Friday, June 26, 2015

The Power of Kindness

Yesterday morning, I posted this on Facebook:

"It was 20 years ago today, Sgt Pepper taught the band to play...
and in a few short moments on a highway in Philadelphia, I traveled from social worker to client.
It's been a VERY long time since the anniversary of my brain injury has bothered me, but I have to admit this one is. I need to actively remind myself that recovery is a life long process filled with 3 steps forward and 2.99 steps back, that while I routinely remind others to have realistic expectations for their recovery, I need to have more realistic expectations for my own and that even on the days my brain is most fatigued and I'm frustrated because I'm at my least functional, I am still a gazillion times more able than I was in the first year after the accident.
So today I will allow myself to feel badly for a bit and then I will take control of my anniversary and do something I wasn't capable of doing 20 years ago today."

My post was a way to remind myself it's ok to be sad AND (one of my very favorite words) that I was fluent in the strategies I needed to face the day. It felt sort of like someone publicly declaring they are giving up smoking or starting an exercise program; when you say it out loud you feel more committed.

And then, I went about my day.

First up, a Doctor's appt. I did a whole lot of seeing Doctors 20 years ago, so to differentiate those Doctor appointments from this Doctor's appointment, to remind myself of how far I've come, Rango and I walked up the 6 flights of stairs to his office. A far cry from the days of someone helping me into a wheelchair and then wheeling me to the bathroom. I was a bit winded by the time I got to the Sixth floor, but was beginning to feel strong.

Next it was on to my Mom's memory care assisted living facility. After a visit with her, during which I'm fairly certain she was more delighted to see Rango than she was to see me (and can you blame her), I met with a Palliative Care Nurse to develop a Care Plan. Now 20 years ago, I spent hours and hours talking about and thinking about Care Plans, but surreal as it seemed to me at the time, it was no longer my client's Care Plans I was discussing, it was my own. (My empathy for my former clients grew 10 fold during those Team Meetings, as I realized how bizarre it feels to be sitting in a room full of health care and rehab. professionals and YOU are the topic.)

But now 20 years later, I was paying it forward. Unlike that first year(s) after my injury, I was capable of fully participating in ensuring my Mom gets the supportive services she needs and able to think creatively to problem solve strategies to deal with the obstacles that arise. Those first years after my injury when I was adjusting to the reality that in all liklihood I would never have the cognitive stamina to be competitively employed, in many ways I felt lost. Being a Social Worker wasn't just my what I did for a living, it was who I was as a person. Today's meeting to design a Care Plan for my Mom was a concrete reminder that regardless of whether or not I have a paying job as a Social Worker, I am able and I am committed to strive to make a difference in this world.

By then, my exhausted brain needed a rest so it was on to mindless television until I had recovered enough to listen to my Survivors Playlist:

Reba McEntire's I'm Gonna Take That Mountain:
"I was born a stubborn soul.
Ain't afraid of the great unknown
Or a winding road that's all uphill...
I'm gonna take that mountain. "

Reba's I'm a Survivor:
"And though my life is changing fast,
Who I am is who I want to be...
A victim of circumstance.
The one who oughta give up,
but she's just too hard headed.
I'm a survivor.

Patty Griffin's I'm Making Pies:
"You could cry or die or just make pies all day.
I'm making pies."

Patty's I Don't Ever Give Up:
"But I don't give up, no, I don't ever give up
It's all I've got, it's my claim to fame."

Bruce Springsteen's The Rising:
"Lost track of how far I've gone
How far I've gone, how high I've climbed...
Come on up for the rising..."

And of course, the grand finale, the song I listen to right before every speech or presentation I give, the song that I play in my head when I feel a challenge may too big for me to face.

Sing along now:

"Oh yes, I am wise
But it's wisdom born of pain.
Yes, I've paid a price
But look how much I've gained
If I have to, I can face anything.
I am strong.
I am invincible.
I am woman. "

By the time I listened to the latter, I was in an Uber car headed back to my Mom's to see our favorite quirky music man, who comes to Arden Courts each month to entertain and lead a sing a long. I was in the back seat, head phones on, pumping my fist to the chorus: "I am strong..." As has happened on more than one occassion, I'm fairly certain Rango rolled his eyes at me and the Uber driver stole glances at me in the rear view mirror, slightly amused and perhaps a tad alarmed.

As my Mom and I sang along to songs she still knows by heart (and now unfortunatly not only do I know Ballin the Jack by heart, it's the ear worm stuck in my head,) I reveled in life truths that became so crystal clear to me over these past 20 years - the importance of simple pleasures, the value in striving for pleasant moments and the joy in human connection.

Those of you who know me well and know the limits of my cognitive stamina, can see in the description of my anniversary day's activities, that 20 years later I continue to struggle with living within the limits of my injured brain's very limited energy supply. I continue to be a work in progress.

As I rode home in an Uber car yesterday evening, I thought about my day and was pleased with how I'd done. I had allowed myself to be sad; I had been prepared for that possibility. I have to admit, I was taken by surprise by the flashbacks of the accident itself. (Before my mental health pro friends become alarmed, they weren't true flashbacks. I knew I wasn't actually back on that Highway. Clinically they were intrusive memories.) But I was able to note them and move on with my day, being intentionally mindful of all that I could do that would have been impossible 20 years ago, including using Uber by myself. I took time to remind myself of how amazing it was to be able to go places alone when for so long it wasn't truly safe for me to be in my own home alone. That is until there was Stone. With him I was never alone.

And then I opened Facebook.

When I posted my committment to myself this morning, my vow to allow today to have a balance of grief and positivity, I expected a few hang in theres, a prayer or two, perhaps a few posted hearts and maybe an I love you. What I found instead was an outpouring of love and support and community. I sat speechless, reading, tears rolling down my cheeks and felt my heart grow three sizes bigger. I felt physically lighter as if this community of friends and family were holding me up off the ground, holding some of my burden. I was reminded of the power of kindness and felt so incredibly blessed to be surrounded by such loving, giving, kind souls. I want each and every person who left me a Comment, who clicked "Like" on my Post, who left me a voice mail or sent me an email or text to know that you made a difference in the world, you made a difference to me. Your kindness mattered.

I am a true believer that like a pebble in a pond, each kind gesture has a ripple effect on the world we live in. Yesterday my Facebook family caused a tiddle wave of love and I am moved and humbled and emnormously grateful.

So today I am adding a song to my Survivor's playlist, inspired by the loving reminder from my family and friends that I am not alone on this journey, that there is a community of amazing people who are able and willing to lift me up when gravity seems too heavy to stand alone.

Christina Aguilera's Lift Me Up:
"If you life me up
Just get me through this night
I know I'll rest tomorrow
And I'll be strong enough to fight"