyone will click with what I have to say here or the way I say it. As I get to know fellow survivors and caretakers I’m encouraging them to be a guest on this blog.
To start off this new section I’m calling Other Voices I’d like to introduce Shawna, a writer living in wide open Western Canada, with a great affection for the life inside each being on her farm. She’s a musician, an avid runner and classic truck enthusiast. Except any of those Ford trucks. I’m not sure she’d concede they deserve to be called trucks.
Like me, she’s a traumatic brain injury survivor, having been struck down doing something she truly loved. I chose the word loved instead of loves because it speaks to a common thread in the lives of many survivors. Yes, I’ll wait for you to say “Oh, you shouldn’t say that. Never give up. Anything is possible…” Go ahead, just so long as you wait for me to stop rolling my eyes. For a few weeks now, I’ve been urging her to say something to people trying to understand the changes a brain injury brings to a person’s life. Specifically, what is it that used to be at your core that you just don’t have anymore? It’s right there; you can see it but now it’s behind glass somehow. She experienced this magic and thrived on it but now she knows a different appreciation.
I was recently asked what my TBI has taken from my life. It’s a simple question that has a very complex answer, as we are all affected differently.
Let me ask you …….. Do you know what it means to be free? Have you ever really thought about it? I don’t mean the freedoms we enjoy living in North America. I mean your own personal freedom. Each of us has one thing we do in this life that makes us feel completely free. Did I lose you? Let me try to explain.
Have you ever watched the movies “The Black Beauty” or “Hidalgo”? In both these movies the main character holds the heart of their horse. At the end of both movies they are racing across the desert. Just when the race seems lost the rider leans forward and whispers a key phrase into the equine’s ear. My preferred phrase is Catch ’em, thus making the horse kick on his rocket boosters and burst out to win the race.
Now I realize that not everyone has ridden a horse, but I can bet each of you have been filled with some kind of passion at some point in your life. I have had that divine moment with 2 horses. We weren’t racing across a desert, but rather a hay flat. My left hand settled on the saddle horn, reins laced around the fingers on my right hand. His gait changes as I slowly raise myself up in my stirrups. He feels me lift off his back, he snorts and throws his nose in the air. He’s ready. My right hand slides up along the soft hide on his neck. My fingers bury themselves into his mane. I lean forward and whisper “Catch ’em”
If you are not hanging on in some way the turbo boost you are about to experience will likely set you back into your saddle so hard your tailbone will ache for days. Raw power propels you forward, his mane whips at your face as you hang on for dear life. Your heart is caught in your throat, pounding in your ears. You can feel every ounce of the 1400 lbs of heat seeking missile thundering across the ground under you. It is one of the most exhilarating feelings you will ever experience. You close your eyes because they are tearing up and you can’t see anything anyway. Every hair on your body is standing at attention. Your skin tightens into goose bumps, and a shiver of excitement races up your spine. You inhale deeply, taking in the scent of the wildflowers in bloom. It can be sensory overload. That is the moment he gives you his heart, and time slows to a crawl.
Chances are when you pull him in to slow up or even to stop you will have the biggest dorkiest grin on your face. EVER! And the horse? He will likely shake his head and snort, as if to say…. “That was great! Let’s do it again!” I’m telling you the rush you get lasts the better part of a day, and if you recall the moment later……. Well let’s just say I’m sitting here with a big dumb grin on my face.
Now you are likely wondering what this has to do with the Nine of All Trades Blog. Well, I used to do this all the time, 5-6 times a week actually. The last time I leaned forward and whispered “Catch ‘em” into a horse’s ear I was 28 years old. He was a green broke full blood Arabian named Eastwind, with 100 days training on him, and all I had ever wanted. It was the first and last time I whispered into his ear. You see about 2 hours later he fell on me while we were crossing a creek. Had it not been for the 3 feet of water we landed in I likely wouldn’t be here to write this. It is coming up to year 14 since I last flew across a hay flat without leaving the ground. I have learned to accept many things in the last 14 years, but one thing I cannot is the new role I have in my own life.
I feel great sadness and shame in my soul when I attempt to ride a horse now. I once could walk into a pen of colts and pick out the rankest one there. Now, I get anxiety if I enter a pen with more than one horse. I will always pick the quietest mount. IF I work up the nerve to bridle and saddle this majestic mount, I will be shaking by the time I am done. If another horse is near, and gets spirited I fall apart. My horse needs to stand statue still for me to mount, if he doesn’t I’m likely to refrain from making him do so. If I get to the point where I am sitting in the saddle, my posture changes, I become stiff and rigid while gripping the saddle horn and praying to myself that it will all be ok. I will always make 3 turns around the training pen, just to make sure he doesn’t dance, prance, or spook. God forbid he steps sideways; it will cripple me. I can usually do my best to make one more and turn then I will dismount and unsaddle .
However, if my husband has any say in the matter he will take my horse on a lead. He will pony us out of the yard, at this point I am usually frozen with a death grip on the saddle horn, swearing under my breath about how pathetic I have become. Once we clear the yard and my back relaxes, he will toss the lead line to me. Then we continue riding side by side. If he decides to trot his mount, I have actually started crying with panic over the thought of quickening my pace. If I don’t cry I clench my jaw so tightly I have actually cracked my teeth before. Even with my new safety gear… An equestrian helmet and roping reins, I am not allowed split reins any longer, I know my reflexes are not quick enough to save me if I had to depend on them.
You see most days I feel like a prisoner in my own mind. Looking out of my eyes, watching my life, but never really being able to fully take part in it again. That is the freedom it took from me. The freedom to be myself.